Many entrepreneurs start a business without any help from an attorney. However, professional legal advice may be required depending on the structure and nature of your business.
Even if it’s not an absolute requirement, an attorney’s assistance still might be a good idea. A lawyer can help you understand legal obligations that you might not be aware and help you avoid mistakes that might eventually cost you time and money.
Furthermore, there’s a tremendous amount of work involved in starting a business. Outsourcing legal issues to a professional frees up your time for tasks that help you grow your business, such as product development and marketing.
What a Lawyer Can Do for You
Here are some areas where consulting an attorney is required:
One of the first decisions you will have to make is how you’re going to structure your business. A sole proprietorship is simplest, and you will need no outside help to do that, but there may be tax and liability advantages to choosing another form. An attorney can help you sort through the pros and cons of creating a partnership, a corporation or a limited liability company (LLC).
An LLC is a popular choice. Like a corporation, it protects your personal assets from business debt. Like a partnership, it passes profits through to you without corporate taxation. Every State has slightly different rules for forming LLCs, and a lawyer in your State will be familiar with them. If you choose to bypass the attorney, there are also platforms that make it easier to form an LLC by automating the process. Such services are becoming increasingly popular.
For any kind of organizational structure, there are instructions on state websites about required documents and fees, but an attorney can still help you get it exactly right. Also, you will need to create bylaws for a corporation or an operating agreement for an LLC. You can use an available online template or engage an attorney for this task.
If the business has partners, there needs to be a document that outlines the responsibilities, roles and obligations of the partners. For example: What happens if one partner wants to leave the business? If a partner dies or becomes disabled? Or the steps for bringing a new partner into the company? An experienced lawyer is familiar with all the contingencies that can arise. They can offer suggestions on how the partners might address them and can draw up the appropriate documents.
Contracts and agreements
Every new business will have contracts with various parties such as suppliers and vendors. You might have agreements with building landlords and people who lease equipment to you. Sometimes there are contracts with major long-term customers regarding delivery and payment terms.
You might want employees and contractors to sign non-disclosure or non-compete contracts. An attorney can structure these so that they have legal validity according to the law, which means your business will be secure if there’s a dispute about whether the parties are adhering to the contract.
There are a lot of laws, both at the federal and State-level, about how to run an organization. These include anti-discrimination laws, safety laws and laws concerning wages and hours. You risk judgments, fines and costly litigation if you don’t understand your obligations under these laws. An attorney can identify your obligations and help you fulfill them.
If you plan to engage independent contractors, you will need a contractor agreement, preferably one drawn up by a lawyer. You will have to understand how your State differentiates between employees and contractors so that you treat each group appropriately.
Where Intellectual property law is involved, you will need legal consultation. If you have invented a new product or process, you will need the protection of a patent. Also, if your brand, logo or slogan are important to your business you should protect them under trademark law.
What You Can Do Without a Lawyer
There are miscellaneous areas where a lawyer’s assistance may not be absolutely necessary but where you might save time and stave off problems if you consult an attorney:
- Review operating practices: A lawyer can look over your company’s’ adopted procedures and identify areas where you might be at risk of lawsuits or liabilities. Examples are product liability and company employee policy. The lawyer might draft procedure handbooks or product warnings to mitigate the risk.
- Closely consider laws: An attorney can also help you keep track of changes to State and federal law and alert you if there is some action you need to take to stay in compliance.
- Offering tax advice: A lawyer familiar with taxes can not only offer advice at tax time but also suggest steps to take during the year to minimize your tax liability.
- Reviewing the business plan: Many new business owners work from a template to prepare a business plan. A lawyer can offer advice in areas such as choosing a business structure. They can also review the entire plan and point out any area of legal concern.
- Advising on name choice: You can search the internet and your Secretary of State’s office to determine if your preferred business name is available. If you’d like to protect a name with a trademark, an attorney can conduct a multistate search to help you choose a name you can use broadly.
- Licensing and permits: You generally don’t need an attorney to help obtain state and local licenses and permits. However, if your industry is subject to special regulations from federal agencies, you might want to call on their expertise.
As a new business owner, you will find few situations where it’s imperative to engage an attorney. With the templates and other online help that’s available, you can do a lot of the work yourself. However, some laws have intricacies where the best action might not be obvious to a layperson.Also, people starting businesses are often overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done. Offloading some of it to professionals is a good way to reserve your own time and effort for the tasks that you do best.