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When to Hire a Lawyer for Business Matters (and when to Do it Yourself)!

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When to Hire a Lawyer for Business Matters (and when to Do it Yourself)!

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 25, 2012 Updated: April 30, 2012

Ever wonder if you need to get a lawyer involved in a business matter?

A lawyer can help in many business scenarios, from helping with the incorporation process, drawing up contracts and, if necessary, representing you in litigation. But is a lawyer always necessary or are there times when you are better off saving the big bucks and navigating legal processes on your own?

Here are some guidelines to help you know which legal business issues you can probably handle independently and when it’s really time to retain a lawyer.

Legal Issues You Can Handle on Your Own

This is not an exhaustive list, but it covers items you can probably take care of on your own, and government resources that can help. Each business is unique, and an initial consultation with a lawyer can help you determine the complexity of your own needs and how to proceed on many of these issues.

1. Naming your business and claiming a trademark – The process of naming a business isn’t as simple as just picking a name and running with it. If you choose any name other than your own, you’ll need to file a “Doing Business As” Name. This guide explains how to: Register your Fictitious or “Doing Business As” Name. You should also check to see whether your choice for a URL (domain name) has been claimed already. You can do this on your own by searching the public WHOIS databaseof domain names.  Once you have a unique domain name, follow these steps to claim it. 

You can also search for and claim a trademark on your own. Use the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s trademark search tool to see if a similar name, or a variation of it, is trademarked. You can even claim a trademark yourself online. This blog explains how: Protect your Invention or Product - Patents, Trademarks, and Copyright Explained.

2. Legal structure for your business – Entering into a partnership agreement or forming an LLC can be done without legal assistance - although it's wise to consult an attorney about the ramifications to your individual business. You can also use the services of an online broker such as LegalZoomMyCorporation, or The Company Corporation. These guides explain what you need to do:

3. Filing and registering the paperwork to start a business – Most of the legal steps involved in starting a business can be handled without the help of a lawyer. This includes applying for the right licenses and permits, registering your business for tax purposes, and applying for an Employer Identification Number (EIN). This step-by-step guide from SBA.gov explains what you need to do.

4. Creating contracts and non-disclosure agreements (NDA) – Customer contracts, partner or vendor agreements, and NDAs can all be prepared without the assistance of a lawyer. These blogs explain how:

5. Creating buy-sell agreements – If you are in a business partnership or an LLC with multiple owners, you’ll need a buy-sell agreement in place to protect you, in case a co-owner dies or wants to transfer ownership. Read more in: Buy-Sell Agreements – Does my Business Really Need One?

Other aspects of business ownership that can be handled without a lawyer include hiring employees or, independent contractors.

When it’s Time to Retain a Lawyer

While a lawyer and eager online brokers will be willing to help you with any of the items listed above, you'll need an attorney for more complex issues.  These can include:

1. Forming a corporation - While you can often take care of the formation of a legal business entity such as an LLC or business partnership without legal help, forming a corporation with shareholders and a board is a more complex process. Articles of incorporation can be filed without lawyers, but the administrative side of managing the complex tax and legal requirements often requires the services of a corporate attorney.

2. Filing a Patent - Patents are expensive and time consuming. It can take years to get one approved.  That’s why so often see “patent pending” messaging in the marketplace. So unless you are in the pharmaceutical or biotech industries, consider whether patenting your product actually gives you a major market advantage. Consult a patent attorney to help you evaluate your product and understand what rights you will achieve.

3. Litigation – This can include dealing with lawsuits by current or former employees or customers, discrimination or harassment lawsuits, environmental lawsuits, government investigations for legal violations, etc.

4. Buying or Selling a Business – Lawyers can help with negotiating sales agreements, lease agreements, and more.

Still have questions? Post them in the SBA Community Discussion Boards and be sure to subscribe to the Business Law Advisor blog.

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About the Author:

Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Comments:

I'm amazed at how many corporate attorneys exist these days. But considering the role of business in today's society, I'm not really surprised. I can only imagine the issues companies have to deal with. I wonder if my dad's company has one! Thanks for the site. http://www.strausstroy.com
Yeah i agree with his words but i think when it comes to business we have to take the advice of lawyers so that we should not get in trouble. Bellatrix PC Attorney
We must learn how to protect our legitimate rights and interests ,only hire a lawyeras when it's necessary.
Lawyers will help us all using settling product sales agreements, rent agreements, and much more.We should study how you can defend our own genuine legal rights .
Good article. I must say, I see many, many clients contacting me after-the-fact and who end up spending significantly more money on an issue only because they didn't consult with an attorney BEFORE signing that contract, entering into that lease, forming that particular business entity, or not firming up their intellectual property rights. There are a lot of good business attorneys out there, and I encourage small business owners to PICK UP THE PHONE and make a call. Don't be afraid to ask for advice, BEFORE committing to something that could cost you later.
Great article, Caron! This definitely shows the need for attorneys in various situations. Interestingly enough, in a few of the situations where you mention an attorney is not needed, you advise getting their input on certain aspects of the matter under consideration before proceeding. So really, even in those situations, the advice of attorney IS useful, even if you may not use their services for the entire process. That highlights the importance of having a working relationship with an attorney (or better still, a law multi-discipline law firm) where you can call on him/her for questions in even "trivial" matters in this modern business landscape.
Great article. Business owners make deals everyday, and there is law that governs those deals. A business lawyer can help business owners understand how the law affects their business deals, and ensure that those deals are structured legally and in such a way as to protect their interests.
"that is not an exhaustive list, but it covers items you can probably take care of on your own, and government resources that can help. Each business is unique, and an initial consultation with a lawyer can help you determine the complexity of your own needs and how to proceed on many of these issues." great
Great thing about business in Australia is that it is less common to hire a lawyer.. But great article and some food for thought.
Thank you! Knowing when to get a lawyer involved can be a real competitive advantage for a small business. It's very hard. I want add that many lawyers offer a free consultation!

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