Gone are the days when the demand for good lawyers well outstripped the supply. Lawyers in the late '90s not only routinely turned away potential clients that they did not believe brought the requisite cachet, but often demanded large equity stakes (as well as high hourly rates) in connection with representation of those clients they did take on. Those days have passed. While the supply of lawyers has normalized to a certain degree (few law firms in the Bay Area escaped some form of downsizing), there remain a large number of qualified lawyers with free time on their hands. This is good news for startups on a number of accounts:
First, it means you can be picky about who you hire. And it really does matter. A good lawyer not only protects you from breaking the law but can also give you good advice about business and legal norms. Lawyers who have been representing startups for any reasonable period of time will have already seen virtually everything you will encounter as you grow your business. Having someone you trust as a reasonable, level-headed, smart, up-to-date advisor can come in very handy. So do your homework. Talk with lots of lawyers and find the one who best meets the needs and style of your company.
Second, its simple economics -- because there is a greater supply of lawyers than there is demand, you have buying power. You may choose to exercise it to get a better billing rate, or get access to a more senior attorney, or get important introductions to other clients of your new attorney. It is entirely up to you. This is very much a buyers market and it would be bad business not to exercise your buying power.
Third, there is lots of great free advice floating around out there. In an effort to market their skills, numerous law firms these days are providing free legal updates to clients and potential clients. These updates provide useful information about everything from Sarbanes-Oxley (man do I get a lot of those updates these days), to consumer privacy issues, to the current state of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. While you won't be able to replace hiring a good lawyer with these numerous free newsletters, they can be very helpful in keeping you up to date on issues that matter to your company as it grows. And they may even help you choose your future lawyer.
Lawyers can play an important role in the growth of a young company so take the time to shop around. It will be worth the time in the end.