Having recently traveled to the annual GLSA conference, I've been reminded of the importance of access to justice for those usually overlooked or marginalized by the expense and complexity of the legal process. In the case of individuals, it's those of moderate to low income who are left out, but businesses can also find themselves left out when legal issues arise. Lawyer's fees and other expenses associated with the legal process can be prohibitive to startups operating on a tight budget, and the temptation can be to try and skate by, hoping that any problems that might require a lawyer will simply pass you by.
The truth is that these sorts of issues can occur at any stage of business, regardless of your financial situation or other mitigating circumstances. And while it's tempting to try and get by on your own and act as your own lawyer, there are problem areas that will require a trained legal mind to untangle.
Written agreements for your business, or the lack thereof. Contracts and other documents are one area that you don't want to try and DIY. Pulling template documents off the internet can leave you exposed to legal risk or could fail to cover the particular exigencies of your business. Depending on your area of work, you'll need co-founder agreements, employee and contractor agreements, written agreements with vendors or partners, and likely a host of other documents of varying import. For those, you'll want to have an expert look them over to make sure that they meet your needs and that you're not left exposed. Similarly, you want someone who can tell you what you need in the occasion that you don't know yourself; perhaps you've never given a though to any of the contracts and agreements that are required to keep a business secure. In either case, it's good to have a legal expert available.
Incorporation. You might be well-acquainted with the particulars of s-corporations and c-corporations and LLCs, but there's a more than fair chance you're not. Mistakes on incorporation can't be undone, so it's necessary as well as smart to get it right the first time, and that can mean sitting down with a business attorney to make sure that your paperwork is in order. If you can avoid a huge early mistake, it's money well spent.
Lawsuits or other legal proceedings. This might seem like a no-brainer, but for the cash-strapped, the temptation to handle as much as possible yourself can be strong. Certainly anyone would prefer to avoid a court case altogether, but circumstances don't always work in our favor. Find the right attorney to help you through the case and treat the fees as what they are: a necessary business expense to keep your company going.
Our system of justice and laws only works if we can all avail ourselves of it equally. And while the expenses and other obstacles might make that difficult for most, business owners have to make use of those resources when the can to help safeguard their company.