Authors and Writing Pros, It’s Time to Lawyer Up


9 affordable ways to build legal protections into your writing business


Why would, why should, authors, writers, and similar creatives buttress their career with a range of legal protections? Isn’t that for bigger businesses? Those engaged in shady dealings or jockeying for extra advantage? What does a world of boring, messy, ugly, unpleasant, legalistic intricacies have to do with me, you may be wondering? Well, a lot…

  • Proper cushions and enough legal knowledge and fortifications bring peace of mind. All the things that protect your well-being, ability to enjoy life, and capacity to do your work and make a living unhindered comprise a well-rounded plan of defensive entrepreneurship.

  • Understanding and wielding legal resources demonstrates to others your business savvy and the level of professionalism you bring to your work. And that alone creates another layer of protection.

  • Contracts and their various clauses can have short- and long-term implications you need to know about that affect a range of things, including payment terms, intellectual property rights, confidentiality, and liabilities.

  • Offload tasks beyond your wheelhouse and personal interests to the right pro. This is especially useful for things like cease and desist letters and collecting large unpaid sums.

  • Prevent, mitigate, and navigate lawsuits and threats of lawsuits.

 

Establish yourself as an LLC One of the simplest things you can do to broadly protect yourself and your assets from lawsuits is to do business as an LLC, a limited liability company. LLCs are an easier (significantly faster and less paperwork) and cheaper (you can usually do it on your own and fees are much lower) way to have the protections of a corporation for those who would otherwise be sole proprietors. Costs and ease of establishing yourself as an LLC vary from state to state but consider it as another layer of ongoing insurance. There’s typically the one-time fee to establish your company in the state; a one-time fee to register the assumed name; and an annual filing fee. One Writer’s Digest article suggests that becoming an LLC is worth it for anyone earning over $50,000 a year from their writing, but I’d also consider how important it is to you to protect your assets.

Use NOLO resources Use the resources of NOLO, an organization that helps small businesses with everyday legal questions and matters, from their free database of useful articles pertinent to small businesses to affordable templates/legal forms, books, and software.

Have an affordable go-to lawyer Have someone in place — at least know who you would go to in a bind — before you need them. You can find such a person among your family, friend, and professional contacts, or through organizations aimed at serving small businesses with low-cost legal representation. LCA (Lawyers for the Creative Arts) in Chicago is one example of such. If you need a lawyer today but worry about the cost, don’t panic. Announce your need in a Facebook post or to a LinkedIn group: “I need a reliable, affordable lawyer who can help me with x.” Your network will deliver.

Take advantage of organizational perks Professional associations for writers, authors, and journalists often come with two particular legal perks: free contract review and programming on legal topics. National Writers Union membership comes with contract review, grievance assistance, and possibly pro bono legal services. Authors Guild membership includes legal assistance in eight different areas relevant to authors. Every professional organization I’ve been involved in has offered at least one program annually devoted to legal issues. And every one of these I’ve attended has given me valuable knowledge and perspective that I didn’t know I needed and that served me well for years into the future. Membership is a bargain for the legal benefits alone.

Look into legal help by subscription Companies like Rocket Lawyer offer most of the legal help most small businesses will need for $39.99/month. Try it free for seven days.

Know and consider insurance options Talk to your insurance agent or an insurance agent to be educated on legal assistance covered by existing policies as well as additional insurance that might be handy for the kind of writing you do (e.g., defamation insurance). A lawyer once alerted me to the fact that my basic business insurance policy might cover her costs and she was right — it covered 100%, thousands of dollars, of her help defending me in a frivolous lawsuit.

Prevent conflicts Put thought into preventing conflicts in the first place: Guard your own behavior, know the hazards involved in your work, learn from other writers, and do not underestimate how litigious some people are. Work out with others how you’ll handle mucky situations in advance (e.g., if your accounting department doesn’t pay me on time, what’s the best way to handle that?) Most important in this area? Work with honorable people.

Nip conflict in the bud Not all conflict is preventable. Some comes with the vicissitudes of life and can be deflated or worked around with attention and skills; other conflict is recurring and can be managed. But live with this reality and tackle it head on, early on. Pick up the phone when email gets confusing or weird. Get comfortable with direct and difficult conversations. Respect yourself and your stance, respect others and theirs, then dive in.

Embrace mediation I write about the superpowers of mediation for small businesses:

Mediation is a form of ADR (alternative dispute resolution) in which a neutral and impartial third party (the mediator) assists disputing parties in discussing and tackling their differences, and then working out their own solutions. As it happens outside the legal system, it is far more efficient, affordable, and amicable than litigation.

Resolving small business disputes through mediation can provide peace of mind, improve quality of life, restore relationships, and allow you to get back to the work you love — all at a fraction of the financial, emotional, and time costs of making something an official legal matter.

Write a mediate first clause into all of your contracts. To find a mediator in your area and learn more about mediation, visit mediate.com.

 

Legal protections, in brief

  • Layers of legal resources, legal awareness and protections, contract knowledge and help, and having a lawyer on your side are all smart components of defensive entrepreneurship and deserved peace of mind.

  • Establish yourself as an LLC and buy the proper insurance for your purposes.

  • Find an affordable lawyer and legal services through your networks, specialty legal organizations, or membership organizations for writers, authors, and journalists.

  • Rely on affordable legal templates, forms, and resources such as at NOLO and RocketLawyer.

  • Focus on preventing conflicts, mitigating conflicts, and resolving conflicts through alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation.

 

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and this article should not be construed as legal advice. It is business advice based on my personal experience for your reference and further exploration.