Everyone knows a lawyer. If you live in any town. Especially in Birmingham, Alabama, you know a lawyer. You may be friends, family, or just old school colleagues, but you know one. If you are in business, the temptation is easy. Go the inexpensive route. Ask your friend. Offer dinner to a lawyer friend and pick his brain. Get free legal advice.
Most of the time it isn’t “free” because you still have to do whatever you got advice about. Sometimes, it isn’t “free” because you feel as if you owe something to your friend. Sometimes, the advice isn’t “free” because of what it will cost you down the road.
It’s tough being a lawyer. You have information in your head that can help people. You want to help people. Especially your friends. The problem is:
Lawyers don’t know everything.
Really. Most of the time we need to research a question before we can provide a thorough response. This is what we do every day. We are asked questions. We give answers. Most of the time, there is a fair amount of research in between. Sometimes, if we know your business. We know your industry, and we have worked together before we can give you a clear answer off the top of our heads.
That is only because there is a relationship. It is because we know you. We know your business. We know the legal issues at stake. We have already done much of the research.
But, that takes time. It takes research. It takes information. It doesn’t happen over one dinner.
But, that is what small businesses do every day. Many small businesses function on advice from a lawyer friend. Many small businesses hang their hat on help from the criminal defense attorney’s first crack at a customer agreement or web terms of service.
So, what’s the big deal?
The legal field changes. Quickly. Especially in business. If your brother-in-law is a criminal defense attorney, chances are the advice you are receiving with regard to business is just as good as the information you would get from a second-year law student who just finished business organizations. More than that, you are getting information that is old, out-dated, and not researched.
As a lawyer it is tough. We have this apparent super-power, but we must use it for good. We would never give away advice to a client without researching the answer first (or being sure we know the answer). We would never take a case that is outside of what we are comfortable (or familiar) with.
But, for family and friends, we want to help.
We want to make sure you are secure. But, the problem is, if it isn’t what we do. We won’t really be helping you. We will just be giving you a false sense of security.
I wouldn’t defend a family member or a friend in a criminal proceeding, or give divorce advice to anyone. Why? I am not familiar with it. I took a few classes in law school. I barely remember everything. I may give enough information to point them in the right direction, or connect them with someone I know and trust. But, I would never make a family member think they were safe in my hands if I wouldn’t do it for a client.
You have to think about what is at stake.
If you do not set up your business properly, you may find yourself subject to personal liability if things don’t go well. If you are subject to personal liability when your business fails, you could go bankrupt. You could lose everything.
Working with a lawyer who can give you sound advice on your business decisions. A lawyer who is paid to make sure the advice is good. That it is viable. Who is paid to make sure you are protected can go a long way in protecting you down the road.
You are putting everything on the line to build your business. But, if you aren’t careful, you will be putting everything on the line. A lawyer should be more than a “necessary evil”. Legal is just as important as finance. It is different, but it is a necessary expense to building a business that doesn’t go away at the first sign of trouble.
One law suit. That is all it would take. Not having that agreement in writing. Not making sure your agreement protects you in a certain way can make a lawsuit going from a bump in the road where you have to get out of it to a business destroying time and money vortex that not only sinks the business, but leads to your personal bankruptcy. All because you didn’t want to ask pay someone to help you do it properly.
Enough of the Gloom and Doom – There are Positive Reasons Too
Investors want to see it. Investors want to know that legal is important. After all you are asking for a large amount of money. You are showing how your business model is viable and why the investment is one worth making, but just like a bank wanting to see insurance on the building you are buying, investors want to see that you are focused on limiting the liability of the entity. That you are protecting your business assets and the products and other intellectual property created by the company.
Information Should be Freely Available
As you know, I believe that information should be freely available. I want to provide as much valuable content as I can, so business owners can understand the legal that impacts their business everyday. All I am saying is that it is important to recognize the difference between gathering information to understand how legal impacts your business, and asking for advice about your specific situation. Once you get into the advice part, you need to pay your lawyer. Even if he is family.
So, let’s dig into that information. Let’s talk more about the legal that impacts your business. Educate yourself, so you know when you need that legal advice. And, when you do. Make sure you grow that relationship with a lawyer who can help you. Develop a relationship with a lawyer who is in the business of protecting your business for growth.