Accept it, this is the real world, you can’t face up to starting a business without having a relationship with a lawyer. It’s smart to stay up on the main points and do your homework to manage legal bills, but it’s dumb to get into important contracts, mediation, and such without an attorney you trust. And, jokes aside, I know from personal experience there are lots of smart, scrupulous, trustworthy lawyers around. Find one. Talk to as many as you have to, but find one you can deal with.
I know this from experience. It’s fun to trash lawyers, and some really bring it on themselves, but in my work as an answerer of email questions from would-be entrepreneurs, I see far too many people who are afraid of legal bills trying to do it themselves. Don’t. If you’re serious about business, and don’t have an attorney, start interviewing. Always mind the hours, minimize and manage the relationship, but don’t go without.
Real story: an attorney I worked with for years had trouble staying awake during the detailed contract negotiations on one deal that was full of complex formulas on revenue sharing and even equity. When asked, he’d say that it would all come out eventually in mediation. When it did, he was on it hard at exactly the right time and saved us a year’s worth of legal fees in about 20 minutes.
So keep that in mind as I suggest you read Guy Kawasaki’s The Top Ten (Sixteen) Lies of Lawyers on his How to Change the World blog today. It’s funny and well written and frighteningly real.
And when you’re done with it, take a few minutes to consider your own legal situation. Do you have a decent working relationship with an attorney you can trust? If not, start interviewing. Talk to at least three, preferably five, and do yourself a favor by telling each one before you start that you’ve promised to talk to five. Get recommendations from friends or contacts in your local area. And when you talk to a lawyer you might like, ask for names of clients you can talk to, and follow up, talk to those clients.
And then what? Ask whether you should be LLC or corporation or fictitious business name or what. That shouldn’t take more than an hour of two of initial billing, and the right answer depends on where you are, who you are, and what you want. That’s a very early business issue that plays out much better if you work with a lawyer.