LA Law Help: The Self-Realized Entrepreneur

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Edison's bright idea. Think he got pro bono help on patenting this?

I know what you’re thinking.  I was thinking it too, when someone asked me to have a post on this topic.  “Who in their right mind wants to start a business now?  Who has the money to start a business now?  With the credit crisis, who can even get a loan to start a business?” Well, there are some people (i.e., here and here) who say that the recession is ripe for starting a business, especially if you just got laid off, have some time to rethink whether or not you actually really did like stressing out about meeting an 8 hour minimum billable day (no, I’m not projecting) (yes, I am), and have some usable savings squirreled away.  If you’ve got balls to take that leap, then this guide is for you.  It’s also for you if you had the balls, leapt, and need some guidance as to where to land.

Similar to the organizations available to assist the newly unemployed (see my previous guide here), there are a handful of legal clinics that can help you and your business.  Getting advice early to get things right the first time will save you loads of money down the road — I’ve only been lawyering for a year and a half now, but I’ve already worked on too many businesses that fell apart because their incorporating documents were poorly and ambiguously written, and now must spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to fix their mistakes.  Operating small businesses that can’t afford their own counsel also can benefit from these orgs if they need counsel with a thing or two.  The list, after the jump.

  • USC Law School’s Small Business Clinic. My law school alma mater recently started a Small Business Clinic that “provides basic corporate legal assistance to small businesses, entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations that cannot afford to pay market rates for legal services.”  Services include corporate formation; reviewing contracts; and drafting shareholder agreements and related documents.  Note that there is a waiting list and a screening application, so have patience and make it count.  Also, just as an fyi, typical of most law school clinics, second- to third-year law students act as your counsel under the watchful eye of their supervising attorney/clinical instructor.   Don’t let this fact scare you though; all students are closely supervised by Michael Chasalow who, unlike many law professors, actually has had ample experience in his field.  And, quite honestly, the type of advice you’re getting from the students isn’t a whole lot different than I’d give you as a second year associate at a law firm.   I know, scary, but it’s true.  Best part: you’re not paying my billing rate.  Huzzah!
  • California Lawyers for the Arts. For those poorer-than-grad-students creative folks, the CLA is for you.  For a small fee ($35), the CLA will match your “arts-related” issue with an experienced entertainment attorney, at which point you will get a whole half hour to discuss your legal issue(s).  This may include matters related to your copyright, contracts, even your organization’s taxes!   For those qualified, the CLA will waive the legal fees.  Call (310) 998-5590.
  • Public Counsel.  If you are starting a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation  and your mission and work benefits low-income individuals, or you operate in an underserved community in the county, you may be eligible for assistance from this great public organization’s Community Development Project.  CDP provides a range of transactional legal services, including incorporation issues and advising on employment law and intellectual property matters.  The applications for assistance are on the website; in addition, you may call their Legal Intake Line at (213) 385-2977 x200.
  • Legal Aid.  Similar to Public Counsel’s clinic, Legal Aid’s Community Economic Development Services helps qualified nonprofit businesses that are dedicated to providing services to low-income individuals and families.  More information at the website, or call their intake line at (213) 640-3954.
  • Neighborhood Legal Services.  One of my favorite pro bono organizations, NLS can help small and worker-owned businesses with nonprofit incorporation and other transactional issues.  Call their legal intake line to see if they can help you. (800) 433-6251.
  • Law firm lawyers.  If you happen to know someone working in a law firm, ask what their pro bono policies are.  Most mid- to large-sized firms give their associates and partners credit for doing pro bono work; however, firm policies vary widely in terms of where this work is sourced.  For example, subject to the approval of my firm’s Pro Bono Committee, I’m largely able to take on whatever pro bono projects I want.  Other firms, however, have more stringent requirements.  In any case, now couldn’t be a better time to ask, as many attorneys  (who haven’t been laid off) are light on work and need something productive to do.  Most small business projects are perfect for a young attorney, easy to get approved, and from the firm’s perspective,  easy to supervise.
  • Joe Escalante’s Barely Legal radio program.  Totally not kidding.  If you can’t get any of the above help, and have just a basic question or two, maybe Joe Escalante can help.  Originally airing on the now sadly defunct Indie 103.1 and currently airing as an Internet radio program, Joe offers callers advice on his Barely Legal program.  In addition to playing bass for The Vandals, Escalante was a practicing entertainment attorney for 15 years and has even more experience doing various things that lawyers who live real lives should be doing.  The show is on Fridays at 11am; call (877) 900-1031 and cross your fingers.  This will be more valuable than those Social Distortion tickets I won once.
  • Finally, the government’s Small Business Administration is a user-friendly resource.  It even provides helpful information about provisions tucked into the $787 billion bailout package that may make it easier to get that SBA loan you need.  The IRS has information related to the tax side and can help you figure out the proper corporate structure for your business.

That’s all I got for this one.  For anyone who finds these things useful, I plan to have similar resource guides for a variety of topics.   I’m taking requests, though, so feel free to drop in a suggestion or two  in the comments.  Happy hunting!

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