Practicing Safe DIY
Updated: Nov 10
Our mission at Trellis is to provide access to small business legal assistance at various levels of support, including free. That’s why we publish a monthly blog and provide all kinds of resources and events on a regular basis. We often tout that we never judge you for doing your own legal, and if paying for an attorney is not in the cards for your budget right now, there are ways to DIY that provide more protection than others. Below is a list of a few ways you can DIY some of your legal and triage the rest for expert help. There are also a few areas we never recommend doing without an attorney, and we’ll explain these as well.
A Few Tips for DIYing Your Legal
1. Take advantage of a free attorney consultation
Many attorneys (including us!) offer free consultations to learn about your business goals and provide some insight into what you will need to make them happen. In a consultation, we may recommend a certain entity type and give some background about what is involved in running one. Or, we might direct you to some important regulations and compliance requirements for your industry or state where you’ll be doing business. Consultations are never comprehensive analyses of your business needs and we do not explain step by step how to follow the law (and you should frankly be a little wary of an attorney who claims to know exactly what you, a unique individual, need in a short meeting), but they can provide a little more context and insight into things you need to consider.
2. Only file through official government websites.
Local, state, and federal regulating agencies and government bodies, such as the Department of State for the state where you would file an LLC, have their own websites and processes for filing documentation related to entities, permitting, approvals, and other applications. You should never have to use a third-party application or website to file any of these documents, so if a Google search turns up something other than a “.gov” address, chances are it isn’t necessary, and you certainly don’t want to send them any personally identifying information. Government websites also often provide easy access to contact information for people who can help you understand what you need for specific applications and approvals – although these individuals will not be able to give specific legal advice. You can use reputable legal filing sites, but you usually end up getting charged more in the long run and without any personal legal advice.
Similarly, beware of websites offering quick fixes or easy templates for complex documents. They are likely missing the whole picture, such as your specific state law or industry requirements. For example, some industries have laws governing the naming of businesses, and others require additional approval from state licensing boards for naming your business.
3. Purchase attorney-drafted templates that are customized to your side of the transaction.
Oftentimes, when you search on the internet for something like “client contract”, a million varieties and templates come up for free. The problem with these, besides the obvious— that they likely contain weird details not relevant or necessary to your situation (and are missing other important ones) – they also might not be drafted with your side of the transaction in mind and not beneficial to you. Attorney-drafted contracts are not going to be perfectly customized to your exact situation but they are a good place to start, and if they are like ours (check them out here), they will offer many options that you can tailor to your needs and have detailed comment boxes explaining each section’s purpose (so you’ll know more about what is in your contract and how to customize it). Attorney-drafted templates also often detail which side of the transaction it is designed to protect so you can choose the right contract. While ours and other reputable templates aren’t free, they can be cheaper than working with an attorney but still give you more protection than a random document found on a site.
Be sure to check out our Thanksgiving sale, 50% off DIY Documents from November 13 to 18, 2023!
Also, take advantage of free resources when creating contracts to get a better understanding of the types of contracts you need. Read these blogs and resources to better help you understand what type of contract you need and what it should include:
· Resource Download: Client Contracts 101
· Resource Download: Key Contracts for Your Biz
4. Read Up!
If you are out there googling, many law firm websites have well-written blogs with basic details but remember no website can be perfectly situation-specific. Make sure they are a law firm in your state because some compliance requirements you may be reading about may be state-specific, and check the dates of publication so you know they do not contain outdated information that may have since changed due to court rulings or changes in the law
5. When in doubt, ask for help.
Not all legal is “DIY-able”. There are some complex areas of the law, and the costs associated with non-compliance can be much greater than the initial payment for working with an attorney to get it right. Areas such as intellectual property, complex business structures such as corporations or multi-members/partners in an LLC, non-profit formation, regulatory compliance and product labeling, and taking on investments are just a few areas it is almost always worth the upfront cost of working with an attorney. Transactional attorneys can help steer you to what you need and refer you to specialists for things not in their wheelhouse. And we always say, there’s nothing scary about working with a good lawyer!
DISCLAIMER: This blog post is meant for informational purposes only and does not constitute specific legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should discuss their specific situation with an attorney.