So you’re thinking of starting a business. Congratulations! You’re about to start an incredible journey, one full of opportunities – and more than a few legal risks. Depending on what type of business you’re starting, you may want to add one more item to your to-do list: finding a lawyer.
Does your business need a lawyer?
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: there’s no one-size fits all answer to whether or not you need a lawyer, and nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. But there are a few things to keep in mind when you’re starting a business.
Death and taxes, right? Every business needs to pay taxes, so make sure you’re on top of your legal obligations. If you’re a self-employed sole proprietor, you’re obligated to pay quarterly estimated taxes – kind of like withholding that you do yourself. That’s simple enough for most of us to handle without a lawyer, but what about more complicated types of businesses? Your tax obligations will change depending on the size and type of your business. In some cases, it may be a good idea to structure your business as a limited liability corporation (LLC) or other legal entity. The various ways you can legally classify your business – all those LLCs, LLPs, and other bits of alphabet soup – each have their benefits and drawbacks, and only an attorney in possession of all the facts of your business can give you a proper answer as to which one is right for you.
Are you hiring? That’s great news, but make sure that you protect yourself as an employer. Depending on what type of business you’re running, you could find yourself on the wrong end of worker’s compensation claims or even personal injury lawsuits. Talk to lawyers who specialize in your industry to find out how to best protect your legal and financial interests. This starts with protecting your employees, of course, but accidents happen! Make sure that an unlucky incident doesn’t have the power to bring down everything that you’ve built.
What line of work are you in?
This may seem obvious, but some types of businesses need lawyers more than others. If you’re a freelance writer (like me) you probably don’t encounter a lot of legal gray areas. But if you’re in a new or strange business space – like the legal marijuana industry – then you’re going to want a lot of legal guidance to make sure that you’re always on the right side of the law. In this example, our bud-ing entrepreneur would want to seek out a cannabis law group (yes, that’s a real thing) for special advice. Regulations in industries like these are complicated and ever-changing, and it’s the business owner’s responsibility to stay up-to-date and in compliance. The smartest and easiest way to do that, of course, is with a lawyer!
Consult the experts
Next time you see an ad for a lawyer, look for the phrase “free consultation.” There’s a good chance you’ll see it. That’s because smart lawyers know that a quick chat with you is the best way to determine what kind of legal help you need – if any. So it never hurts to find a law firm offering free consultations and sit down with an expert to discuss your business’ options. Just make sure you have the right type of lawyer: look for one who specializes in organizing companies into LLCs and the like, or do a Google search for the name of your industry and “lawyer,” “attorney,” or “law firm.” If you find you don’t need a lawyer, you can rest easy knowing for sure – and if you find you do need one, you’ll be glad you went early on.
The smart long-term move
Lawyers aren’t cheap, of course, but they can save you a lot in the long run. Lawyers are here to protect you from legal pitfalls, and legal pitfalls can be very costly indeed. Think about the consequences of a tax evasion or fraud conviction, or the monetary costs of a lawsuit leveled at you by an unhappy or injured worker. A lawyer can help you avoid these things before they happen or combat them after the fact, and that makes a good attorney the ultimate business investment.