Finding an Attorney and CPA for Startups
HubPages recommended that I write this article and I have a fair bit of experience on the subject. As an attorney, I work a lot with startups to help them get their idea off the ground. Most of my projects are financed on next to nothing, so I sometimes work for next to nothing. Depending on what the project is, sometimes I'm okay with it. Those people who found me and were able to connect with me were fortunate because they were able to cross off one of these professionals from their list, and I can help with the second.
Attorneys, Where Are They?
Contrary to popular belief, we attorneys do not live in caves, castles or under bridges. We're all around you everyday, but we're like doctors. We don't all specialize in a particular area. In fact, in North Carolina, I'm not allowed to use the term "specialize" until I'm recognized by the state bar as such, so I focus on areas such as business law, taxation and the like. Now, where are they? The easiest way to find an attorney is to ask someone who has hired one before. I always try to set up my business startups with a mentor if they don't already have one. The mentor can answer questions like where to find an attorney or a CPA.
If you don't have a mentor or someone you can ask, you can always try the start bar association referral program. Each state has something similar to it and a simple Google search will direct you to it. How it works is each attorney who wants to participate will pay a fee that helps support the program, and the attorneys select areas they practice in. Then, when people call in, they discuss their issue and an attorney is picked from the practice area that is needed. In North Carolina, it is a rotation. If I got picked for a business law case, I won't see another business law case until everyone else has been picked in that category. This is one way of finding an attorney.
There are also lawyer review and advertising services like lawyer.com where you can search by legal issue, location and more. This is a less random way to choose a lawyer because you'll be able to select from many instead of being assign one that you then have to call. I must admit, I'm still not on lawyer.com, so you won't find everyone there.
You can also use that good old Google to find lawyers in your area. This will show the lawyers who are the best at Search Engine Optimization, but not necessarily the best.
In my opinion, the best way is through word of mouth. If you can find a few startups who have hired attorneys and then shop around, you'll find the best lawyer for you.
- Just because you meet with them does not mean you have to hire them. Shop around, ask other attorneys.
- Google your attorney before you hire him or her. Find out if there are bad reviews.
- Check the state bar disciplinary reports for your attorney. Each attorney has a report and they're searchable by the public.
- Ask about billing upfront, even before the consultation. Some lawyers charge for consultations, some don't. Just make sure you know how much you're going to have to spend.
- Ask questions. Your lawyer has to answer them in regards to billing, handling your paperwork, and anything else you want to know in regards to your relationship.
- Don't be intimidated. Laywers are just trying to earn a living like you. The high fees are the result of high cost of schooling, expensive legal research software, insurances, state fees, and more. The price doesn't necessarily reflect quality, so bare that in mind as well.
- These tips work for lawyers and accountants the same.
CPAs, Where Are They and Do You Need Them?
I guess the same could be asked of attorneys, but I don't want to tell you not to hire someone like me now do I? The truth is, it always depends. You may not need an attorney or a CPA for what you're doing, or you may need just one or both. Just like attorneys, they do not live in caves. Accountants help keep things organized. They find deductions and warning signs of decaying business for you. They are amazing at deciding prices for services or products and they're very needed to prepare financial statements for investors. If these sound like good things, it might be a good idea to find a CPA.
The search methods remain largely the same. Instead of your state bar referral or lawyers.com, you can look at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. That has a directory of CPAs and accounting firms. There are other groups as well that focus on portions of the field, like female CPAs.
As with attorneys, you can always use Google to find those accountants who are the best at SEO. That might also mean they're good enough to be successful enough to pay someone else to do their SEO, but maybe not.
I still recommend finding a CPA through word of mouth. If you have an attorney already, he or she probably knows dozens of accountants. We refer business back and forth a lot, so we're constantly communicating and sending each other Christmas cards. If you don't have one, find a few people who do and ask them about their accountants. Then, you can sit down and interview the accountants you've found either through your colleagues or other search methods. I've found, as the nature of the industry goes, that accountants have much clearer billing practices because they're much better with numbers and displaying them in easy to understand manners. Even though that may be the case, still ask if you have any questions. Consultation is your time to clear up any question you may have. This is essentially the same as hiring an employee except you won't have to carry the insurances and pay FICA taxes on them.
With all professionals, CPAs also have a disciplinary board. You can search the records of each accountant you're interested in to see who would be the best fit.
With both attorneys and CPAs, do your homework. Research each one, meet them and don't be hesitant to say 'no.' This is a moderately big decision and you're going to want a professional that wants to see your company grow and succeed. In recap, word of mouth is best, but if you can't, use one of the other methods available in this information age to find a qualified professional. Once you do, grill him or her until you're satisfied your business relationship would be beneficial to you