Depending on your business you should consider building a junior legal presence in your business to avoid having to pay high hourly rates for all legal related questions. This is especially important if you deal with legal questions, contracts etc. on a regular basis.
If you do have to hire a lawyer always go for the best and somebody with specialized knowledge. If your counter party has to negotiate with a highly qualified lawyer it will save you more money in the long term compared to paying a slightly lower hourly rate. I would not engage one lawyer for everything but instead get an expert for each topic and use them as needed. That means a lot meetings and time spent on searching for various lawyers but it also means that you will get expert advice for each questions you might have. I would advice against large firms since work will usually be done by junior associates and you will only meet the partner for sales negotiations and billing purposes. Stick with small, specialized firms that know what they are talking about and do not have a deep hierarchy. Also note that lawyers will never tell you yes or no – they will always give you options so that you cannot blame them later on. If you know this, always make them spell out the costs, benefits and problems associated with each option so that you can make a well-informed decision.
I am not a huge fan. They will generally tell you what you already know and bill you without mercy. Often an outside perspective can be very valuable but try to get that initially from new employees or hire individuals for specific projects, if you feel you should have an outside perspective. I am very hesitant to believe that someone else knows your problem better than you, if you are truly honest with yourself. Consultants also have the tendency to give advice and to not stick around for the execution of their brilliant plan – they are also not accountable for any of it. Would you work with an unaccountable, extremely expensive employee who does not like to execute? Why should the same not apply to consultants?
Fund raisers and financing partners
As a start-up you will get a lot of requests from these generally well connected senior industry players. They are generally great contacts and very valuable. If you are asked to pay without performance e.g. a retainer or similar up-front payments, I would suggest that you do not work with them. Performance-based pay is the only way to go and it shows that they are confident that they will deliver real value (deals, financing, clients).
eCFO Tips: Remember your consultants/advisors will only be as good as the information you share with them. You should regularly update your advisors and MOST IMPORTANTLY the people who do the actual work on a daily basis (junior staff) at least once every quarter. Invite them over to your company and give them a general update on how things are going. This will ensure that they will provide you with sufficient advice. It will also save you money since advice will generally be better and you will not need as long to bring them up to speed if an urgent matter arises. Throw in some nice food and drinks and I am sure your work will always end up on the top of the pile 😉
Even if you have built a good network of advisors make sure that they can grow with you. From time to time you should review if they still have sufficient scope to giveyou good advice. Sometimes you will outgrow advisors very quickly – you should replace them if it becomes obvious that the relationship no longer works. If you have chosen your advisors carefully and maintained a strong and communicative culture, it is most likely that your advisors will grow with you and continue to be valuable assets throughout the growth cycle of your business.
eCFO Tips: Pricing – often it is going to sound like the hourly rates of your advisors are set in stone. This is not true – make sure that you negotiate not only the hourly rates but also yearly accumulated fees e.g. if you go above EUR50k you get an overall discount on all accumulates fees for next year. In addition, ALWAYS ask your advisors if they are willing to take some risks and enter into a performance agreement. Even if they do not end up doing it, you will find out how convinced they are with regards to actually being successful.