By Elmer Thomas Jr.
Every small business is faced with a host of legal challenges, from forming your business entity to defending yourself against lawsuits. Here I will present some of my favorite free or low cost resources to help you navigate the legal minefield.
If you know what you need and just want to execute, then here is a good place to start. For example, if you need to file for a provisional patent, incorporate your business or file a trademark you can save more than 50% versus using an attorney.
This resource is useful for independent legal research. In addition, they have an extensive network of referred lawyers if you need extra help. You will want to check out the Small Business section for starters. They also have affordable forms and free books, such as a legal dictionary.
All that you need to know about taxes, along with the associated forms, is located here. In particular, click the Businesses tab and take a look at the business topics at the top of the left sidebar.
This is a new website where users share their documents freely. You will find a great deal of valuable forms. You will still want to have items such as contracts checked by your own lawyer; however, you should save on fees since most of the work will be done.
This site was specifically created for small businesses in the United States. Under services, check out the Laws & Regulations link.
If you an idea that you think is patentable, here is a free way to check if someone already beat you to the punch. I have found Google's patent search to be much easier to use than the U.S. Patent Office's web site.
They make getting contracts signed easy. You can either have contracts signed digitally online or via fax. EchoSign will then store the signed contracts for easy retrieval later. This method is especially useful when multiple people from different areas need to sign a document.
I find Nolo books simple to use and easy to apply. In addition to their books, they have a great deal of free legal information on their websites.
If you produce creative works, this resource allows you to easily define the copyright terms.
Here is a site that is self-described as "The Official Business Link to the U.S. Government". I found the Licenses & Permits, Taxes, Intellectual Property and Information Security to be informative.
If you plan to require legal advice often, then they may have the solution for you. Check out the section for Employers.
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Elmer Thomas Jr. is Co-founder of ATL Innovations, Inc., an award winning web and software development company dedicated to bridging the digital divide and ThemBid.com, a service offering free advertising for businesses and makes finding services and products easy for consumers. You can find out more about Mr. Thomas at ATLInnovations.com and ElmerThomas.com.