Do you know what the legal template landscape looked like before Legal Zoom and the big shift to online business came along? I do, and the situation has improved drastically just in the last few years. But does that necessarily mean that using templates over lawyers is the way to go for your small business?
In today’s episode, we’re going to dive into one of my favorite topics when it comes to legal: should you try to do it yourself with templates or hire a lawyer? This is a topic very near and dear to my heart, and it shows through my work. I have a law firm, Liss Legal, where I provide done-for-you legal services. In addition, this podcast is brought to you by my second business, Businessese, which is a legal template shop focused on the needs of online and service-based business owners.
Since each of my businesses has a different option related to this question, it’s a question I hear a lot. There are times when I’d strongly recommend you seek the assistance of a lawyer. But other times, you may want to go in the do-it-yourself (DIY) direction.
To help you decide, I’ll discuss the differences between done-for-you legal services and DIY legal templates. You’ll also hear considerations to think about before choosing the template route, with examples (including from my own business) throughout. By the end of this episode, you’ll know when to use a lawyer and the actions steps to take to help you choose between the two options.
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In this episode:
[01:32] – Should you plan to use a template or directly hire a lawyer? Before answering, Danielle gives a quick disclaimer.
[02:10] – Danielle goes over done-for-you legal services just in case you haven’t worked with a lawyer before.
[02:55] – For many years, legal templates were available but not always great. Danielle describes what it looked like before the big business online shift happened.
[03:31] – What was one of the driving forces behind the creation of Businessese?
[04:28] – Here’s the most important factor you should consider before using templates. Danielle uses templates she created for her business as examples.
[05:40] – What is the state of your business currently, and what’s your budget? For example, if you’re just starting out, then templates may be more budget-friendly.
[06:10] – The type of business you have can also determine whether you should use templates or hire a lawyer. Danielle reviews the kinds of businesses that’ll benefit from each.
[06:45] – Some areas of business are more easily handled with a template. The most popular product (by far) on Danielle’s website is an excellent example of this in action.
[07:15] – Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and likeness releases are also great options for templates.
[07:36] – It might also make sense to use a template for certain contracts. For service-based business owners, however, Danielle gives a big caveat.
[08:49] – Here’s a definite sign that a template may not be the best fit. Talk to a lawyer instead.
[09:03] – You can use a lawyer for your business before starting, early in the formation process, as it grows, when you want to shut it down, and every stage in between.
[09:45] – When should you talk to a lawyer instead of opting for a template? Danielle rapidly lays out quite a few scenarios.
[11:23] – Danielle gives four action steps to help you decide between choosing a legal template or a lawyer.
Links & Resources:
Welcome to the Simplifying Legal podcast, brought to you by Businessese. I’m your host, Danielle Liss.
Many years ago, someone told me I was the least lawyer-y lawyer she’d ever met because I helped make legal easier to understand. To this day, it’s one of the best compliments I’ve received in my professional life.
If you've ever felt legal was too scary, too overwhelming, too complicated, or just plain incomprehensible, you're not alone. The Simplifying Legal podcast was created to help.
In each episode, we’ll do a deep dive into a legal topic and give you concrete next steps so you can apply it to your business.
My goal is for you to walk away from each episode thinking, oh, that was easier than I thought it would be.
Let’s get started.
Hey there and welcome to our second episode! In today’s episode, we are going to dive into one of my favorite topics when it comes to legal: Should you try to DIY with templates or should you hire a lawyer.
This is a topic very near and dear to my heart. I have a law firm, Liss Legal, where I provide done-for-you legal services. This podcast is brought to you by my second business, Businessese, which is a legal template shop focused on the needs of online and service-based business owners. Since each of my businesses has a different option, one of the questions I get asked a lot is whether someone should use templates or directly hire a lawyer.
Disclaimer: As always, before we get into today’s topic, a quick disclaimer. This podcast is meant to provide you with legal information only. It’s not legal advice and does not create any type of attorney-client relationship between us. Please don’t take any action without consulting your lawyer first.
Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk a bit more about DIY and hiring a lawyer.
For most people, I think the idea of done-for-you legal services is probably relatively clear, but I want to talk about it just in case you haven’t worked with a lawyer before. Typically, if you have a legal need, you find a lawyer and hire them to perform the services. This can cover just about any topic in the legal world, from litigation to criminal matters to drafting documents. For small business owners, you may work with someone on forming your business and for many other tasks along the way, including creating a legal strategy for your business. And, as we’ll discuss, there are times when I STRONGLY recommend seeking assistance from a lawyer over a DIY option.
For many years, legal templates were available, but not always great. I’m solidly Gen X, so before things like LegalZoom started in 2001, the most common legal templates I saw were in office supply stores. It was often a kit for building your own estate plan or perhaps for business forms. Which I would ignore as I went to check out the pens.
As more and more businesses shifted online, there was a big change in the legal template market and a lot more options were available.
5 or 6 years ago, when people would ask about using templates, I would say, yes, they are out there, but be careful because they are often really general and may not cover everything that you need.
This was one of the driving forces behind the creation of Businessese. We really wanted to provide better contract options for bloggers and influencers. Then, that grew to encompass a lot more digital businesses.
