From the Archives – How Your Startup Business Can Minimize Legal Expenses

Unless you have a lot of personal assets that you want to protect that are not in exempt buckets like IRA’s, home equity etc., you probably don’t need to incorporate and hire a lawyer before you rent office space, get a phone line, print business cards, and go into business. Just do it.

Unless you are going into a regulated industry such as food service, child care or the like, don’t worry about getting a lawyer right away and just make sure there’s a real business opportunity and that you can close deals. If you can’t close deals and generate revenue, you don’t need to mess with the legal stuff anyway. Once you’ve sold something, you’ll have revenue, energy and a reason to get the legal stuff right. Don’t let the legal worries become a distraction.

When you do start working on the legal stuff, don’t try to jump through every legal hoop at once. If your full time job becomes filling out forms, your business will fail. Do only the bare minimum, worry only about the things that will really hurt you. Here’s a tip: unless you have a lot of assets sitting in the bank or are making a lot of taxable income, very few things will really expose you to much risk in the first year because you are probably judgment proof.

Wait to hire employees as long as possible. Hiring employees makes the legal side much more complicated. Note: contractors can come in and do project work for you any time.

Once you are ready to get a lawyer, make sure you find the right one. Find a lawyer who will answer basic questions for free. You shouldn’t have to pay $100 to get a simple, 30 second question answered. You want a lawyer who doesn’t start the clock unless he has to draft docs or review docs or do research, and who is willing to give you a reasonable hourly rate (not more than $300/hour) and bill his time conservatively until you get on your feet.

If you have some free cycles, ask your lawyer to point you in the right direction and let you do things yourself to keep costs down. For example, you can probably figure out how to incorporate yourself. You might also want to use a generic Non-Disclosure Agreement and do it yourself.