Startup Law Hack: Get to Know Your Associate

One common gripe that you’ll hear around the startup community is that a startup using a large law firm will simply be “thrown to a junior associate.”  If you’ve read my post “In Startup Law, Big Can Be Beautiful” you’ll understand my perspective on this.

Junior associate can mean someone who is truly clueless about what they are doing.  But with the right firm, it can also mean someone who:

  • has been assigned tasks appropriate for their skill level, with senior-level oversight
  • has access to other more experienced (read: expensive) attorneys when they’re actually needed
  • has access to institutional knowledge and resources within the firm to efficiently handle most of your basic needs, and
  • because they are early in their career, will be much easier to get ahold of than a senior attorney managing dozens of much larger clients.

Much like how properly-run hospitals efficiently distribute work, with the assistance of technology, between specialists, general practitioners, nurse practitioners, etc., you won’t find any problem with being assigned (not dumped) to a junior associate if the firm you’re working with knows what its doing.  You’ll get better service because of it.

The logical conclusion of this is, when you approach a firm, you should care just as much about the junior associate assigned to your company as you do about the partner/senior attorney.  Research their junior associates, and don’t be afraid to request one.  This will probably surprise the firm a bit, but there’s nothing wrong with making sure you are well served both at the senior and junior level.  Within any firm, there can be wide variance between associates who are there just trying to earn a paycheck and pay off debt, and those who love working with entrepreneurs and have the credentials to show it.