10 essential legal documents for UK startups
Learn what these essential documents are for and why you need them to start, run and grow your business.
Like anyone you hire, your lawyer needs to have the right specialist knowledge and be a good fit for the culture you’re building at your company.
In this post, we set out ways to find a specialist lawyer for your startup, and the questions to ask before you engage them.
Each of these ways to find a startup lawyer has advantages and drawbacks so founders often combine several approaches to find a few suitable candidates to compare.
Ask people about their favourite restaurant or holiday and they’re bound to enjoy telling you about it. It’s the same if you ask if they know a brilliant lawyer – generally people love to share their opinions and tell others about memorably great service. Ask your team, other founders or your mentor to recommend a startup lawyer and to tell you about their first-hand experience of working with them.
If you’re lucky, with a personal referral you might even get a free consultation or an introductory discount with the lawyer.
Good people know good people. If you’ve worked with a lawyer on your house purchase, writing your will, dealing with probate or another matter (only if they did a great job, obviously), ask if they know a great lawyer who specialises in startups.
Unless you happen to be a law graduate or ex-lawyer, the lawyer you worked with will have many more lawyers in their network than you do. Even if you don’t find your ideal startup lawyer directly this way, you could encounter someone-who-knows-someone.
Make sure you’re clear that you need a specialist in startups. A ‘business’ or ‘corporate’ lawyer might only work with more established companies and therefore not have the expertise you need.
A Google search for startup lawyers in your area should generate plenty of results – but it’s tricky to evaluate a lawyer simply from their online presence. After all, you want to judge them on their skills as a lawyer, not their skills in online marketing.
In the US, there are online directories where you can find listings for specialist lawyers or upload a description of the task you need help with for lawyers to contact you. Some of the best known services are UpCounsel, RocketLawyer and LegalZoom. But they don’t yet operate in the UK. Here, you could try Lawbite which offers a free 15 minute call to get a quote (at the time of writing).
If you need legal advice in your negotiations with an investor for a funding round, it makes sense to bring in SeedLegals. Why? Because we close more early stage deals in the UK than anyone else. Find out more about the SeedLegals Advisory service and book a free call with one of our experts to discuss what you need.
For on-demand advice on corporate law, employment, commercial contracts and negotiations, intellectual property, data privacy and more, our General Counsel as a Service might be what you’re looking for. GCaaS is the affordable SeedLegals way to bring in your own dedicated specialist senior lawyer who’ll get to know you and your company and be ready with practical legal advice whenever you need it.
Before you hire a lawyer, you should assess their expertise, approach and suitability for the tasks you need help with. Here are some questions to ask:
What experience do you have working with startups?
Have you worked with similar companies in our industry?
Tell me about some of your success stories for cases similar to ours.
Who will be on my team?
Ask about the lawyer’s experience to make sure their knowledge is relevant. Case studies demonstrate their ability to handle issues specific to startups and if you talk about their previous cases, you’ll also get a sense of how well they communicate: are they clear, confident and enthusiastic?
If you’re talking to a law firm, you might find yourself on the receiving end of a strong pitch from the top team… only to find that instead you end up working with their B-team. Ask who exactly will be working with you, and make sure you meet them.
What do you think are the current trends and challenges in the UK startup ecosystem?
Do you have connections that could help our startup beyond legal advice?
If your lawyer is aware of what’s going on in your sector, you’ll have a shared understanding and vocabulary which can make it easier to work together. If they have a strong network in the ecosystem, you could gain valuable connections and insights alongside the legal advice you’re paying for.
What specific services do you provide for startups?
How do you approach advising startups on legal matters?
Beside helping with our immediate legal issues, do you offer proactive advice?
Set your expectations by finding out about the range of services the lawyer can offer. Ask about their approach to giving advice – this will reveal whether they go beyond reactive problem-solving. If they’re proactive with their guidance, this can help you mitigate future risks you might not even be aware of yet.
What do you charge? What’s your fee structure?
For this job, how long do you estimate it will take?
Do you charge by the hour, is it project-based or do you prefer to work on a retainer?
Other than your standard fees, what additional costs might there be?
What do you usually charge for common startup legal services such as….? [ask for examples of their fees for tasks you need help with, for example: contract drafting, advising on a funding round etc]
Ask about fees and any ‘hidden’ costs to help you budget for bringing in the lawyer. If you have a specific task you need help with, ask them to estimate how long it will take.
How do you prefer to communicate with clients?
How long does it usually take to respond to client inquiries?
How quickly can you respond if we need your help in an emergency?
How frequently do you update clients about your work on their cases?
Find out if the lawyer’s preferred communication channels match yours. Make sure you’re happy with their usual response times.
Do you advise or represent other businesses in our industry?
If you worked with us, can you see any conflicts of interest?
If a conflict of interest cropped up, how would you handle it?
What measures do you take to keep data secure and make sure our information stays confidential?
Make sure you have unbiased advice by asking the lawyer to tell you about their other interests. A startup lawyer might be advising several companies so there could be a conflict of interest if they’re advising one of your competitors. Or if they’re an investor in a competitor.
You’d expect a lawyer to take data security seriously but find out if they’re using best practice to protect sensitive business information.
Can I speak to a few of your previous startup clients?
Do you have any current clients I could contact to get a better understanding of your services?
Do you have client testimonials you can share with me?
References and testimonials validate the lawyer’s claims and can give you insights into their past performance. Unlike case studies, testimonials should be the client’s own words. And if you speak to a client or referee, you can hear first-hand about their experience.
Just like hiring any employee or contractor, you need to do research to make a well-informed decision. Ask your network for recommendations and then ask lawyers plenty of questions to get to know them. A good lawyer will expect you to lightly grill them – if they don’t answer promptly, appear irritated by your questions or give unclear answers, these are big red flags.
You’re the expert on what your company does – your lawyer can take care of legal matters to give you more time back to concentrate on growing the business. Like many founders, you might discover that the lawyer you hire becomes one of your startup’s greatest allies.
Future-proof your company and scale faster.
✔ Dedicated senior lawyer
✔ Up to 30 hours of legal advice per year
✔ Contracts, employment, data privacy and more