Startup lawyers: How to find a law firm

Startup lawyers: How to find a law firm

Author: The Carta Team
Read time:  4 minutes
Published date:  22 June 2022
Updated date:  10 May 2024
Learn what to look for and how to find the right startup lawyer or law firm to assist you through the process of forming and financing your company.

When scaling a business, you’re after an agile team filled with specialists to help you succeed – legal counsel included. Navigating the likes of contracts and fundraising term sheets is another burden CEOs shouldn’t have to bear. That’s a case for an expert and professional legal advisor.

Whether you invest in a small law firm, an in-house lawyer or freelance legal assistance, their goal will be to prevent the company from unexpected hiccoughs or blockers along the scale-up journey.

To support your legal discovery, we’ve picked the brains of some experts to come up with five ways of ensuring you get your money’s worth from a startup lawyer.

If there are no objections, we’ll begin.

Making the case for a lawyer

At every stage of the scale-up journey, fundraising is on the agenda. The temptation to save money by delaying investment in a good lawyer is a false economy according to Ed Bardos, COO of Venture Founders – one of the UK's leading investors in fintech and SaaS scale-ups. “Get a lawyer sooner rather than later,” he told the audience at a Carta event.

When you find yourself on  the path to successful fundraising, lawyers will help you properly understand and negotiate terms at the very least. However, they can go as far as to prevent deals from falling through.

Mike Yang, Partner in Orrick’s Compensations and Benefits Group, once saw an entire acquisition fail due to cap table issues.

“The buyer lost faith in the company because there was no record of who held which shares and for how long. Nor was there any detailed information about what the tax consequences would be as a result of the acquisition,” he told us.

There’s a strong argument for investing in a lawyer in the early days. However, if cost is the main barrier to entry, it’s worth exploring whether your lawyer will take equity instead. The arrangement isn’t uncommon between law firms and early-stage businesses.

Order, order!

The burden of an offline cap table and growing data set only increases as a business scales. It’s an administrative headache to keep several spreadsheets and documents up to date as well as make sure your lawyer stays in the loop.

Bill Cogan, Founding Partner at Seven Legal, remarked that small errors are the main culprit for swallowing valuable time.

“I often end up making corrections across several different spreadsheets rather than providing strategic advice to help a business complete its latest funding round,” he lamented.

Eliminating the risk of errors creeping into record-keeping is just one of the  five reasons why law firms want you to use equity management software like Carta to guarantee accurate data and an easily auditable transaction trail.

Lawyers aren’t always involved in day-to-day cap table management or startup operations, so providing them with a seamless route to accessing information means they can get stuck in right away – and start delivering results.

Appeal to the experts

Think strategically about what your lawyer works on. Lawyers aren’t assistants or administrators, they’re highly skilled consultants and you can maximise their value by being selective about what tasks they’re asked to handle. You’re paying them for their legal expertise after all, not their Excel talents.

Rather than having your lawyer chase investors or employees for grant signatures, electronic signing via DocuSign allows for a more efficient process – and reduces the time your lawyer spends reconciling the paperwork. “The platform’s integration with DocuSign gives me full visibility over contracts and signatures. The process is smooth and saves a lot of time,” noted Bill Cogan.

Whether you’re looking to  file your EMI annual return to HMRC issue share certificates paperlessly or update the shareholder register, our platform can do all the heavy lifting. Your lawyer, meanwhile, can focus on high-level strategic advice.

Nothing but the truth

To get your money’s worth from your startup lawyer, you need to understand how they bill you. This allows you to make more informed decisions about what you ask them to do and when their contribution represents good value for money.

Clear communication and total transparency is the best policy. Ask any questions you may have early on in the relationship. It’s better to know whether your lawyer bills for “quick questions” or how much they charge for on-the-spot requests at an early stage, rather than finding out when a surprisingly large invoice lands in your inbox.

For instance, when working with your lawyer on equity issues or cap table management, easy-to-access, reliable data is a great foundation. Having a single source of truth – information that both client and advisor agree is accurate and trustworthy – allows the lawyer to better plan their time and offer your organisation sensible quotes and timescales.

Reach the right verdict

As with any new hire for a scaling business, you’ll want your legal assistance to be the perfect addition to the team. You may have a network that includes law firm connections or receive trustworthy recommendations from peers. However, if you’re starting from scratch, here are some questions to consider:

  • What are similar companies in the startup ecosystem doing?

  • Is there a preference among your peers to choose big firms or boutique lawyers?

  • Should you keep a lawyer on retainer or make arrangements on a freelance basis?

You might also want to consider what kind of legal assistance you’re likely to need. If setting up an employee share scheme is your priority, opt for a legal expert that specialises in share plans in your jurisdiction.

It’s also worth factoring in that the right choice for you also needs to be the right choice for your lawyer.

“Carta can help you manage your cap table independently, making you a much more appealing prospective client to lawyers,” advised Bill Cogan.

Find out how you can save time and scale your legal admin compliantly with Carta
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The Carta Team
While we believe in assigning ownership at Carta, this blog post belongs to all of us.
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