Legal Resources, Oppa Houston Style

Places to get affordable legal help for starting your business
A young entrepreneur that has the skills, the business plan and the funds to get her dream business started.  And yet, those lingering legal questions remain:
  • Should I incorporate? What is this ‘LLC’ thing I keep reading about?
  • How can I best protect my intellectual property?
  • Employees, how do I hire them? Contracts, how do I write them?
Hiring a lawyer is an option, but if you are bootstrapping a business, dropping thousands of dollars on legal advice probably is not at the top of the to-do list.
However, there is a way to access resources either inexpensively or free in Houston. Populated by well-regarded law schools and legal firms, the city is full of legal resources designed to help budding entrepreneurs answer their questions above and beyond the sometimes questionable results of a Google search.
The best place to start for legal knowledge (and other general business knowledge) is at either SCORE or theUniversity of Houston Small Business Development Center (UH SBDC). Both resources offer low-cost seminars run by professionals in their fields that cover topics such as incorporation, contracts, employees, business plans, social media and more. Further, both SCORE and the UH SBDC have mentors available to answer business questions and to point the aspiring magnate in the correct direction.
For the truly free resource, Houston is littered with law libraries large and small. I prefer the University of Houston O’Quinn Law Library (full disclosure: I am a cougowl). The stacks are filled with the answers to nearly every legal question one might have, and if you don’t know where or how to start, the law librarians are quite possibly the most helpful people within the city limits. They have several books with model contracts and an extensive self-help section.
The big advantage of self-education is when it is time to hire a lawyer, typically because the business is making enough money to justify it or because the owners have run out of time for autodidacticism, the entrepreneur now has enough knowledge to evaluate the quality of a potential attorney, to ask intelligent questions and to generally know what they need. Ideally, a good business lawyer is a lifetime partner for a business. He or she should be intimately familiar with the company’s affairs and should do everything possible to help it thrive.
Finally, some simple advice for those who are just starting their business endeavor—. writing out agreements between business partners is probably the single, easiest way to sort out current and future misunderstandings. Of course, without a lawyer, these handwritten agreements may not be entirely legal and may lack certain protections a lawyer would deem wise. But, they will almost certainly capture the most important parts of the agreement, such as who owns what and how the partners split the work and the money.
Taking a little time at the beginning to learn the law, accounting, financial/business planning, and basic web design will go a long way in ensuring the success of a new company. These skills will last a lifetime and will help the entrepreneur with every subsequent venture.