3 Big Reasons Not to Do Your Own Legal Work

Posted on October 27, 2013 in Planning & Advisors

In my years of traveling in entrepreneurial circles, I’ve met far more cash-strapped entrepreneurs than over-abundantly funded ones. My guess is that the ratio is 8:1. That’s okay. Also, there’s no shame in wanting to economize and stay within your company budget – in fact, it’s an excellent business practice! But it continually befuddles me why business owners insist on doing their own legal work as a way to save money. To me, that’s like trying to fix the inside of my television: I’m grappling in the dark, making a mess, with nothing to show for it but my butt.

So let me get the disclaimers out of the way. Yes, I am an attorney for small businesses. Yes, I need to tout the value of what I do so that entrepreneurs will hire me and I can stay in business. Yes, telling entrepreneurs not to do their own legal work is in my best interest…but so what? Does anyone look down at website designers for impressing upon us the need for an online presence in this Digital Age? Does anyone scoff at accountants for offering to prepare and file our tax returns? It is in your best interest to have a website and file your tax returns…isn’t it? Isn’t it possible that not doing your own legal work could be in your best interest, too?

Obviously, I think so. Here are 3 big reasons why you should not attempt to handle your company’s legal matters on your own:

  1. It’s not a productive use of your time! I can’t emphasize this any more clearly. You’re in business to make money. And your time has value. Every minute that takes you away from planning and executing projects and orders that generate revenue adversely affects your top line (not just your bottom line). It reduces the amount of gross income you can expect to receive. Bethany ran into that problem when she tried to handle her own trademark registration. She spent a little time poking around the Internet to see if anyone else was using the same mark (she didn’t find anything). She then spent time reading through the Trademark Office website about how to file a trademark. She spent more time filling out the online form and paying the filing fee. The Trademark Office responded, raising several objections (one of which was that there was a similar – even though not exact – mark registered). Bethany then tried to puzzle through a response, and paid an additional filing fee, but to no avail. The end result: a loss of hundreds of dollars in filing fees, and thousands of dollars in time that could have been spent serving clients, and she was left with still no trademark registration. Is this really a good use of your time?
  2. You may not have the training to do it right. Would you perform an appendectomy on yourself? It reminds me of the old joke about the patient who undergoes emergency surgery. After recovering, he receives a bill from the surgeon for $10,000. The patient practically jumps out of his skin. He calls the surgeon and demands an itemization of the bill. The surgeon replies, “$1000 for making the incision; $9000 for knowing where to make the incision.” There is a real expertise that goes into handling legal issues properly. Do you have the appropriate training to do it? As mentioned in our article, What You Should Know Before Copying Contracts from the Internet,” are you up-to-date with recent changes in the law? Do you know which terms to include – and which ones to avoid? Even if you copy contracts from other people in your industry, are you sure that they reflect how you want to do business? That they adequately protect you? I hired a website designer because I knew that I would totally botch the job if I did it myself. Don’t forget that a poorly written contract is just as risk-inducing (maybe even more so!) as having no written contract. All it takes is one misunderstanding, one crazy client, one person who’s upset with “the principle of the thing,” and you’re stuck in the middle of a costly lawsuit, with no one to blame but your patchwork contract.
  3. You risk developing a puny business mindset. One of the hallmarks of a business that has the capacity to grow is its ability to delegate those tasks and assignments to others that the business owners do not need to handle personally. Think about it – what are the issues that you, and only you – because of your background, talent, or expertise – could possibly handle for your business? Take janitorial services. Is there something about you and your talents that only you can empty the garbage and clean the toilets each night? Probably not. The same applies to making deposits at the bank. Talking to tech support to configure a piece of computer software. Billing for services. And preparing your contracts. When you have a company that earns income without your having to be physically present to do the work – ah, then you’ve reached business nirvana, with optimal personal and financial freedom and flexibility. Sure, you can choose to work, but you’ll do so because you want to, not because you have to. To get there, you must be willing to delegate, whether to employees or vendors. You must be willing to let go of control. You must be willing to let go of fear. You must be willing to let go of believing that you are the only one in the Known Universe who can do it right. The benefit of letting go is that, in return, you get a more professional, streamlined, well-run business that frees up your time.

I’ll climb down off my soapbox, now. But I stick by my reasoning. Give yourself the peace of mind you deserve by delegating to the experts what fits within their area of expertise – whether it’s your legal work, accounting work, bookkeeping, copywriting, web design, or anything else. To find a good small business attorney who meets your needs, get a copy of our program, How to Choose and Use Attorneys.

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