How many lawyers does it take to draw up a simple business agreement?
None, assuming you're willing to take the time to do it yourself.
A number of books, software programs and Web sites are available to help small businesses take care of routine legal matters, from drawing up a partnership agreement or articles of incorporation to leasing space and contracting with employees.
Such resources, however, don't necessarily mean you won't need to consult an attorney to handle an unexpected problem, help you negotiate a contract or make sure that you're being treated right in a pending business deal.
And if you'd rather focus on your business, you can probably save time by turning the task over to an attorney. However, if you want to save money and get a better handle on your legal matters, then by all means consider doing it yourself.
Nolo Press is a pioneer in both consumer and business self-help books and software. The company's WillMaker product has become almost a classic. In addition to that and other consumer self-help products, the company has a full line of business products, including the books "Legal Guide for Starting and Running a Small Business" ($24.95), "Tax Savvy for Small Business" ($28.95), "The Employer's Legal Handbook" ($29.95), "Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court" ($18.95), "Marketing Without Advertising" ($19), "Legal Forms for Running a Small Business" ($29.95), and "How to Write a Business Plan" ($21.95).
Another option is to pay $79 for the CD-ROM Small Business Legal Pro 3, which has the full text of all these books, with the exception of "How to Write a Business Plan."
Although you can't leaf through a CD-ROM like you can a book, it does have some advantages. For one thing, you can search the full text and take advantage of its hypertext links, making it easy to use as a reference guide. For another, you can access the forms from your computer, making it easy to modify them to suit your needs. The CD is also cheaper and takes up a lot less space than all those books.
The CD, which works on both Mac and Windows, has more than 120 fill-in-the-blank forms with detailed instructions. They are divided into categories: Contract basics; Forming your Business; Running Your Corporation; Borrowing Money; Buying a Business; Leasing Space; Purchasing and Improving Real Estate; Buying, Selling, Manufacturing, Renting and Storing Goods; Hiring Employees and Independent Contractors; and miscellaneous forms such as IRS forms, sample letters and marketing work sheets.
The program offers more than just a blank form. There are plenty of instructions not only on how to fill them out, but how they fit into your business. The forms, instructions and accompanying on-screen books provide just about everything you'll need.
Business Lawyer from E-Z Legal Interactive doesn't have the text of the self-help books, but the $29.95 program does have 301 forms that you can fill out on your Windows PC.
The available forms are categorized as Basic Agreements; Credit and Collection; Transfers and Assignments; Loans and Borrowing; Buying and Selling; Personal and Family; and Other Legal Forms. For each form, you're taken to a screen where you can enter basic information. The program places that information in all relevant parts of the form.
Quicken Business Law Partner 3.0 (Mac and Windows, $29.95) from Parsons Technology (http://www.parsontech.com) is an easy-to-use and reasonably priced program that comes with 70 legal business documents. It also includes a series of business planning work sheets that you can use if you are setting up a new proprietorship, partnership, limited liability corporation or corporation. The software also includes a module for creating articles of incorporation.
The program uses an interview format in which you answer questions and let the program enter the data in the appropriate place on each form. A document advisor section provides specific information on why and how you would use each document.
Parsons Technology also operates the It's Legal Web site (http://www.itslegal.com). You can download most of the forms from the Quicken Business Law Partner program, but for most business forms, there is a fee ranging from $4.95 to $11.95 per form. Still, not a bad idea if you only need one or two forms.
LegalDocs (http://www.legaldocs.com) has similar documents you can download, ranging from $2.50 to $27.75.
Before you spend any money on legal forms, check out some free online sources such as the Business, Tax and Legal Forms Center at http://www.lawform.com. This Web site has a "law library" of free forms. It's limited, but the price is right.
One of the most extensive collections of free legal forms can be found at the Lectric Law Library at http://www.lectlaw.com/form.html.
Here you'll find more than 50 forms that you can download and fill out.
And, just in case you're wondering if your tax dollars are working, check out the California Secretary of State Web site's Business Programs link at http://www.ss.ca.gov/business/business.htm. You'll find useful forms for corporations, general partnerships, limited partnerships, limited liability partnerships and other types of businesses.
You can e-mail Lawrence J. Magid at email@example.com and visit his Web site at http://www.larrysworld.com. On AOL, use keyword "LarryMagid."