Before I became a small business owner, I was a lawyer. This leap from one very different career path was reminiscent of Elle Woods in the movie Legally Blonde going from fashion to law school. Only I started out as a practicing attorney, and later became the CEO of a small business. While, admittedly, there were moments where I wished I had a slightly more traditional background in the field, I found that my law degree was actually an asset. I used what I knew to execute contracts, negotiate deals, and work with my employees.
However, not every entrepreneur starts out as a professional lawyer. Most will actually look into hiring a lawyer, or a legal firm, to represent their startup. These reasons may vary from needing assistance with standard contract preparation to seeking counsel if their company has been served. But, should your small business still hire a lawyer? If you need help with the following aspects of your business, it may be time to bring on professional legal guidance.
Incorporating or Forming an LLC
As the owner of a third-party legal filing services company, we work with entrepreneurs each day to incorporate or form an LLC for their businesses. However, we do not provide legal advice. This is a common question entrepreneurs ask us. Our recommendation is that they seek a legal professional for extra assistance.
Every small business and its needs are different. If you do not know which entity to incorporate as it’s best to consult with a lawyer or attorney. They can help you determine which legal structure is most fitting for your company and answer questions you may have about document preparation.
Chances are very high that at some point, you will need to prepare and review contracts for your business. It doesn’t matter what the documents are for or their subject matter. An entrepreneur cannot create a contract without understanding what their business is getting into or blindly sign off on a legally binding document. If they decide to do this, it could end with their company in serious trouble.
This is where it becomes key to work with a lawyer. They can help review and clarify any questions you may have about certain clauses or confusing fine print before you sign off on documents. A lawyer may also assist with preparing contracts for your business and negotiating the best possible terms of an agreement before signing any further documents.
Intellectual property, like trademarks, copyrights, and patents, are another service that my business provides entrepreneurs. However, it is also another aspect of small business where we do not provide legal consultations. If you have questions or concerns about your company’s IP, it is best to request the services of an attorney or lawyer who specializes in this area.
Consider hiring a lawyer before you decide to hire your first employee — whether they are full-time or freelance. Lawyers can be a huge help in consulting small business owners about the necessary codes, regulations, and laws that come with hiring employees in the workplace. For example, if you don’t already have an employee handbook, a lawyer can help draft one for your business.
There is a reason why I specifically recommended hiring a lawyer before an employee. If something goes awry in your workplace, the employee could serve your business with a lawsuit. You and your business may face severe consequences because you did not do your legal homework beforehand. Ultimately, working with a lawyer is the best thing you can do for any employees you decide to hire. You’ll have a better understanding of their rights and will be able to create an environment where they feel protected and comfortable coming into work each day.
How Do I Know if I Have Found the *Right* Lawyer?
The “best” lawyer is not going to be someone who is outrageously expensive, has famous clients, or works out of the shiniest office. Do your research before settling on a lawyer to represent your small business, and seek out an individual who is the best fit for you and your needs.
At the bare minimum, you’ll want to work with a credible legal professional. They should have a portfolio of clients they can show you and are experienced in the areas in which you need assistance. For small business owners on a budget, they may also be flexible about their expenses and payments.
Trust your gut, above all. The lawyer you work with needs to be a trustworthy individual. You should genuinely like them and feel comfortable entrusting your private information to them. You’re in it together for the long haul, after all!
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Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com which provides online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent services, DBAs, and trademark and copyright filing services. You can find MyCorporation on Twitter at @MyCorporation.