As the economy has gotten more digitally-based, and traditional jobs with long-established employers have become harder to come by, more people are becoming entrepreneurs. With a laptop, an Internet connection and just a little bit of money, almost anyone can start up his or her own business. News reports of overnight success stories even make this idea seem incredibly easy and lucrative; stories of apparently average people who took a risk, made a commitment, and soon emerged with millions or even billions of dollars on the other side. But, as I argue in this short article, you will usually need a good lawyer  who is knowledgeable about the ways of the digital economy long before opening your virtual doors.

First, in order to create a successful startup, you need to ensure that your idea is truly original. In the past, companies were valuable because of the employees they had and the products they made. But now, in the digital economy, most companies are valuable due to the ideas they represent. As a result, companies will expend enormous resources to protect their ideas. If you start a company with what you think is an original idea, and you later find out that someone else already has a lock on that same idea, you may spend most of your money in court. So it’s best to hire an attorney who is versed in the area of intellectual property that deals with your idea, who can investigate your idea from all angles to make sure you’re not stepping on someone else’s legally protected turf.

In addition, you’ll need to ensure that you respect the privacy rights of individuals if your idea involves collecting information, storing it and disseminating it. The laws surrounding privacy can be quite complex, and the fines for noncompliance can be large (especially if you process the information of residents in Europe), so it’s best to know the rules and adhere to them long before you’re up and running.

Also, many Internet-based companies also live and die by their domain names. You need to have an online presence that is both unique and easy to find, and this can be more difficult than it might seem. There are lawyers who specialize in helping clients register and protect their domain names, and often also work with existing domain-name holders to entice them to hand over dormant domain name rights for a reasonable fee. This can be invaluable help to an Internet startup.

These are just a few of the many aspects to be considered in helping get an idea for an Internet-based business up and running, and how a good lawyer can be an invaluable guide in that process. It’s advisable to consult with a lawyer prior to setting off on any business venture.

Brian Kurzmann is a lawyer in New York City. In 2011, he advised a half-dozen Internet-based companies with domain name registrations, non-disclosure agreements, privacy policies, and commercial agreements related to their products and services. For more info visit: