A recent article on Under30CEO.com provided a list of 5 essential independent contractors for small businesses and entrepreneurs to have at the ready to assist them in promoting and maximizing the value of their operations. While I agree completely with the catalog of service providers the author identified, when reading the article I couldn’t help but think to myself that (at least) one critical service provider was being left out of the “essentials” rolodex.
The five types of freelancers that the article identified were web developers, copyrighters, social media experts, public relations associates, and business development associates. Relationships with each of these individuals will inevitably involve agreements (whether written or implicit) and each has implications for ownership and rights in trademarks, copyrights and other intellectual property assets. In this vein, it is absolutely critical to ensure that the parties’ intentions and understandings are coherent, consistent, and enforceable. This is where the business lawyer comes into play.
What a Business Lawyer Can Do for you
Business lawyers experienced in working with small companies and start-up enterprises can help you make sure that your interests are protected, that you are minimizing your risk, and that you are not unwittingly giving away the farm. A well-rounded small business attorney can help you form the entities needed to protect your assets, draft contracts for use with customers and independent contractors, clear and register trademarks and copyrights, and help keep you out of trouble in advertising and doing business over the Internet, among other things. Did you know that a written agreement is required in order transfer ownership of a freelance copyrighter’s work to the business, regardless of payment? Did you know that just because a trademark is not registered with the USPTO does not mean that nationwide rights are necessarily available? Did you know that hosting third-party content on your website can expose you to liability for posts that infringe upon the rights of others? These are the types of issues that a business lawyer can identify for you and help you address proactively—before you get into trouble or spend a boatload of money.
Not as Expensive or Unpleasant as You Might Think
It is important to establish a working relationship with a business lawyer who understands your business and the legal challenges that it faces on a day-to-day basis, and many small business lawyers are not nearly as expensive or difficult to deal with as the popular perception seems to be. In many cases, flat fees, fee caps, service bundles and other options may be available to minimize the costs of engaging an attorney for your business. For example, flat fees for trademark clearance and registration services are becoming increasingly more common, as are full-service “start-up” packages that provide everything a new business needs to get up and running. The business could also pay a negotiated monthly fee in order to have the lawyer on retainer to review written content and website updates for potential legal implications before postings go live, to monitor the web for potential infringement of the business’s trademarks and copyrights and pursue infringers, or to catalog and protect the intellectual property that the business inherently develops in the course of its operations. In many cases, all of the work can be done in the virtual arena, with communications occurring solely by phone and email.
The bottom line is this: If you can afford to hire a social media consultant to promote your brand, you can afford to hire (and should have already hired) a business lawyer to make sure that your brand is protected. Plus, not all lawyers are as unpleasant to deal with and over-priced as popular media makes us out to be, and an attorney who has your best interests at heart can be a valuable asset to your business’s growth and development.
Jeff Fabian is the Under30CEO of Fabian, LLC, a solo law firm that assists entrepreneurs and small businesses in drafting contracts, protecting intellectual property rights, and doing business on the Internet, among other things. Visit www.fabianlegal.com and follow @jsfabian on Twitter for more information, or contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article provides information only, and does not constitute legal advice.
Category: Startup Advice