The Biggest Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make when Hiring Business Lawyers.

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I do not pay my lawyers to tell me what I cannot do, but to tell me how to do what I want to do.

J.P.Morgan

Ikenna is a brilliant programmer and all round tech whiz. in 2015, he designed a classified listings website called TRUGG, which drew public attention and commercial success due to its  user centered design  and simplicity of use, as well as its global reach.

However, As his company grew rapidly, so did the rate of lawsuits filed against the company. Aggrieved users, competitors and random individuals would file cases against the company, costing the company millions of Naira in time, legal costs and settlements. After a few years of fielding these cases, Ikenna decided to seek advice from Joe, a fellow successful tech entrepreneur,  on the desirability or otherwise of retaining a commercial lawyer for his business.

A good business attorney, when fully embraced  and informed, guides the company and its management on all touch points- products, services, communications, investor relations and customer service. Your lawyer will provide vital assistance in almost every aspect of your business, from formal business incorporation to basic compliance, copyright and trademark advice, and civil, contractual, or criminal liability arising from the activities of the company.

Most small businesses put off hiring a lawyer until the sheriff is standing at the door serving them with a summons. Bad mistake. The time to hook up with a good business lawyer is before you are sued. It’s easy to get into court, but very difficult and expensive to get out once you’ve been “trapped”. Once you have been served with a summons, it’s too late–the problem has already occurred, and it’s just a question of how much you will have to pay (in court costs, lawyers’ fees, settlements and other expenses) to get the problem resolved.

A good commercial law firm should be ideally able to handle your lawsuits, negotiate your lease of office or retail space, file a patent or trademark, draft a software license agreement, advise you on terminating a disruptive employee, and oversee your corporate annual meeting.

For many entrepreneurs, the idea of consulting a lawyer conjures up frightening visions of skyrocketing legal bills. The fee a lawyer will charge to keep you out of trouble is only a small fraction of the fee a lawyer will charge to get you out of trouble once it’s happened. When you hire an attorney, ensure you draw up an agreement (called an “engagement letter”) detailing the billing method to be applied and also specifying what expenses you’re expected to reimburse. This saves from conflicts arising from billings and requests for reimbursements.

Your lawyer should tell you what the law says and explain how it affects the way you do business so that you can spot problems well in advance. However, you should note that no lawyer can possibly know everything about every area of law. If your business has specialized legal needs (a graphic designer, for example, may need someone who is familiar with copyright laws), your attorney should either be familiar with that special area or have a working relationship with someone who is.

You should be able to communicate openly and freely with your attorney at all times. Good looks and a dynamic personality are not as important in a lawyer as accuracy, thoroughness, intelligence, the willingness to work hard for you and attention to detail. Look out for a lawyer who believes in your business and who is willing to go above and beyond the call of duty in managing the risks of your business and resolving any issues that may arise before they start.

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