"Should I incorporate?"
"What do I need to know before I hire my first employee?"
"Are interns even allowed?"
These are just some of the questions social entrepreneurs and business owners might have as they start to get their enterprises off the ground. And there are a whole host of others they should be asking that they might not even know to ask.
This is exactly why Tristan Blaine (former President of Net Impact LA) created LawSoup.org, a legal resource for, well, everyone, to give them a broad yet concise overview of the specific laws they need to know.
The site has two main categories of legal guides: Laws by Role (which breaks down everything a particular person might need to know about the laws that affect them, from airline passengers to voters), and Laws by Topic (which covers everything from civic topics like parking enforcement to laws that cover whole industries, such as entertainment).
LawSoup.org has a great overview of what entrepreneurs and business owners need to know, but really, it could answer legal questions that pretty much anyone has. For a site that bills itself as more a side-dish, it has more than enough info to be a full meal (if you find legalese to be particularly tasty).
We caught up with Tristan to learn more.
Net Impact Los Angeles: What has your experience as an attorney been like so far, and what inspired you to create Law Soup?
Tristan Blaine: As I developed a better understanding of the legal system in law school and in practicing law, I came to realize how important the law is to every person, every day, because every person is expected to know all of the laws that apply to them at all times. The excuse, “But I didn’t know it was illegal” will almost never fly in court. And on the positive side, we have all these rights that we can’t benefit from if we don’t know about them.
Yet there is this idea, among both lawyers and many non-lawyers, that The Law is something that really only lawyers should concern themselves with and that non-lawyers should essentially be passive recipients of legal services. But if society expects everyone to know the law, then everyone should know the law. Of course, law can be complicated, as it tries to grapple with the complexities of life. It does take plenty of time and deep thinking to get a good understanding of the law. I wish everyone could go to law school. Obviously that’s not practical. But we should at least ensure people have a basic level of proficiency in the law.
Also, law is often not that complicated. Either you can park in a yellow zone at a certain time or you can’t. Either you can smoke pot in a certain place or you can’t. People just need to know what they can or can’t do. If they don’t have clear answers, many people who would otherwise follow the law would simply do a shruggie and just do what they want.
I felt that I had to somehow help close this gap between what people need to know and the lack of easily accessible information out there. There was a simple solution: just tell people the laws they need to know, in an easily digestible form. That’s why I created Law Soup.
NILA: The site covers so many topics. What have been some of the most surprising things you’ve learned from compiling all this information?
TB: I’m honestly continually surprised with how many laws there are! I’m also surprised that it’s still so difficult to find some of this information. For example, why have organizations like Wikipedia or Google not done more in this area? There’s so much work that needs to be done just to give people the basics about the law, and I can’t possibly do it with such a small operation. I’m always looking to partner with others who share my vision, in order to achieve the ambitious goals I have for Law Soup. But again, I’m not sure why an organization with more resources hasn’t adequately solved this issue yet.
NILA: What do you think is most beneficial about the site for people?
TB: One of the most beneficial aspects of the site is that it can help people understand the questions they should be asking, not just answer questions they may have already had. Based on the various roles we may play in life, such as driver, cyclist, pet owner, entrepreneur, artist, etc, or topics we may be particularly interested in, the site can give you an overview of the important legal issues involved. For example, if you are a dog owner (or prospective dog owner) in the city of Los Angeles, you may not know that you need to get a license for each dog, and that there is a limit to how many dogs you can legally own. If you don’t know these things, it may never occur to you to Google “how many dogs can I own in Los Angeles.” But by reading the Pet Owner page on Law Soup LA, you will find out that there is actually a limit, and what is the maximum number of dogs allowed (it’s 3, FYI). So it’s really meant to be a starting point to help everyone know the basics.
NILA: How can Law Soup help the entrepreneur and freelance communities especially?
TB: Law Soup has several pages with information for entrepreneurs and freelancers. Beyond those basic pages, entrepreneurs may want to know about hiring employees or interns. And both entrepreneurs and freelancers would certainly want to know about protecting any creative or written work, and what rules apply to freelancers or businesses with an online presence.