Article appears in Northwest Indiana Business Quarterly Summer-Fall 2011 edition.

Occasionally, I am enlisted by clients to undo a problem caused or complicated by a form they found through what I’ll call “online legal self help.”  Be advised: Those easily downloadable PDFs of leases, forms, corporate resolutions and the like – they have not been drafted with your business needs in mind, nor have they necessarily been designed to comply with Indiana law.

My advice to business owners: proceed with caution!  Business owners need to be cognizant that the forms they are finding online are not tailored to their industry or their jurisdiction.  A suitable commercial lease for a California landlord is not going to cut it for an Indiana landlord.  Nor is the advice posted by a New York or Chicago legal blogger necessarily going to be applicable or even helpful to an Indiana business.

Googling terms related to a business difficulty and then relying on a myriad of download PDFs forms, legal blogs and articles may be tempting, but this quick attempt at legal self help in an effort to avoid legal fees typically results in a bigger headache (and more fees) later.

Once a business owner has consulted an attorney and understands the legal issues he or she faces, some web surfing and research can serve to educate and facilitate discussion.  In that scenario, a little background reading by the client can go a long way in making an attorney-client meeting more productive and informative.

My advice for business owners engaging in online legal self help: consider the source.  Is this blogger or author a local licensed attorney?  Has this article been published? Does the author make him or herself accessible by providing current contact information? With these considerations and proper legal consultation, business owners can utilize internet resources more effectively.

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