Your Lawyer Should Understand You

By Wendy Heilbut

In my work mentoring companies through the incubators with which I am involved, I often get the question, “what should I look for when hiring a lawyer?”  Let me first say, dear reader, hire me!  But okay, if you don’t want to hire me, or perhaps your needs are outside my area of expertise, I will provide some guidance.

First and foremost, make sure your lawyer understands your business and the industry, arena and space in which you operate.  It is becoming all too common to find lawyers with deep practice area experience advising clients within industries they don’t understand.  Obviously, the world is changing faster than many of us can keep up with, but if your lawyer cannot keep pace with your business, it might be time to pivot.

Let me give you an example.  I am facing a very seasoned litigator in a current matter.  This attorney has an impeccable resume and very deep litigation experience.  However, in this matter, the pressing issues during this pre-litigation phase have nothing to do with actual litigation and everything to do with early-stage business formation, fundraising and management.  This process has become adversarial faster than necessary because the opposing attorney has not been able to fully appreciate the actual issues in dispute.  If your business is lean and nimble, moving like a swift ship – be sure your lawyer or team of lawyers can do the same.

Next, find a lawyer with whom you can easily converse.  I am not saying your lawyer has to become a dear friend, but ideally, she is not someone with whom you dread speaking or agonize over your email dialogues.  Hopefully you can drop your armor and be honest and forthcoming with your lawyer – this will help you convey your needs quickly and help your lawyer understand you better.

My final tip is to have very clear conversations up front about your needs and expectations.  I have seen so many people disappointed by a lawyers’ lack of responsiveness yet expectations were never clearly articulated to their lawyer.  I love when a client asks, “when can I expect a response?” Now, lawyers aren’t superhumans (at least not all of us!) and unfortunately you are not going to be their only client, but a clear, upfront conversations saves everyone the uncertainty of an open due date or disappointment over a missed opportunity.

Obviously, you also need to be sure your lawyer is proficient in the practice area in which you have needs (e.g. no divorce lawyer filing your trademark application please), has a fee structure you can tolerate, and has the bandwidth to attend to your growing needs.