An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Wrangling and Hog-Tying a Lawyer

June 2, 2012

3:00 pm

The legal profession is one of the last bastions of the old-school economy. Sure, law firms have email, private networks, and electronic billing systems. But in the most fundamental ways, legal services are delivered to clients in much the same way they were 100 years ago.

Perhaps the profession’s adherence to longstanding norms makes the world of lawyers and law firms seem unapproachable. But there are plenty of ways to disrupt the norm. Here are a few:

  1. Forget the hourly fee. Sometimes, at least. Try to negotiate a fixed fee on a wide range of finite tasks. Entity formation and related matters (FEIN registration and preparation of record book and stock records), trademark and copyright filing, basic agreements (like non-disclosures), and research and analysis of straightforward questions are in the “fixed fee possible” category. Whether or not a lawyer is willing to accept a fixed fee on a particular matter might also give you some idea of how familiar he or she is with the issue. The more familiar and experienced, the more likely a fixed fee is doable.
  2. Get a work plan. Whether or not an hourly fee is involved, your lawyer should be able to map out with specificity the tasks required to get you from Point A to Point B. Ask him or her to do that. On a spreadsheet. In a cognizable format. With time and fee estimates for every step. It is also a good idea to have the whole thing explained to you so that you understand it. And, as you get bills, compare the bills to the estimate and communicate with your lawyer if there is a variance.
  3. Let your lawyer know you’re “into” him or her. Lawyers are people, too. We build our careers on long-term relationships with successful entrepreneurs and business owners who can pay for our services. Good lawyers will work with their clients if there seems to be a future. Foster a relationship with your lawyer. Give him or her a tour of your office, go for lunch or drinks, and keep him or her informed about your business, industry, and strategy. If your lawyer doesn’t have time for this – or worse yet, tries to charge you – move on to someone else.

These are simple but highly effective ways to keep your legal expenses in check and make your lawyer a partner instead of a vendor.

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Clint Costa is an attorney and CPA with the Chicago law firm of Harrison & Held, LLP, working with startups, entrepreneurs, and privately held companies on all manner of official-sounding legal and tax matters. Reach Clint at or (312) 803-7104.