This article is for educational and entertainment purposes only. This is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such. Every case is different. Consult a licensed professional in your state. Viewing this website or its content does not create an attorney-client relationship with Lyda Law Firm or any of its lawyers.
The decision to hire an attorney can be scary for an entrepreneur. I’ve been there.
It’s confusing, daunting, and most importantly, crucial.
Prior to attending law school and becoming an attorney, I owned and operated a small skateboard company in California. In addition to the obvious hurdles you face starting a business, what I found most difficult was navigating the mystifying world of the law and evaluating how it applied to my business.
Think of the entrepreneurial journey like untangling Christmas lights. If successful, you know the result will be beautiful, but you have no idea where to start and it’s always evolving.
Entrepreneurs embrace ambiguity and are comfortable navigating complicated hurdles along the way. This drives the entrepreneur to constantly envision ways to accelerate the business and attain longevity, as they should. Sometimes, however, growth takes priority over an often overlooked, yet critical component: a business attorney.
When allocating costs, many business owners and entrepreneurs prioritize other resources over hiring a business attorney to avoid financial burdens, or because they think they can handle the issues on their own. Whether it’s the legal complexities of starting, incorporating, and financing a business, to the specific needs for reviewing contracts, protecting your intellectual property, hiring employees, and resolving disputes, having a trusted attorney on your team can make a big difference.
In going through the process myself, and hindsight being 20/20, here are three important lessons I learned:
In the age of the internet, with Google doing your legal research and free online resources drafting your contracts, you may have the illusion that your business is airtight from a legal perspective. I succumbed to the trickery and had myself convinced all my legal ducks were in a row, until I was slapped with a cease and desist. It turned out my free trademark search wasn’t as thorough as I thought. The desire to save a few bucks doing it myself ended up costing me more time and money, and was a bit of a buzzkill to my early-entrepreneurial spirit. What an easily avoidable mistake.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things you might not need to pay an attorney to do when starting a business. However, trying to DIY all of your legal needs with free online resources is risky and time consuming, albeit tempting. There is a tendency to think you’ll have the time and money to hire attorneys down the road, because you’re focused on X, Y, and Z right now and don’t have any current legal roadblocks. This is shortsighted logic. Legal talent can be retained for relatively little money up front, and it will cost much less to get things right in the beginning than trying to do so retroactively.
It’s increasingly important that you build a relationship with your attorney. The real value of an attorney isn’t in preparing the documents themselves, but in examining your business needs at every stage and advising you on how to move forward. That’s where free resources and transactional-based document sites fall short. After the trademark mishap, I decided it was time to level up and pay for a plan-based legal services site that allowed me to talk to attorneys on demand which I was excited about. Should I have been? No. Every time I called, I spoke to a different attorney who knew nothing about me or my business. I was starting from scratch with every attorney I talked to and wasn’t getting the tailored advice I needed.
Your attorney should add value to your business and invest time listening to your needs, understanding your company’s attitude toward risk, how it operates, and its short-term and long-term goals, so they are able to provide quality advice efficiently and effectively. Ideally, over time, it will grow into one of your most important business relationships, and you’ll find a trusted partner and advisor who will be on speed dial for the lifecycle of your business, providing transparency at every stage.
A good business attorney will not only provide advice, but should also be able to educate you and your staff regarding various legalities and illegalities throughout the course of your business. For example, you might not need your attorney to draft terms and conditions for your website, but you need them to explain the practical effects of including certain provisions vs. others as it relates to your offerings. It wasn’t until I fully understood the legal complexities and implications of my business that I was able to make truly confident decisions. I could feel when my confidence was hollow and my lack of knowledge was holding me back.
Understanding the various ways in which the law applies to your business will help you manage and operate without the hindrances of ignorance and doubt. Your attorney should give you sufficient comfort with the legal concepts that apply to your business so you are assertive in driving the process, making informed decisions, and understanding the ways in which the law can be restrictive, yet also the ways in which it can be a tool to create and capture value for your business.
If you’re thinking of starting a business, here’s a quick list of things a business attorney can help you with early on:
This is not a comprehensive list. For more information, check out our 16-Step Legal Checklist for Startups and Small Business or visit our YouTube Channel for informational videos.
Bottom line: entrepreneurs typically wear many hats, “attorney” shouldn’t be one of them. Consider talking to a small business attorney in your area for professional advice and guidance throughout your journey.
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