If businesses could exist in a vacuum, then no one would ever have to worry about legal and regulatory issues. Developers would build skyscrapers next to residential neighborhoods and dive bars would emerge on private lands set aside for preservation and conservation. But the reality is that rules are rules. It’s important to stay current on regulations governing your business. Some of that requires a quick Google search. Others need more work.
Examples of more obvious issues to address are things like ownership of the business and control of intellectual property. A now abridged patent law in the U.S. means that the first person to file for a patent, not the first person to invent a product, gets the legal rights. This means time is of the essence, and the time for inventors to file for a patent is significantly shorter.
If you’re starting a business on a limited budget, consider services like NoLo, Legal Zoom, and Rocket Lawyer. They provide consumers with do-it-yourself tools to help form companies, protect intellectual property rights, and manage legal matters.
But self-help legal services have their limitations, and users must always assume the risks. For example, legal services might not warn you about any risks related to one owner selling his or her interest without permission from the other owners. If a patent application filed through a legal service doesn’t state the claims in the language that most appropriately captures the applicant’s needs, that’s not the company’s fault. It becomes entirely the responsibility of the applicant. If you choose the wrong type of entity for a business or fail to follow state and federal regulations, you’re looking at potential fines and penalties.
With attorneys, you won't encounter the one-size-fits-all advice you'll get from legal services. You'll get legal guidance that is customized for your specific needs. When you’re hiring legal counsel, look for attorneys from big firms specializing in business or solo practices focused on the needs of entrepreneurs and startups. Another option are platforms, such as Legal Hero, that provide access to a vetted network of experienced attorneys.
Your lawyer should get to know you and your needs before getting down to work. Any documents and agreements should be prepared with your goals and objectives in mind. Say you’re confused about what documents need to be submitted to move your business along. A lawyer should explain all your options.
Your lawyer should have the most current information about laws and regulations that may affect your business. He or she will also provide risk analysis if you're in a highly regulated industry like health care and medical devices.
All in all, hiring legal counsel can save you money in the long run by giving you more time to focus on areas of your business that you know can make an impact on its future.