Do You Need An Attorney?

Posted on 03/09/2011

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Recently, I was asked to answer small business contract law questions on AskExperts.com (See http://bit.ly/g3hyaO for some of my answers). It has been a rewarding experience–I get to assist small business owners and provide them with basic guidance regarding their questions and problems.  However, my answers always include the following disclaimer:

This posting is for informational purposes only. It is NOT to be used as a substitute for specific legal advice or opinions, and the transmission of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship between sender and reader. Internet subscribers and online readers should NOT act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

You might recognize the previous paragraph.  It’s similar to the language you see on the side panel of this blog. The reason for this language is simple: it is impossible for me to provide accurate and complete legal advice without speaking to someone in person and reviewing their specific facts, objectives, documents and circumstances. Likewise, it is unwise for someone to read an article and think that their question has been fully answered and that they can proceed safely. Legal representation involves nuances that can not possibly be captured without the personal touch.

The Internet has made a lot of legal information available non-lawyers. Unfortunately, with the advent of legal form databases, reference websites and message boards, some people think that hiring a lawyer is an expensive luxury that they can avoid.

During my career, I have seen the results of the “do-it-yourself” approach: wills that weren’t witnessed and were therefore invalid, open-ended contracts which were unenforceable, and litigation documents that were essentially letters to the judge which stated everything but a legal basis for the case.  Just like it’s more expensive to hire a plumber after you have ruptured the water line trying to fix a leaking faucet, in most of these matters it was significantly more expensive for the client to fix the problems created by their self-representation than it would have been if an attorney was hired to do the work in the first place. In some cases, the damage was irreparable.

Even worse is the “don’t do it all” approach. Overwhelmed or intimidated by relevant laws, people resort to doing business on a “handshake” without proper written agreements or they choose to ignore the relevant regulations, thinking they will never get caught. Both approaches are recipes for disaster with a side-order of chaos. Just like healthcare, preventive legal services are almost always less expensive than the cost of responding to a legal crisis.

Along with an accountant, an insurance broker and a banker, among others, every business owner should include an attorney on their team of professionals. By doing so, they can ensure that their legal issues are properly addressed, that their assets are properly protected and that their business is in compliance with all relevant regulations.  And with the proper team of professionals behind them, business owners are free to focus on what they do best: growing and making their business more profitable.

Sleep well at night – hire an attorney before the flood.

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Posted in: Business, Contracts