In the past few years, the number of providers offering legal templates has increased considerably and the quality has also improved. I no longer have to tell people, hmm, that might work, but you will still probably need to have a lawyer look at the agreement for you before you use it to make sure X, Y, or Z is covered.
Legal Templates for Your Business Needs
Now that the quality of the templates has improved, should you be using templates? This is entirely up to you.
There are a few factors that can be important to consider:
DIY Legal Templates
First, the most important factor when it comes to using templates is whether or not you are comfortable with doing it yourself. Most templates will have areas that you need to customize.
Depending on the template, most take 15-30 minutes to customize for your business. For all of the Businessese templates, in addition to PDF instructions, we also provide a video to walk you through the customization process so you know what to do during the customization. I would estimate that some of the most simple forms, like the NDA, take about 5 minutes, but the contracts might be about 25 if you watch the video and then do your customization.
So, consider whether you are willing to dedicate that time to setting up your forms. If the idea of spending that time doing DIY legal doesn’t sit well with you, you should probably consider hiring a lawyer instead.
Budget for Legal Services
The second thing you may want to consider is what stage of business you are in and your budget. If you are just starting out, you may want to use templates because it may be less expensive than working directly with a lawyer. But, please make sure you consider that first factor – if you are unlikely to complete the templates, please look at your budget and consider working with a lawyer.
Legal Templates for Specific Businesses
Another area to consider is the type of business you have. If you are a virtual assistant who is setting up a website and will be taking a few initial clients, you will probably be a good candidate for templates. From the Businessese shop, you could easily use a Website Policies Bundle to protect your website and a Virtual Assistant Template. These are great options as you are getting started.
If, on the other hand, you are setting up a more complicated business, then it is probably better to work directly with a lawyer who knows and understands your area of business.
Consider the Specific Needs for Legal Services
The last thing to consider is what you need assistance with. There are some areas in your business that are more easily handled through a template.
For example, if you want to make sure you are protecting your website, you can often use templates for website policies. On the Businessese site, our Website Policies Bundle is by far our most popular product. It’s used by business owners who are either just getting started or those who are looking more closely at protecting their website. It’s also easy to customize.
Another great option for templates is the legal forms that tend to be more standardized, like non-disclosure agreements or likeness releases. These two forms are usually also fairly simple to customize.
If you are comfortable with doing the customization, it may also make sense for you to use a template for certain contracts. For example, if you are hiring a virtual assistant to help in your business, a virtual assistant template may be a great option for you.
If you are a service-based business owner, there may be great options available for your client agreements. One warning: client agreements are not one-size-fits-all for some businesses. So you will need to have an idea of the types of terms that will be most important for you to include.
On the Businessese site, we have a number of client agreement templates that are customized for particular types of businesses, like health coaches, copywriters, graphic designers, social media managers, and more. These templates have the types of provisions that come up most often for those business types. Because, let’s face it – a graphic designer needs different terms than a health coach.
When it comes to client agreements and you aren’t sure what your business needs, that’s definitely a sign that a template might not be the best fit and you should talk to a lawyer rather than try to force a template.
Involving a Lawyer for Your Business Needs
Now that we’ve discussed some of the best scenarios for using templates, let’s take a minute to talk about when to use a lawyer.
Convenience of a Lawyer
First and foremost, you can use a lawyer at any time. Before you start your business, early in the formation process, as your business is growing, or when you are considering selling or shutting down your business. Or, of course, absolutely any stage in between.
Not all Templates Fit Your Business Needs
Next, when it comes to your business, some aspects are fairly straightforward and easy to address with a template. But, there won’t always be a template to fill every need you have. In those situations, it’s definitely time to reach out to a lawyer.
Here are some times when I usually recommend lawyer over template:
- When you aren’t going to spend the time on DIY
- When you aren’t sure what needs to go into a contract
- If you are forming a business that will be seeking investors
- Partnership agreements, joint venture agreements, corporate bylaws, and operating agreements, especially if you have multiple people.
- When you are hiring employees
- Some intellectual property matters – people often DIY copyrights, but I recommend working with a lawyer on trademarks and patents.
- Selling or buying a business
- Any contract you receive that includes terms you aren’t sure about
Another time that is really important to talk to a lawyer is when you aren’t sure what your next step is, I typically view that as a time to talk to a lawyer. At Liss Legal, I regularly do strategy sessions for business owners who are trying to figure out what to do next. That old maxim – you don’t know what you don’t know is usually at work. Talking to a lawyer with the right experience can help you determine your next steps and what options will be best for you and your business.
Here are your action steps for deciding between a legal template or lawyer:
- Are you comfortable reading through and customizing a legal template? If not, it may be a better fit to work with a lawyer.
- Determine what you are looking for. If you need website policies or certain contracts, you may be able to find a great template for your needs.
- If you aren’t sure what you need and you can’t find the answer, that’s a great time to work directly with a lawyer to help map your next legal steps.
- Keep in mind that you can work with a lawyer at any time on the legal side of your business, so it’s never something where you must use a template.
I hope this helps you figure out what is the better fit for your business – a template or working directly with a lawyer.
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If you have any questions, you can reach out via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.