Among the countless worries for entrepreneurs who are starting or are already running a small business is the question of whether they need a lawyer. The perception is that lawyers charge high rates and many small businesses don't have much, if any, extra capital with which to pay lawyers. As a result, most small business owners only hire a lawyer when confronted with a serious legal problem (e.g., you're getting sued). However, legal help is a cost of doing business that often saves you money and helps your business in the long run.

While you certainly don't need a lawyer for every step of running your business, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure. There are times when a business faces issues that are too complex, too time consuming, or fraught with liability issues to handle on your own. At that point, the wisest move is to hire a lawyer. A few examples include:

* Creating a partnership agreement, limited liability company (LLC) operating agreement, or shareholders' agreement;
* Creating contracts for use with customers or clients;
* Creating a buy-sell agreement with partners;
* Updating any partnership, LLC, or shareholders' agreements under which you are currently operating;
* Former, current, or prospective employees suing on the grounds of discrimination in hiring, firing, or hostile work environment;
* Local, state, or federal government entities filing complaints or investigating your business for violation of any laws;
* You want to make a "special allocation" of profits and losses or you want to contribute appreciated property to your partnership or LLC agreement;

* An environmental issue arises and your business is involved (even if your business didn't cause the environmental problem, you may be penalized);
* Negotiating for the sale or your company or for the acquisition of another company or its assets.

While you certainly need to hire a lawyer for the serious issues above, your emphasis should be placed on preventing such occurrences in the first place. Prevention does not necessarily involve hiring a lawyer, though consulting with one wouldn't hurt. By the time you or your business is sued, the preventable damage has been done and the only question that remains is how much you'll be paying in attorney's fees, court fees, and damages.

For example, by the time a prospective employee files a lawsuit claiming discrimination based in part upon questions posed at the job interview, all you can do is hire a lawyer to defend the lawsuit. If, on the other hand, you had done your own research on anti-discrimination laws, or you had consulted a lawyer beforehand, you would have known not to inquire as to whether the applicant was pregnant or planned on becoming pregnant. The small effort at the beginning of the process would save you an enormous headache later.

To prevent unnecessary legal costs at the inception of your business as well as tremendous costs after a lawsuit has been filed, you might consider a consultation arrangement with a lawyer. Such an arrangement would entail you doing most of the legwork of research and the attorney providing legal review or guidance. For example, you might use self help and online sources to create a contract with a vendor and ask a lawyer to simply review and offer suggestions. Or from the previous example, you might research types of questions to ask during an interview and then send the list to a lawyer for their approval. This way, you prevent the potential headache later and the cost to you is minimal because you've already done most of the work and the lawyer simply reviews the document.

You obviously won't need a lawyer for each and every legal issue that comes up in your business. But when you do, it's good to know where to find the right one. And--more to the point--you may not know you need legal help until it's too late, as lawyers can help you stay in compliance with the law and spot developing legal issues early. Get ahead of the curve by finding an experienced lawyer to advise you on your small business's legal needs.

We have been representing small businesses and their owners for 22 years. We represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime. Give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can be of service.