I just returned from vacation. I was on a tour bus visiting the west coast.  It was a lot of fun, and when the forty other people on my bus found out I was a lawyer I got legal questions.  I am always surprised by this, since there are so many lawyers in the world, but people have questions and I try to answer the ones that I know.  However, the most important question that should be answered is: when do I hire an attorney? Sure, this may sound self-serving, but I am going to create a short list.


  1. When you are starting a new venture.


This will surprise you, but I am a fan of Legal Zoom.  I believe that they can be of great use for an entrepreneur.  However, Legal Zoom does not tell you what you need.  You have to know what you need ahead of time. A consultation with a lawyer will give you access to the lawyer’s expertise so that you understand what you need – employment agreements, confidentiality agreements and more.


  1. When you are forming an agreement.


You do not need to contact a lawyer when you are buying a car, but if you are buying a home, then yes, hire a lawyer.  The bank’s or mortgage company’s attorney is NOT your attorney.  They are watching the interests of the bank and mortgage company.  Also, there are certain contracts that need to be in writing- prenuptial agreements, goods over $500 and ones that will take more than a year to complete. You need an attorney to make sure you are protected and you do not face a liability exposure or something you cannot afford.


  1. When you are about to sign a document and you don’t understand it.


Many people sign documents they do not understand. Unfortunately, in a court of law ignorance is not a defense; neither is saying that you didn’t read it.  If you do not want to take the time to read a document or do not understand it, then hire an attorney to protect you.


  1. When you feel that a wrong has been committed against you.


I recently had a long talk with a family member about their friend whose child was being bullied.  This is not my area of law, but I understood enough to know there was a wrong being committed and that legal assistance was needed.  I do not believe that every matter should go to court or result in a lawsuit, but if you feel a right has been violated or you are being stopped from doing something then a legal consultation may be a good idea.


  1. When you get a complaint.


Many people show up to court by themselves without an attorney present after they have received a complaint.  Can you represent yourself?  Yes, you can.  Is it a good idea? No, not at all.  The complaint gives you enough time to hire an attorney so the attorney can reply to the complaint.  There is a process involved that a lay person does not know about, but an attorney does.


Next month we will discuss how to find the right attorney for your needs.