Note: I am not an attorney, and this blog post is not meant to constitute legal advice in any way. Please contact your lawyer with any legal questions.
As bloggers, we're very often bootstrappers too. We do everything on a tight budget, stretching our resources until they nearly snap. But the honest truth is you can't bootstrap everything. Sometimes, you need a professional. And anything that has to do with the legality of your blog is definitely one of those times.
For most of you, this article will probably be a few years ahead of where you are right now. I'd been blogging for years before I reached the point where I needed to seriously consider hiring legal advice. But when it's time, it's time, and you shouldn't put off the decision for not knowing where to start or what to do. Though I'm in touch with a phenomenal attorney right now, this is basically the article I wish someone had written for me.
What's the magic line for knowing if you need legal advice or not?
That's the million dollar question, isn't it? Some issues you can handle on your own, even if they'll take a lot of your time and resources. But some issues should absolutely be run past a trained set of eyes first. How can you tell the difference? My personal rule is to always contact an attorney when there are costly repercussion for my blog. Stated another way, when there's a possibility that not contacting a lawyer will cost me more money (or grief!) than contacting one, I get in touch with my attorney.
…when there's a possibility that not contacting a lawyer will cost me more money (or grief!) than contacting one, I get in touch with my attorney.
For me, that meant when it was time to file as an LLC in my state, when it was time to federally register the trademark for my blog (and also when I'm protecting that trademark), and when I began making contracts for my own business and reviewing contracts from other businesses. Legal writing (i.e. “legalese”) can be extremely complicated and extremely dense, and there's no shame in getting help with translating it if you need it (after all, you should never sign a contract without being aware of all the potential consequences first). In addition, if you're ever threatened with a lawsuit of any kind, it's time to contact an attorney. I admit it – I bootstrapped for a long time. But as my blog grew, it reached a tipping point where I had to make sure my metaphorical house was in order.
How can you find an attorney?
If you're not lucky enough to have a friend or family member who's a lawyer and willing to work with you, you'll have to schlep with the rest of us and go attorney shopping. When you're looking for an attorney, start by asking your personal network of friends, family, and business contacts if they have any recommendations first. You may have a friend who just hired an amazing attorney, but you won't know unless you ask.
As bloggers, finding an attorney who specializes in small businesses, creative professionals, or internet businesses is ideal. The intricacies of working online are still an unknown to many legal professionals, so finding an attorney who's well-read and up to date on the unique needs of blogging is critical. Don't just stop at contacting one attorney; call several. And don't be afraid to ask questions about their previous experience working with people like you, and about their fee structure (for example, if you're filing for a trademark, is that a flat fee or will they bill hourly? How much will the final cost be?). See if any of the attorneys you're interested in write blogs of their own, and don't be afraid to request an initial consult (or coffee meeting!). You'll hopefully be working with this attorney for awhile, and this person will be representing your business in a professional and legal capacity. Take some time to learn about each other over a conversation.
What should you do once you've found the right attorney?
Once you've found an attorney that's a good fit for you, you'll likely be asked to sign some paperwork. This paperwork can be called a legal services agreement, an engagement letter, or an attorney/client contract for representation and professional services (among other things). This contract explicitly states the terms of your working relationship so read it carefully, and don't be afraid to ask questions if something seems unclear or confusing. Your attorney may also want to get “up to speed” on what you've been doing so far, so have samples of any contracts or agreements you've been using until now readily available. Finally, keep your attorney in the loop regarding business developments or potential issues. Your attorney's job is to be cautious (you've hired them to help you limit risk), so don't be surprised if they give you advice you don't really want to hear. Just remember that being aware of potential consequences is all part of being a more professional blogger.
I hope this article when it's time for you to look for a lawyer! Have you had to hire an attorney for your blog yet? What advice do you have for anyone who's looking? Let's share in the comments!
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