How to Use a Lawyer Efficiently

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Give the legal budget at your business a makeover with these tips from an attorney.
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You can take some simple steps to make sure your lawyer doesn’t waste time on your projects. Every lawyer has wasted time on something, and even a great lawyer such as Abraham Lincoln acknowledged that some legal tasks are inherently a waste of time and money. Back in 1850 he wrote, “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser—in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”

I polled my closest colleagues and came up with a set of tips for what you can do to keep legal bills down and maximize your lawyer’s effectiveness.

BRING YOUR LAWYER IN EARLY

A quick discussion when you start planning a new venture can set you on the right path and avoid expensive mistakes. If you don’t consult your lawyer until you are ready to seal a deal, you might be surprised by delays for things such as time-consuming registrations or unintended problems. For example, if you are going to hire an independent contractor to write inventory-management software, your lawyer can tell you up front that you need to have a contract saying that you own the software when it’s finished. Unless there’s a contract transferring ownership, the contractor will own the product. If you wait until you’ve already paid the contractor, it may be too late to negotiate an agreement that gives you ownership of the software. A lawyer can give you a contract that the developer is likely to sign before the project starts. As another example, if you are selling beauty products over the Internet, you should have a chat with your lawyer before you start planning to expand your brick-and-mortar stores into another state. Otherwise you might be surprised to learn that all of your Internet sales into that state will be subject to sales taxes, and the lease you just negotiated costs you more than you had thought. A lawyer can’t give you a quick fix for this issue, but you can have a better idea of what you are getting into in advance.

This early discussion doesn’t have to be extensive or expensive. If you brainstorm your plans, your lawyer should be able to point out some pitfalls to avoid. Your lawyer should identify for you any other potential problems that he or she would need to research further and give you a choice of whether you want that research done now or later.

[Image: Courtesy of Barry Burns]