As a promising start-up, you need a legal firm that can handle and protect your critical business information, trade secrets, customer data, and other intellectual property. But so far, your company is on the smaller end and your operating budget can barely see you through to the end of each month. You have high-value ideas (formulas, code, a high-potential business model) but you don’t yet have the engine in place that can turn your ideas into steadily growing capital. You need to get from here to there and you need to protect your high-value intellectual property along the way.

If you’re like many small businesses, you’ll experience some form of threat to your vital intangible resources before you’ve developed a robust legal infrastructure that can protect you. But you don’t want to spend every dollar “protecting” ideas that you can’t afford to develop. So how can you navigate your way safely through this difficult growth period in which you may have a lease on your workspace, a functional IT system, a team (even a team of two or three), and a few early clients, but you don’t yet have an active relationship with a legal firm? Here are a few things to keep in mind as you chose a partner who can help you. Look for a team with these qualifications: (Please feel free to add or delete any of these—These are just starting points for the text, similar to what we did last week):

1. Experience with companies like yours. Look for a firm that has a successful track record of bringing organizations exactly like yours through this no-mans-land and safely to the other side. Your company may be unique, but you’re not alone, and many others have traveled this path before you.

2. A belief in what you do. Choose a firm that will stay behind you, even if you hit a few setbacks and snags on your way to stability. You need capital in order to grow; you don’t need a legal firm that will drain your fragile stream of revenue and then disappear.

3. Listening skills. Choose a firm that will really listen—especially when you describe your concerns, not just your hopes and expectations. Positivity has a place, but you don’t need a relentless cheer brigade; you need someone who will anticipate your unique problems and head them off before they reach you.

4. Responsiveness. Choose a partner that will stay within range and appear when you need them, will answer your phone calls and emails, and will give you the straight advice you need, without sugar-coating, so that you can navigate difficult waters with some sense of certainty.

5. Flexibility. You need an unflappable team who knows they haven’t seen it all. They expect the unexpected and they recognize that technology and business evolve at blinding speed and in sometimes surprising directions. What will happen if your product appeals to consumers for reasons you didn’t plan or expect? What will happen if your intellectual property is used or applied in ways you didn’t anticipate? These things happen all the time, and you need a legal team that has a flexible mindsight and framework to help you keep up.

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