Different Lawyers for Different Matters?

Eduardo Hueso Independent iOS Engineer

October 29th, 2013

I incorporated my s-corp with Wilson Sonsini (a prestigious and expensive firm). I find myself avoiding using them for most matters to avoid their steep fees. I would like to have a less expensive lawyer who can take care of the routine matters while preserving Wilson Sonsini for the more critical ones. I'm not even sure which ones those are, possibly fund raising?

Any words of wisdom on doing this?
Any corporate lawyer recommendations in California who are significantly less expensive than the premier firms?


Jessica Alter Entrepreneur & Advisor

October 29th, 2013

I'd recommend not using the big firms for standard contract work. You can find lawyers who left similar firms that are now on their own and charge 1/2 to 1/3. Incorporating and fundraising the big firms will do and defer fees. They do it so often that it should not be that expensive. Sent from my iPhone

John Wallace President at Apps Incorporated

October 29th, 2013

I think it's fine to have different lawyers for different purposes. Wilson Sonsini has a great reputation and I'd definitely want to use them for M&A and investment work. My only experience with them is that they represented my opposition in a breach of contract suit I brought. I thought they did a fine job, but nothing someone couldn't get from another firm as far as litigation. When in Southern California I really liked working with a business lawyer named Mary Hanson. She did a lot of contract work for me. If you use her, tell her I said "hi". 

Russ Wallace Managing Director, SF at Prolific Interactive

October 29th, 2013

You're smart to be asking this; having worked at Gunderson Dettmer, a very similar firm to Wilson Sonsini, I can say that the big firms are not needed for most matters.

I would look to Wilson Sonsini for anything that potential investors will want to review during diligence. You're paying for good, standardized forms that your investors trust, so it will save you headache in diligence to pay more for prestige on the important forms. These include:

(i) your employee stock option plan;
(ii) employment agreements (you could ask for a form, then get a cheaper lawyer to edit it as needed);
(iii) an employee intellectual property (IP) assignment agreement (every employee should sign one, this is very important);
(iv) any other agreement that relates to your IP;
(iii) any financing documents (term sheets should be free, though; these are stupid simple).

For simple stuff like incorporation, board notes, board approvals, etc, a cheaper lawyer is great. Or you could talk to your paralegal at Wilson Sonsini (do not ever talk to the partner unless you're in a dire or business-changing situation).

Also, remember that you should get a deferral of fees and a discount on normal rates from them.

If you need an excellent, top-notch attorney who no longer charges big firm rates (he used to work at Latham & Watkins, generally accepted as the most prestigious firm on the West Coast), then call Inder Comar at http://www.comarlaw.com/. Great guy, reasonable rates, can handle just about anything.

Patrick Holman Enterprise Technology Sales

October 29th, 2013

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Brian Co Product Development at InsideTrack

October 29th, 2013

I have a similar situation, although with a different large firm. In addition to the work performed by that firm I work with Jesse Berg at General Counsel Law Ventures. Jesse is a fantastic attorney and works seamlessly with the other law firm when required. I have worked with Jesse on various corporate development matters and contracts and can highly recommend his services. (http://gclawventures.com)

Scott Milburn Entrepreneurial Senior Executive and Attorney

October 29th, 2013

Having been a partner in both a very big law firm and now a smaller, and far less expensive, virtual law firm, and having spent the past 15 years in business roles with early stage companies, I can attest that few companies need the big, expensive firm. I agree that for specific documents like those listed above that professional investors care about, having standardized forms from someone like Wilson makes sense. Beyond that, I would not use an expensive firm for other work. There should be plenty of much more economical options, including virtual firms.

At the other end of the scale, generally avoid solo practitioners who do not have decades of experience. While they tend to be less expensive, they do not have the broad range of experience to adequately represent a company in all areas of law.

Here is a blog I wrote about things to keep in mind to help control your legal expenses. http://www.advocateslg.com/blog/2013/01/controlling_your_business_legal_expenses/


Mitchell Portnoy Healthcare Information Executive

October 29th, 2013

Interesting issue that Im dealing with now and have done so in the past. Wilson Sonsini? Are you paying them in cash or have they given you a fixed amount of credit against future services in return for a small equity position?

Jacob Kojfman Experienced technology and corporate lawyer, focusing on SAAS

October 29th, 2013

Hi Eduardo, As a lawyer in the start-up space, I can tell you from my experience, your legal advisor should become a trusted confidante; if you have a good relationship with your counsel, they will become more than just an advisor. Cost should not be the only concern; do you also feel comfortable with the person. You can use one counsel for routine corporate matters, such as board matters, etc. and another one for bigger transactions. Regards, Jacob Jacob Kojfman 604 318 4539

Eduardo Hueso Independent iOS Engineer

October 29th, 2013

Thanks for all the super helpful answers and recommendations.
Yes, I got some deferral of fees by Wilson Sonsini and that has helped.


October 31st, 2013

Hey Eduardo -- I'd highly recommend saving the big firm work for only the high value stuff (ip, m&a, maybe incorporation), 

For everything else, find a generalist with startup experience (and startup appetite). 

I'm a big fan of Jessica Hubley -- she is super-smart, former Latham & Watkins and has a ton of early stage startup experience. Her email is jhubley@gmail.com 

Good luck.