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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: Mypartner and I need to develop documents establishing our business,contracts between ourselves, living wills, contract forms, etc. Wehave financial constraints, so we don't want to hire a lawyeruntil we've done our own research and developed some interimdocuments of our own. Do you have any recommendations for models wecan peruse?

A: Whether you face the particular legalchallenges entering into a partnership presents or you have needsfor other legal documents and information, you will discover anamazing amount of legal material on the Web, a significant portionof it for free. Partnerships carry greater risks than other formsof business organization, so your care in establishing a solidlegal foundation is wise. These risks include:

  • Each partner is personally liable for alldebts and legal obligations of the partnership. If partnershipresources cannot pay a debt, each partner must pay out of his orher own pocket. In addition, each partner's liability is notlimited to his or her percentage share of the profits and losses,thus even a partner with a minority interest can wind up paying offdebts.
  • Each partner has the power to represent andbind the entire partnership in normal business matters, no matterhow poor the business decision.
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As you can see, your motivation to set up clear contracts rightfrom the start is well-founded. Here are some places to look foreverything from basic information to actual legal documents createdby the nation's leading law firms:

  • Entrepreneur.com, in partnership with Coollawyer.com, offers anumber of legal forms, either bundled together or as individualforms.
  • FindLaw.com has a forms sectionthat provides actual contracts that have been created for use bymajor corporations.
  • FreeAdvice.com offers advice plus an extensivecollection of legal forms, usually priced below $50. In addition todownloadable contracts, it offers a "completion service"that enables you to fill in information and have their legal staffcomplete your contract for you and then send it to you via regularmail.
  • Legaldocs.com allows you to prepare customized legaldocuments directly online for you to then either download to fileor print to your printer. Many documents are free. For more complexdocuments costing from $5.50 to $89.75, you can see samples anddescriptions free. A general partnership agreement costs under$30.
  • Nolo.comoffers a legal encyclopedia, basic descriptions of law and links toNolo's excellent line of how-to books and software.

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


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

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