Among the questions I get all the time are those from people trying to start a business without dealing with lawyers. I know, in our culture we all hear lots of bad stories, we tell lawyer jokes and we think about those hourly rates of hundreds of dollars, so we avoid the attorneys.
For a lot of us, it’s just second nature. So we end up on the start-your-business websites and ask-the-expert formats with questions that, sometimes, make me writhe in anguish when I read them. People frequently risk tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in eventual costs to try to save a few hundred bucks by avoiding talking to a good lawyer.
For a specific example, although I’m paraphrasing, I got an ask-the-expert question this morning that went something like this:
How do I get rid of my partner without losing my clients? He does almost nothing these days but still thinks he’s entitled to half the money, while I’m the one doing all the work. I’ve developed almost all of the client relationships myself, so I want out of this so-called partnership, but it’s not fair if I don’t take the clients with me.
That’s really hard for me to read without wanting to add some grab-the-collar emphasis to my answer. What are you thinking? I want to ask. Start right now talking to an attorney, and if you don’t already have a relationship with an attorney, get a relationship. Ask the five closest people to you in business to recommend a business lawyer, and interview all five. If you don’t like any of them, get another five names. Nowhere in the United States are you farther than a 20-minute drive to a lawyer.
When you think of how much is at stake, it’s amazing that people don’t get it. Even at $300 an hour, the sort-of small town rate around the U.S., how can you resist talking to somebody for at least an hour?
Here’s the amazing fact for the day:
There are as many honest, hard-working lawyers per capita as there are doctors, accountants and business planning consultants.
And an important corollary:
When you need an attorney for your business, you need him or her as badly as when you need a doctor for your health.
Legal fees are not a great place to save money. Keep your old computer, or get VOIP instead of that phone system. But work with an attorney you can trust.