In one word? Yes
Having seen a few ventures ground upwards, I can vouch for statutory compliances and requirements not featuring into the top five agendas of startup managements. Typically, Indian startups somehow have a tendency to push anything they perceive to not be of immediate importance to the back burner. By contrast, their peers in the west see the larger picture and realise the need for a solid foundation on which to build a business. Think of it as building a house, where the legal eagle you hire is your foundation and what you build from the surface level upwards is your business.
A. Can you compromise?
A lot of folks tend to compromise on engaging with a lawyer at the earliest stages of their ventures, and rely on available resources and handymen who are able to incorporate a company and somewhat operationalise an entity. Unfortunately, there is more to the law than merely setting up shop and commencing work. The nature of the entity you choose for your business, how you structure its legal form, how conducive you make it to receive funding, compliance with statutes from the outset, are all vital parameters that a good lawyer can lend you his experience with. For example, in a time when some of the industry’s marquee businesses are “externalised”, it might be useful for you to understand and explore the nuances of what that means, whether you should adopt that route, what the government’s future policy is likely to be, the pros and cons and fall-back solutions.
B. What should you be looking for?
I wish I could say—find yourself someone with “experience”. That’s a no-brainer! Sure, experience is of paramount importance, but it isn’t the only thing you should be looking for in a lawyer. You might not know it just yet, but what you’re doing is in fact selecting a Partner for your business. In the same way that your chartered accountant and family doctors are keepers, a good lawyer will serve you well in time to come. Use your network, talk to people, go through LinkedIn profiles, run a Google search and see if you can whittle it down to a select list. Once you’re here, you’re looking for some of the following filters to aid you in funnelling the flow further:
Talking the 3 letter word
Lawyers usually have ‘targets’ (pre-determined revenue/billing goals set by the firm they work at) to attain in a year. So don’t hold it against your lawyer if he brings up the subject in your conversations. That said, if you feel it is something that is coming up a little too frequently, you might well have a situation coming up where you’re worrying more about how to pay him than what you’re getting from him. So how do you tackle this? Here are a few pointers:
Suggestions I’ve made are from personal experience only. While they might not be cast in stone, they could be used judiciously to first identify and then extract the best relationship you can with a prospective partner for your business.