To Lawyer or Not to Lawyer?
Gary Johal began working in his dad's small paint and construction company when he was just 22 years old. Only a few years later did he suddenly find himself taking over the business after his father had passed away.
Dreaming of expanding the operation, Johal took an innovator's approach and spent the next five years testing and creating an LED-based light bulb. When he was finally ready to legally incorporate his new businesses, Johal tried to hire an attorney, but found the cost of professional help so expensive that he thought he had no choice but to go it alone.
As surprising as it might sound, Johal's situation is all too common. According to a survey conducted earlier this year by my company, Rocket Lawyer, in 2012 nearly 55 percent of small businesses faced legal problems, but nearly half have never consulted with an attorney.
Why aren't small businesses getting professional legal help? The simple answer is that legal representation generally costs too much. According to our survey, 72 percent of small businesses postpone consulting a lawyer due to cost. With finances tight for small businesses, every penny counts, and Main Street firms think that they can't afford paying lawyers the typically hundreds, or even more than a thousand, dollars per hour.
No wonder they go it alone.
While paying upfront for professional legal services might create a financial burden in the short run, history has shown that it can actually save clients much more in the long run.
Remember Eduardo Saverin? He was Facebook's co-founder, who signed an agreement without having his lawyer review it first. The blunder ultimately cost him about 20 percent of the company, which today would amount to billions of dollars.
There are several legal issues individuals and businesses do regularly handle themselves, such as basic legal wills and contracts, family law issues (adoption, uncontested divorce, immigration) or disputes (small claims court, traffic tickets). Still, many other legal situations require the expertise of an attorney.
What kinds of problems do small businesses face? According to another Rocket Lawyer survey conducted earlier this year, complying with government regulations is the number one issue for 30 percent of small businesses, followed by debt collection (16 percent) and getting sued (15 percent). Some other prominent issues include insurance disputes, tax issues, contract concerns, intellectual property protection, product liability and threats of lawsuits by customers and employees. Legal issues such as these can make or break Main Street enterprises.
"The need for legal services exists on a spectrum -- and there is a fine line," said Rustin B. Duncan, a South Carolina attorney. "While you don't need to shell out hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for simple legal issues, there is a wide no-man's land between simple and serious legal troubles requiring a real lawyer, where small businesses risk striking a land mine without guidance."
Technology is, for the first time, allowing business owners like Johal to access lawyers without breaking the bank. To finally make his dream a reality, he turned to Rocket Lawyer to incorporate his business. With his legal issues taken care of, Johal was not only able to carry on his father's legacy, but to build upon it.
"I'm thinking of combining my companies to form a new product," he said, "Affordable, eco-friendly paint!"
CHARLEY MOORE | Columnist | Founder & chairman, Rocket Lawyer
Charley Moore is the founder of Rocket Lawyer, the simple and affordable online legal service that is used by millions of businesses, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and individuals for any legal situation, world-wide.