When Does Your Small Business Need to Hire a Lawyer?

by John Burke

2 min read

Many startup entrepreneurs and small business owners may be unsure when they need to obtain professional legal advice. Although your small business may not need a lawyer on retainer at all times – and legal needs vary depending on your type of business – at some points, it is definitely advisable to seek out legal assistance. It is much easier and less costly to make good, solid legal agreements up front than it is to have to hire a lawyer later on to unravel a legal mess you’ve inadvertently gotten yourself into.

Selecting the Best Legal Structure for Your Business

Consult a lawyer when you are just getting ready to start your business. Choosing the most advantageous legal structure for your business can make a huge difference in your tax liability and bottom-line profitability. You might choose to establish your business as a sole proprietorship, a limited or incorporated company, a partnership, or a co-operative; each structure has its own relative advantages and disadvantages. It’s especially advisable to hire a lawyer to help you in setting up a partnership, since a partnership is essentially a legal contract between you and your partners.

Protecting Intellectual Property

If you have, develop or acquire intellectual property that is key to your business and its operations, it’s certainly wise to at least check with a lawyer to see if your intellectual property has sufficient protection. Creative small businesses, such as freelance writers, design firms or technology companies that develop software programs are some of the businesses where there tend to be critical intellectual property rights that require legal protection. You can often find a lawyer who specializes in handling intellectual property issues who can assist you in properly obtaining trademark, patent or copyright protection.

Leasing Office Space

Many small business owners may not think of hiring a lawyer to oversee their leases for office space, but doing so can in fact be very beneficial, both in terms of obtaining the best possible lease terms and in making sure that they avoid potential problems with the leased space later on. Leases for individuals who are renting apartments tend to be fairly standard, but this is not necessarily the case with commercial leases, where there is much greater variation and flexibility in lease terms.

Leasing office space is likely one of the most substantial expenses for your small business. A good commercial real estate lawyer who looks over your lease before you sign may be able to negotiate significant changes in terms of deposits, required maintenance or other issues, effectively making your lease payments a much better bargain for your business. For example, your lawyer may be able to negotiate substantially better terms than the landlord initially offers to pay for or reimburse you for costs of refurbishing the leased space to meet the specific needs of your business.

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