For Starters: The Right Time To “Lawyer Up” When Starting A Company

One of the most important decisions that founders will make in the earliest stages of their company is deciding when to engage with an attorney. To answer this question and many more on the sixth episode of For Starters, host Robbie Allen talks to two of the top startup attorneys in the Triangle—Glen Caplan and Neil Bagchi—and of course throws in some personal anecdotes from his own experience “lawyering up” as a founder.

While running StatSheet (later called Automated Insights), Allen commonly turned to Caplan, a partner at the Robinson and Bradshaw law firm—which sponsors For Starters—for legal advice. Now, Allen brings Caplan on the podcast for advice on when and how entrepreneurs should navigate the process of getting an attorney and mistakes to avoid. 

After Caplan, Allen talks to Bagchi, who started Bagchi Law in 2008 and later founded Bagchi Group in 2020 to provide financial and business strategy services as well as legal services to his clients. Allen asks Bagchi for his take on the role that attorneys play in a company and how entrepreneurs can identify the great attorneys from the mediocre ones. 

Here are some key takeaways:

  • Entrepreneurs shouldn’t view engaging with an attorney as an all-or-nothing decision. Bagchi advises starting small and early on by vetting questions and getting advice from various attorneys before fully settling on one. (44:00) In fact, picking and choosing only the most urgent legal services you need, in addition to utilizing whatever automated solutions are available, are the two ways he suggests to prevent legal fees from getting too high in the early stages. (1:01:00)
  • While entrepreneurs can delay doing some legal tasks in the early days, other things, like formalizing ownership between founders, must be done ASAP to avoid detrimental disputes in the long run, Caplan said. Making sure the company owns its intellectual property is another one of those crucial to-do’s, especially if the founder plans to exit in the future. (6:00)
  • Although Caplan said using “DIY” legal document-generating services (such as Allen’s Startomatic) and getting an attorney aren’t mutually exclusive, the community aspect of engaging with a real attorney is irreplaceable. Startup attorneys see hundreds, if not thousands, of founders so they can help founders navigate the startup community by connecting you with accountants, giving referrals to investors or even just helping you avoid common early-days pitfalls that they see come up a lot. (8:00)

For the nitty-and-gritty lowdown on all things legal, listen to the full episode below. And thanks as always to our sponsor, Robinson Bradshaw!