Ever heard the saying, “better to do a thing right the first time than to spend twice as much time doing it over?” I’m pretty sure that phrase was invented just for folks who attempt to start a business without consulting a lawyer. Yes, it is true that there are many legal tasks that you can perform or attempt to perform on your own, such as: corporate entity filing, business license procurement, trademark filing/registration, copyright filing/registration and even contract review. Then again, you could also braid your own hair and sew in your own weave (sorry fellas if you don’t understand the analogy) but that doesn’t mean you should!
Anything worth doing, is worth doing right the first time. Not only is ‘going it alone’ potentially a huge waste of time, it is also more costly to pay someone to fix your mistakes. Not to mention your mistakes could lead to improper filings, illegal corporate actions being taken and of course the dreaded “L” word: LITIGATION!
So, now I’m sure you’re asking yourself, ‘what kind of services should I consult with a lawyer about regarding my new business?’ Great question…keep reading! The following is a list of things (not an exhaustive list) that you, as an entrepreneur should consult with a lawyer on to help get your business started on the right foot:
- CONTRACTS: An attorney can help you form contract templates that you can use with your own clients and they can also help you review/negotiate contracts you may be asked to sign by third parties. Some (but not all) contracts you may want to ask your lawyer about are: non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements (NDA’s), lease agreements, independent contractor agreements, partnership agreements, employment agreements, joint venture agreements, vendor agreements, sponsorship agreements and engagement letters.
- BUSINESS FORMATION: A lawyer can help you decide what type of business entity (i.e. LLC, LLP, corporation, non-profit corporation…etc) makes the most sense for you based on your business, product, service and/or taxation preferences. He/She can also help you to properly file your company’s organizational documents with the secretary of state; help you to obtain a tax identification number with the IRS (this number is necessary to obtain prior to opening a bank account, receiving money and/or spending money) and procure the proper city, county and/or state licenses.
- FOUNDING DOCUMENTS/AGREEMENTS: If you plan to go into business with others, it is important to spell out from day one: how profits and losses will be split, how the company will be capitalized (i.e. who will be contributing start-up funds and how much); basic duties of partners, board members, directors and /or shareholders and the initial distribution of stock…etc. Different entity types require different kinds of founding documents. An attorney can help you select, construct and execute the correct documents for your business.
- INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY PROTECTION: Protecting your brand and your work is critical for the long-term success of your business. An attorney can help you to file trademarks, copyrights and/or patents to protect your logo, name, slogan, product, invention and/or creative works. If you were not alone in creating your work, an attorney can also help you secure full ownership over your work through a copyright assignment agreement or work-for-hire agreement. He/She can also help you to properly outline your ownership over a creative work through a production agreement, joint venture agreement, partnership agreement or joint author agreement.
Finally, now you’re probably thinking, “Consulting with a lawyer sounds nice, but I can barely keep Sallie Mae at bay, how can I afford a lawyer?” Well, I have an answer (wish I had an app tho) for that too! Even if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer to do the service for you, you should still consult a lawyer. You probably won’t be able to do this for free, however. Lawyers generally charge anywhere from $75-$150 for a 1- hour consultation; but, having an hour to pick a lawyer’s brain about processes, rules, regulations…etc. can still be invaluable for your business. It can also help you to develop a game plan for how to tackle starting your business and how/when to engage legal help when you are ready. Good luck and don’t forget to #lawyerup!