Four years ago, I left a large legal firm to start my own practice with an ambitious goal that had nothing to do with developing a large firm of my own. I wanted to move away from that model so that I could move closer to my clients. Overall, it’s a more rewarding way to work.
The simple fact is that successful law practices are the ones who actually care about how their clients’ legal issues affect the clients’ business and their personal lives. Some attorneys would be quick to argue that we’re not in the business of holding our customers’ hands, but that’s the very reason why it’s important for us to do so – just like any other service industry, going the extra mile is what really distinguishes you from the rest. It might mean that you have to listen and advise clients on matters above and beyond what you have been contracted to do – even personal matters. It will probably mean that you will invest time and resources without being able to bill for it. But it will also mean that when you do send your bill, your client won’t see it as a grudge payment.
Legal issues should always go beyond going to court, filing papers and signing the necessary documents. The best use of an attorney’s services is to bring them into your boardroom. Not only will you gain a legal perspective and guidance on the matters affecting your business, you will also gain an objective viewpoint. This is especially important when shareholders aren’t present at meetings. Your attorney will be the one who acts as their voice and custodian, and offer up an outsider’s angle on decisions that are being made.
It doesn’t matter if you are at the helm of a start-up that is trying to raise funds or at a large corporate that hopes to expand with private equity, your lawyer should be at your side for the long haul. When he or she constantly has his head in your business, you are not only sure that you’ll receive the most appropriate advice, but also all the associated benefits that comes with working with someone who is passionate about what you do, and willing to lend their expertise to achieving your goals.
I tell my associates that the three most important qualities of any attorney is Availability, Affability and Ability – in that order of importance. The image of the evil genius lawyer might have been popularised by television, but it is not necessarily whom you want to engage with. It’s important to work with someone who really understands what you do, and who is readily available to help you do it.
Bring your attorney into the loop, the boardroom and your business. If you partner with the right one, you’ll both be in it for the long haul.