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Blog Title: Proto Pantry
About Lauren: My name is Lauren, and I’m an attorney and food blogger. I started my legal practice as a corporate litigator, and eventually quit my job (without a plan!) to pursue creative and professional interests. I started a food blog during that time, and, in the process, discovered a huge need for affordable, transparent, accessible legal services for creatives and entrepreneurs. Now, I help small business owners, artists, and bloggers to protect their work, negotiate deals, and “run a tight ship,” legally speaking.
Notes from Episode #011: Save Money on Legal Services Without Putting Your Blog at Risk
Consulting an attorney and accountant/bookkeeper should be done as soon as you can afford to after starting your business; you can put together things in place ahead of time so you aren’t playing catch up or fixing a big problem. Having a solid contract in place, for example, is a lot less expensive than litigating a dispute once things have gone sideways.
Invest a little money and time into outsourcing a job you really don’t want to do. To put it into perspective, its an inefficient use of your time trying to figure those things out when a lawyer or accountant can do it quickly and correctly.
Disputes or negotiating you could face with legal ramifications
Dealing with Brands – work they want you to do that you weren’t prepared for, payment disputes
If you don’t have an attorney or are just starting out, at a minimum, briefly consult with a real attorney. It is often okay to purchase inexpensive contract templates and/or DIY your website terms etc., but do have an attorney review those documents for you and explain what they mean. If the templates are good quality, you may save money this way (vs. having an attorney draft a custom contract from scratch). However, hiring an attorney that will understand your business and can customize/explain your documents will usually save you money in the long run.
Keep immaculate records. It may not be financially feasible for you to consult an attorney every time an invoice goes unpaid or every time someone steals an image from your blog, but keeping good records of each incident will save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees if/when a situation spirals out of control. Remember, attorneys often bill hourly, so the less time they have to spend reconstructing a record of what occurred, the cheaper the service will be. Plus, good records make for a stronger negotiating position in the event of a dispute.
When speaking with someone about stolen material or any matter that could be a dispute legally down the line:
Create a record of the dispute – this is more important than getting your result. You need to keep a binder of what was spoken about. Be sure to keep accurate record of dates, calls, emails.
You can purchase a generic cease and desist letter (it’ll be a small fee to lawyer to get this for your business) and use this as needed.
Value/Benefits of hiring your own attorney – you won’t have to reexplain your business to them and thus won’t be spending your time and money catching them up on the business each time you talk. By developing a relationship with an attorney, you build trust and negotiate a retainer agreement to keep them looking out for your business.
Many attorneys will offer discounted legal services if you pay a monthly retainer. Plus, working with the same attorney throughout the life of your blogging career ensures that you don’t have to spend valuable time and money re-explaining the legal aspects of your business to a new lawyer every time you have a problem.
What kind of attorney you need may vary based on what you’re dealing with. But in general, these types of attorneys cover food blogging matters:
Transactional: they care for aspects of business (formation, dissolution of business, registering, business licences, drafting a contract, partnership agreements)
How to look for an attorney –
AVVO- yelp for attorney’s
Google – Attorney search (be sure to search by state)
There’s free/reduced clinics for artists/creatives at times so Google your state and look into it if you need help.
All attorney fees/rates differ based on location and the work they do
A flat rate can be available – sometimes you have to ask
Hourly might be scary sounding but the work you need might not need full hours
Comparison shopping is a good idea
Knowing rates are often negotiable
Lower rate options are available with templates online. Legalzoom.com and Rocket Lawyer are a couple options. Often better than nothing but not the best choice either.
If you’re just getting started blogging and/or you don’t have much money, search for free and reduced-cost legal clinics for artists and small businesses in your locality. Google “[your state] bar association small business advice,” or “[your state] volunteer lawyers for the arts.”
Work with a great accountant! The most expensive dispute you can end up in is one with the IRS. You don’t want to need a lawyer for that. Avoid the expense altogether.
Develop best practices for your business and that’s what will save you money over the long term.
Your blog is your business. Everything in business has a dollar value. It’s okay to get emotional about your work, it’s okay to feel attached to a situation or disappointed by people that you work with, but spending money on lawyers to 1) vent about an employee or brand, 2) act vindictively, and/or 3) pursue legal action “on principle” is often a bad financial decision for your business. As such, only work with lawyers that treat their services as an investment in the financial health of your blog.
If “justice” and “fairness” are the only things steering your legal decisions (in the civil realm), you’re often just losing money, time, and energy.
Don’t get fearful, but just get started with legal advice and get yourself organized.
Helpful references from the episode:
NOLO – Our mission is to help consumers and small businesses find answers to their everyday legal and business questions. This link will take you to information about understanding Attorney’s fees.