Ever heard the saying, “better to do a thing right the first time than to spend twice as much time and money to do 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 costlier 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, creative, small business owner or side-hustler, should consult with a lawyer on to help get your business started on the right foot:
CONTRACTS: An attorney can help you draft comprehensive contracts and contract templates that you can use to protect your business from and your relationships with clients, business partners, service providers, employees, sponsors, vendors, investors…etc. you name it. An attorney 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 consult with a lawyer about are: non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements (NDA’s), lease agreements, independent contractor agreements, partnership agreements, employment agreements, joint venture agreements, operating agreements, company by-laws, client agreements, vendor agreements and investor agreements.
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 size, number of owners 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 required to open a business bank account, receiving money and/or spending money) and procure the proper city, county and/or state licenses. Making sure you build your business on a solid foundation is critical for long-term success.
FOUNDING DOCUMENTS/AGREEMENTS: If you plan to go into business with others, it is important to spell out from day one: the ownership interest of each owner; how profits and losses will be split, how the company will be capitalized (i.e. who will be contributing start-up funds/assets 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 patent applications to protect your logo, name, slogan, product, invention and/or creative works. Further, if you were not alone in creating your logo, photos, brand name, flyers, website or creative work, an attorney can also help you to 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 interest in a creative work through a production agreement, joint venture agreement, partnership agreement or joint author agreement.
Ok, 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 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 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!
Disclaimer: The information contained in this post is not and should not be considered legal advice. All materials on this post have been prepared for general information purposes only to permit you to learn more about small business law, Attorney Sydnee Mack, her services and her firm. The information presented is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, may not be current and is subject to change without notice.