You know that you don’t need to get your lawyer’s approval before getting dressed in the morning. Well, unless you’re contemplating putting on a really ill-advised outfit.
But you might hesitate to do much more without speaking with an attorney first. Some caution is warranted; the law is ever-changing and complex. Too much caution, however, can be costly.
In the everyday and not-so-everyday course of doing business, you’ll encounter any number of situations that seem to call for a lawyer but likely don’t. You’ll also encounter a few where a lawyer’s advice and counsel really does pay. Let’s try to tease out the differences between the two.
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Situations Where Your Business Doesn’t Actually Need a Lawyer (Most of the Time)
In these scenarios, you could turn to a lawyer for advice, but it’s not necessary unless unusual or complicated factors are at play.
You’re Involved in a Minor Road Accident in the Course of Business
Can you really handle a car accident without a lawyer?
If the accident is minor enough, absolutely. In this context, “minor” means resulting in no injuries that require medical attention, no cases of medical malpractice, and no substantial damage to vehicles or other property.
Indeed, there is a well-established process for negotiating a minor car accident settlement on your own. Give yourself the best chance of success by understanding your rights under the law and learning the basics of settlement negotiation before speaking with an insurance adjuster.
You Need to Establish or Renew a Business Entity
This is a much lighter lift than settling a personal injury claim with an insurance company after a car accident, that’s for sure. Forming a legal business entity is a routine process that takes place thousands of times per week without direct legal assistance, thanks to do-it-yourself legal resources like LegalZoom and Nolo. You shouldn’t need a lawyer to set up a corporation or partnership unless you have very specific objectives for the entity or the ownership structure is going to be unusually complex.
You’re Negotiating Compensation With a New Contractor or Employee
This is another routine business process that doesn’t require a lawyer under normal circumstances. You will want to have employment contracts and benefits packages reviewed by a human resources expert and possibly a lawyer as well, but you don’t need a lawyer present at the negotiation itself.
You’re Drafting an Employee Handbook or Company Procedures
Employee and company procedures handbooks are thick, detailed documents. Fortunately, templates exist for both types of guide. Many smaller companies need only modify these templates to the barest extent — changes that don’t require an attorney’s say-so.
A Customer or Vendor Takes You to Small Claims Court
No, you won’t learn everything you need to know about small claims court from “Judge Judy” or “The People’s Court.” You should forget everything you learned from those shows, in fact; they’re not representative of reality.
That said, successfully defending yourself in small claims court does not require a law degree. To save time and money, however, you should try to reach a settlement before your first hearing date.
When Your Business Really Might Need a Lawyer
In these scenarios, you should consult a lawyer before taking action. The consequences of acting without legal advice could be much greater than paying your counsel’s fees.
You’re Involved in an Accident That Results in Major Medical Bills
Accidents that result in serious injuries or death are much more complicated from a legal and financial perspective, and you shouldn’t try to negotiate settlements or navigate the claims process without legal assistance. Too much could go wrong.
You’re Selling Your Company
Your state’s business services office should have generalized information about negotiating agreements to sell your interest in your business, but you should not attempt to draft a binding sales agreement without — at minimum — asking a lawyer to review the document. You may wish to have your attorney draft the entire agreement from start to finish after negotiating the specifics.
You’re Filing a Patent or Other Intellectual Property Protection
Your company’s intellectual property might be its most important asset. Properly protecting it is absolutely vital to your long-term success. With the stakes so high, you can’t afford not to consult an attorney.
You’re Capable of More Than You Think
As you can see, it really does pay to consult an attorney sometimes. But you might not need a lawyer as often as you thought. We opened with five everyday scenarios in which you probably don’t need to speak with a legal expert under normal circumstances.
What does this mean for you and your business? For one thing, it means you’re capable of much more than you think. Which means, whether you take it upon yourself to learnhow to get paid from a car accident without a lawyeror leading a team project to draft a new employee handbook, that you have more control than you think over what happens to your business. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it?