I can only imagine the nightmares keeping entrepreneurs up at night…Cap tables, pitchdecks, and software, oh my! Not least among a founder’s fears is often the deal-killer attorney—the inflexible attorney who overlawyers, sweats the small stuff, and seems not to give a care about a startup’s wellbeing.
Some attorneys may deserve this “deal-killer” moniker due to their veritable rigidity, boneheadedness, or ungenerosity. But not all lawyers who are perceived as deal-killers are such inconsiderate dunces.
Unfortunately, there really are many pitfalls for startups to fall prey to, creating insurmountable legal barriers. Although the attorney of course does not wish for a venture to fail, they must make a comprehensive analysis of several important factors. This post aims to explain how to avoid getting your “deal killed” by a lawyer.
Finding an Attorney
First and foremost, you must find yourself an attorney with whom you get along and feel you can trust. Not all legal tasks are so specialized, but with regards to startup law, it is critical to find an attorney who is experienced in this realm. If you don’t know where to start, try calling or emailing a nearby law school for recommendations or another disinterested source for reliable options.
Being an Attractive Client
Succeeding in finding this match is only half the battle; the lawyer must also see merit in you and your business. For some law firms (including legal clinics), acceptance can be quite competitive.
There are several strictly legal characteristics that a screening interviewer might require of your business.
- Don’t infringe on someone else’s copyright or ideas, and use original material as often as possible. This not only applies to copying a business’s name or coding, but also smaller things like borrowing images. Even if someone gives you a photo to use, don’t assume they had the rights to give it to you.
- Don’t have thirty founders. A company must be able to make decisions, and this is hard to do when it is impossible to get everyone in the room or on the phone at the same time. A tighter group of founders where each
- Don’t do anything illegal. This one may seem obvious, but consider that it also applies to regulatory violations you may not know exist, and lawyers have an ethical obligation not to represent clients knowingly taking part in illegal behavior. Try to read up broadly on the regulatory issues of your industry to know what might apply to you.
There are several characteristics your screening interviewer might be taking special note of. Here are a few tips and tricks to understand before seeking counsel.
- Be ready to tell your story. Know why you’re taking on a certain venture and be able to confidently and convincingly articulate this.
- Have an idea of what you aim to achieve next, and express dedication to achieving that goal.
- Although you don’t need to display impeccable business sophistication, a general understanding and concern for keeping the business end tidy can only work in your favor.
- Do your research. Know what businesses exist with similar product ideas or names, and be ready to differentiate yourself.
- Have more than simply an idea for a product or service; be able to demonstrate or discuss value the business has already created.
I’ve Got a Lawyer, Now How Do I Prevent Them from Killing My Deals/Ideas?
Finally, you need to have a sense of what your lawyer needs from you. If they have not communicated this, for goodness sake, ask them! Lawyers inevitably focus on different facts and circumstances than founders do, but there’s usually a reason for it. If it isn’t clear to you what issues your lawyer is prioritizing and why, it will be difficult to understand where the business is heading. Additionally, if you make your lawyer very aware your priorities and your level of risk tolerance, this open line of communication will promote an idea flow of flexible workarounds and creative solutions.