What do I look for in a business or startup attorney?

One of the biggest questions small business owners or founders have when it comes to early stage business issues is when do they need to hire an attorney and how do they pick one.  I will explain what I think are important qualities and how an attorney can be invaluable, even before the company is formed.

A good startup (some people spell start-up, some use startup) or business attorney needs to be able to see a wide variety of potential issues the company may face and be able to address those with the company or founders.  If they simply form a corporation and provide some initial shareholder agreements, bylaws, resolutions, or other initial documentation, that is a valuable service, but there is much more to be examined and addressed in an early stage business. There are many legal or business issues, such as what intellectual property protection is or needs to be in place (e.g. patents, trademarks, non-disclosure agreements), advise the founders about securities laws relating to issuing stock or raising money, preparing for human resources and hiring (e.g. explaining that you can’t just call someone an independent contractor or 1099 and avoid payroll tax withholding obligations), and when to get someone involved in drafting or reviewing contracts.  While it is true that “startup law” is really mostly about basic formation and protection of business entities and possibly help with closing initial rounds of funding, the attorney should have a wide general knowledge of many aspects of business and law.

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