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Choosing a Business Law Attorney For Your Startup

Not knowing about a federal law, state statute, county regulation, or local ordinance can be a costly mistake. It could end a small business before it has a chance to succeed.

An experienced business law attorney can help an entrepreneur tremendously when launching a small business start-up. Launching a new business includes many small business legal matters—regulatory compliance, tax issues, licenses, leases, employer identification number (EIN), and business contracts.

This FindLaw article can help you choose the lawyer that best fits your small business based on your needs.

Based on the Type of Business Matter

Some lawyers focus on start-up small businesses and selecting a business name. Others focus on a particular area of business law most often addressed in the start-up phase.

Businesses often interact with several types of lawyers, including:

  • Patent lawyers: These lawyers focus on securing, transferring, and protecting patent rights.
  • Business organization lawyers: These lawyers help the business owner choose the right business structure (limited liability company/LLC, partnership, LLP, S corp, C corp, Inc.), and then complete the paperwork to set up the business.
  • Tax lawyers: While an accountant can help you prepare and file your taxes, some issues require the help of a tax lawyer. Getting on the wrong side of the IRS is a good way to find yourself in significant legal and financial trouble.
  • Contract/transactional lawyers: Every business lawyer can assist you with creating business contracts, but you may want to work with a lawyer familiar with your industry.
  • Crowdfunding lawyers: If you need help figuring out startup costs or gaining business finances, a crowdfunding lawyer will be helpful. Depending on your legal structure, they may recommend you turn to crowdfunding.
  • Government contract specialists: If your business wants to seek government contracts, a lawyer focusing on this work could provide invaluable advice.

Most business lawyers will handle a wide range of small business owners' legal matters for both new and existing small businesses.

Based on the Type of Business Structure

If you operate a sole proprietorship, a solo practitioner or small business law firm could be right for you. If you're operating a nonprofit, then you may want a lawyer who has experience counseling nonprofits.

For organizations that are corporations that plan on selling stock or franchising, you'll want a seasoned corporate law attorney. These lawyers will understand the type of business insurancebusiness licenses, and securities regulations you must follow.

Information Your Business Lawyer Will Need

To do the best possible job on your behalf, your business attorney needs information about your proposed business venture. This information is best provided by parties involved at the highest level of the new business—the founder or co-founding partners.

At your first meeting with your attorney, be prepared to provide the following business start-up information. While it's a lot of information, taking the time to provide it in writing and upfront could save you a lot of time and money when you meet with a lawyer.

General Questions

  • Why do you want to see a business lawyer?
  • Your business bank account information, if you opened one
  • Type of business entity
  • Your business EIN
  • What does a successful business mean to you?
  • Is this a one-off consultation, or are you looking to form a long-term business relationship?
  • Have you connected with the Small Business Administration (SBA) for resources yet?

Information About You

  • Name
  • Pronouns
  • Birthday
  • Email address
  • Home address
  • Business address
  • Social media handles
  • Mobile phone number
  • Work phone number
  • Have you declared bankruptcy? If so, provide the date, and be prepared to provide the associated income tax returns for it
  • Do you have a criminal conviction for a felony or financial crime?
  • Have you ever been found in violation of the SEC, Commerce Department, or other government regulations?
  • Have you ever entered into a consent decree with or had an injunction granted against you by any federal or state enforcement agency or commerce department?
  • Do you have any injunctions or liens against you—particularly an IRS lien or civil judgment lien?

Information About Your Employment

  • Present employer
  • Employment position
  • How long have you worked there?
  • Do you intend to remain employed there?
  • If yes, for how long?
  • Did your current employer or any past employer require you to sign a non-competition or confidentiality agreement?
  • Did you develop your business concept during company time or on the premises?
  • Did you use any company resources to grow your business concept? If yes, what resources?
  • Have you approached your employer with your business venture?
  • If yes, what was your employer's response?

Your Business Idea and Your Business Model

  • Explain your idea in as few words as possible.
  • Is it a product or a service?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • What is your business niche and target market?
  • Business tax ID or federal tax number if you have one.
  • What is your anticipated cash flow?
  • Do you have a business plan?
  • If this is an invention or a product, is it patentable?
  • Have you started the patent process?
  • Is it a physical service or an online service?
  • Do you think you can copyright any part of it?
  • Does the business have any trademarks or logos you wish to protect?
  • Do you, any of your partners, or the business own any inventions the business intends to exploit?
  • Does anyone else have an interest in the product? This includes a company you work or worked for if you developed the product there, someone who helped work on the product, financiers, lenders who have an interest, etc.
  • Is there anyone who might be able to sue you over this product or service?

Information About Your Business Partners and Members

  • If you have business partners or associates, provide the same contact information requested above. They should be at the meeting as well.
  • What will each person's interest be in the business?
  • What is each person's contribution to the business and interest in the businesses that will arise from that?
  • Which of the owners are expected to be employed by the business? In what capacities? For what compensation?
  • Are there any written contracts between the owners?

Information About Your Business Venture

  • Have you taken any steps to incorporate your business?
  • Have you filed to operate as a doing business as (or DBA)?
  • Have you chosen a company name and, if so, have you run that name through the Secretary of State's website?
  • Who is expected to initially own the business, in what percentages, and for what contributions?
  • Is the business a party or potential party to any joint venture, license, or similar agreement?
  • Who will be actually working for the business, and in what capacity? This should all be in the business plan, but expect to know this off the top of your head.
  • Is it an online business, or will you be doing ecommerce?

Business Financing

  • What is your source of financing?
  • Do you have small business loans? What are the amounts and interest rates for each? When do they mature?
  • Do you need bank financing?
  • Do you have collateral—particularly personal assets to be collateralized?
  • What assets does the business own?
  • Have you offered to sell or sold any interests in your business to any investors?
  • Do you have any business credit?
  • Do you have any business credit cards?
  • Have you promised any consultants an interest in the company?
  • Did you use any other of your own business interests as collateral?

Financial Information

  • How do you expect to make money?
  • When do you expect to break even?
  • How will profits be distributed?
  • Does the business have any written financial statements?
  • Does the business own or lease any real estate?
  • What is the zoning for your real estate holding?
  • Do you handle your own bookkeeping, or do you contract that out?
  • Do you have an accounting software?

Consultants

List any other:

  • Attorneys (note the reason you are working with them to avoid duplicate efforts)
  • Corporate consultants
  • Financial consultants
  • Accountant/CPA
  • Other consultants

Miscellaneous Questions

  • What kind of physical space will you need?
  • Do you have a real estate agent or some kind of building space arrangement (like a business incubator or your mother's basement)?
  • Who is your customer base?
  • Have you done your own market research?
  • Do you have a marketing plan?
  • Do you have a domain name?
  • Do you plan on hiring freelancers or employees?
  • If you're hiring employees, can you afford worker's compensation insurance?
  • Do you have business liability insurance?

No matter which lawyer you choose for your business, you should be able to answer these questions at your first meeting. More tips and resources can be found in FindLaw's First Steps To Start a Business section. This section can help you answer some questions or create your own questions before you first meet with a lawyer.

Use a Small Business Lawyer To Help You

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to protect your small business right from the start. You can schedule a meeting with a business lawyer even if you haven't completed a business plan. The best time to start is today. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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