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Using the Web to Get Legal Information

5 online resources to help you with some of your common legal needs

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Q: My partner and I need to develop documents establishing our business, contracts between ourselves, living wills, contract forms, etc. We have financial constraints, so we don't want to hire a lawyer until we've done our own research and developed some interim documents of our own. Do you have any recommendations for models we can peruse?

A: Whether you face the particular legal challenges entering into a partnership presents or you have needs for other legal documents and information, you will discover an amazing amount of legal material on the Web, a significant portion of it for free. Partnerships carry greater risks than other forms of business organization, so your care in establishing a solid legal foundation is wise. These risks include:

  • Each partner is personally liable for all debts and legal obligations of the partnership. If partnership resources cannot pay a debt, each partner must pay out of his or her own pocket. In addition, each partner's liability is not limited to his or her percentage share of the profits and losses, thus even a partner with a minority interest can wind up paying off debts.
  • Each partner has the power to represent and bind the entire partnership in normal business matters, no matter how poor the business decision.
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As you can see, your motivation to set up clear contracts right from the start is well-founded. Here are some places to look for everything from basic information to actual legal documents created by the nation's leading law firms:

  • Entrepreneur.com, in partnership with Coollawyer.com, offers a number of legal forms, either bundled together or as individual forms.
  • FindLaw.com has a forms section that provides actual contracts that have been created for use by major corporations.
  • FreeAdvice.com offers advice plus an extensive collection of legal forms, usually priced below $50. In addition to downloadable contracts, it offers a "completion service" that enables you to fill in information and have their legal staff complete your contract for you and then send it to you via regular mail.
  • Legaldocs.com allows you to prepare customized legal documents directly online for you to then either download to file or print to your printer. Many documents are free. For more complex documents costing from $5.50 to $89.75, you can see samples and descriptions free. A general partnership agreement costs under $30.
  • Nolo.com offers a legal encyclopedia, basic descriptions of law and links to Nolo's excellent line of how-to books and software.

While these sites are among the most relevant to what you want to do, they're just the beginning of the legal resources available on the Web.

Paul and Sarah Edwards are the authors of several homebased business books, including Working From Home. Their latest book is Why Aren't You Your Own Boss?