Unless you happen to have a J.D. yourself, you may not know about the legal issues that could effect freelance writers and self-employed workers. It won’t take long for you to realize that having contracts is an essential part of contract work, at least if you want to get paid. But even then it could be like pulling teeth to get your clients to hand over a check for services rendered.
The long and short of it is that running your own business means wearing a lot of hats, and you simply can’t do everything on your own. Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there that can prove handy for whatever your legal needs. Here are just a few to help you out–before you get into hot water.
- Creative Commons. This service provides free tools that let you easily secure your creative work and assign the freedoms you want it to carry. The service and software are simple to use and an essential site for any creative professional concerned about protecting their work.
- Legal Guide for Bloggers. For you bloggers, the Electronic Frontier Foundation provides a comprehensive summary of blogging and U.S. law. Issues ranging from fair use to free speech and privacy are all covered on this thorough site. With the Legal Guide for Bloggers bookmarked you can cease to wonder whether a blog post will get you into trouble and focus on producing content. They help you with content too, even provide information on utilizing the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to buried information.
- U.S. Copyright Office. Another website every writer should get to know. Your writing is copyrighted the minute you release it in a public form, but the U.S. Copyright Office is where you can, for a fee, register for further protection on your work. However, the FAQ is free and remains the best tutorial around on copyright law.
- ContractPal. This online service is one you’ll definitely want to bookmark in your browser. While contracts for your type of job can be as simple as a work order from the company that’s contracting with you (specifying the basics like work to be done, time of delivery, and amount of payment), many contractors like to have their own legal documents in place to protect them from issues like liability and non-payment. This business process-outsourcing site allows you to go paperless and send documents quickly and securely so that you can focus on work.
- Docracy. Not all independent contractors have cash just coming out of their ears, so you may be on the lookout for a services that provides cheap access to legal document templates. Docracy is that resource, and in truth, all of the templates on their website are free. All you have to do is download the consulting or sale document of your choice, alter it to reflect your personal needs, and you’ve got your basic contract. It may not be as ironclad as having something drawn up by a lawyer, but for most freelancers it will be sufficient to get the job done, so to speak.
- SBA.gov. Many independent contractors decide to form LLCs (limited liability corporations) as a way to protect themselves and their personal assets from business-related legal issues. If you opt to go this route, you may want to pop over to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) website. Most people view this site as a good resource for small business grants and loans (and it is), but it also has information on taxes, labor laws, social security, and more.
- Business attorney. As an independent contractor working from home you’re unlikely to need the services of an automobile, accident, or injury attorney. But you may need a lawyer at some point, and you want to make sure you hire the right kind. There are all kinds of specializations within the legal community, and you’ll need to find someone who is not only a business attorney, but who is familiar with your particular type of business. This will ensure that you have the most targeted legal services available.
Leon Harris is a contributing writer for Hornsby Law, the premier Atlanta injury attorney.