Do-It-Yourself Legal: Know When to Hold Em and When To Fold Em

By: Richard A. Hall

Running a company comes with a number of challenges, some which involve the services of legal counsel. When you consider workmen’s compensation, sexual harassment, contracts, labor laws, marketing and advertising, licensing, termination disputes, and so on, you can easily see that securing a reputable law firm could be to your advantage. However, situations arise all the time within businesses. Because of this, it is vital to know when you should and should not secure the services of a law firm.

Today, you can find a number of do-it-yourself legal solutions online. For example, years ago, tax and payroll issues were often handled by outside or inside counsel. However, with the ability to download forms and follow specific instructions, many times companies choose to handle things on their own. Obviously, this option means a huge savings and quicker turnaround in most cases. However, any do-it-yourself legal action also comes with risk if not done properly.

As you can imagine, knowing when and/or if you should ever hire a lawyer to represent you could be a very, fine line. Consider contracts as an example. If not written and executed properly, you could lose not only a significant amount of money, but also potentially the business you worked so hard to build. For this reason, many companies, small to large, will leave contract negotiations and implementation to that of legal counsel. Because contracts are so sensitive and even the smallest mistake in wording could be deadly, seeking out the advice of an attorney is probably a wise choice.

For relatively simple contracts you can choose to create it yourself or use an already created template. However, if you choose this route, review the contract carefully, eliminating anything that would hold your company or anyone within the company liable. An example of potential liability is indemnity. In addition, the do-it-yourself contract should include and even request mutuality. To give you an idea of what this means, if you were going to create a contract that protected the other party specific to limitation of liability, then you too should have this same protection.

It is also suggested that with any DIY legal contract that you ensure there is some type of clause, allowing you out of the contract if the second party does not live up to their end of the bargain. The key with any contract is to look closely for provisions in which fees would need to be paid by you for early termination or cancellation. The good news about handling contracts on your own is that a number of reputable online resources exist where you can download forms needed and sometimes, at no cost. These forms can then be modified specific to your needs and company.

The other side to this is that sometimes, contracts can be quite lengthy and complex. For example, a simple employee contract for an administrative employee would likely be something you could implement with no problem. However, if you need a contract created for a joint venture, or an employment contract that also protects intellectual property there is a higher potential of error and risk if done without professional input. In this case, hiring a lawyer to prepare the contract, provide guidance, execute, and then back it with legal support is wise.

What you need to do when considering contracts, employment, termination, workmen’s compensation, or any potential legal issue for your company is to determine the potential risk and financial outcome if the right documentation is not in place. If the risk is minimal and there is a cap on the financial end, then using do-it-yourself legal forms makes sense. However, if the situation is complicated and has great risk attached, then consider the age old wisdom of being a penny wise and a pound foolish. It a wise decision to consider the price of an attorney as an excellent investment if failure to do so would result in a huge financial loss or worse the loss of your business if the risk were realized.

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