How to Get Small Business Legal Advice for a Low Fee (or Free)

Eric Pesale

Eric Pesale is an attorney and entrepreneur who writes about business and legal issues for law firms, publications, and companies as the founder and chief legal contributor of Write For Law℠ (https://writeforlaw.com). He is a graduate of New York Law School and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has been published in CSO, the New York Law Journal, and Above the Law.He is actively engaged with startup business issues, and also helps with Barkitwear® (https://barkitwear.com), a family-run, USA-made dog products company.

Savvy small business owners know that budgeting now in all of the right places makes a world of difference later.

We’re all for holding back in certain categories when starting your business—like waiting on marketing or perhaps holding off on that office space—but you absolutely shouldn’t overlook what you’re spending for small business legal advice.

Trying to cut corners with legal costs at the outset could set you up for disputes and litigation headaches down the road. It could also result in personal liability problems with creditors or higher tax burdens if you don’t have the right legal framework in place.

If that sounds like a nightmare—hey, it is!

Nothing can replace having the ability to contact attorneys for professional input on business formation, contract review, and intellectual property issues. However, small business legal advice doesn’t need to cost you up to $1,500 per hour.

You can seek out tons of resources for small business legal advice—and, whether you want to take advantage of them online or off, they’re all great for helping find cost-efficient help. There are also different types of alternative legal-fee arrangements beyond the billable-hour model that entrepreneurs can consider pursuing for small business legal advice to create added cost savings.

So, as you start budgeting out your business’s needs (or realize you need to get a framework in place), here are some ways you can find low-cost small business legal advice:

1. Hire a Lawyer Who is Open to Using Alternative Fee Arrangements

You might be surprised to know that law firms are open to alternative billing arrangements, so it never hurts to ask about any options beyond the traditional billable hour model, no matter what size the firm you’re talking to.

  • For example, you could consider working with an attorney under what’s called a “contingency fee arrangement” for certain types of outcome-dependent litigation. In short, this arrangement works out so that your business is only obligated to pay an attorney a fixed percentage of any settlement or trial award you receive during litigation (along with any court filing fees, deposition charges, and other similar charges you agree to pay the attorney).

 

  • You might also be able to negotiate in “fixed-fee” or “task-based” pricing for the stuff you do more routinely, like drafting contracts, filing business formation documents, preparing NDAs, or submitting patent applications. Some firms are getting even more creative with their billing models to accommodate the needs of small and growing businesses, including offering subscription counseling plans for on-demand advice and monthly rates for outsourced general counsel-type work.

Hiring attorneys for small business legal advice who are willing to adjust their billing models to meet your particular needs just might be the ideal way for finding cost-efficient legal help. That way, you have a readily available attorney you could consult with immediately in the event of a legal emergency.

Check with your state bar association and attorney grievance committees, plus commercial directories such as Martindale or Avvo, to help you research reputable local attorneys.

2. Visit State and Federal Government Agency Websites for the Basics

DIY it. If you’re looking for quick small business legal advice on securities, tax, or business formation issues, many federal and state government agency websites can be a good place for finding helpful guides and advisory opinions.

 

 

  • State-level secretary of state websites are also often a good source for finding more information about business formation requirements, and are also designed to help you upload and file articles of organization, articles of incorporation, and other common business filings.

Because laws constantly change, you should still hire a business lawyer with experience for up-to-date small business legal advice.

small-business-legal-advice

3. Work with a Law School Clinic or Pro Bono Organization

If you’re not dealing with a time-sensitive legal matter, many law schools offer in-house clinics that entrepreneurs can access for low-cost legal assistance with standard litigation, negotiation, and transactional work. These clinics are designed to give second- and third-year law students the chance to give direct assistance to real-world clients, usually under the supervision of licensed attorneys and law school educators.

That’s a great deal if you think about it—you’re getting nearly free help that’s reviewed by a licensed pro, and you’re helping a student get experience in the process.

Since you’ll need to submit some intake forms and applications ahead of time for the clinic directors to make sure you qualify for assistance, we’ll emphasize again that clinics shouldn’t be at the top of your list for time-sensitive small business legal advice. Plus, most law school clinics tend to focus on specific practice areas, which could mean that you’ll have to apply to multiple clinics to resolve certain legal issues instead of one.

If you’re interested in going this route, you’ll want to check out the American Bar Association’s law school directory to search for nearby law schools with clinic offerings. Some pro bono organizations can also offer free small business legal advice or connect you with volunteer attorneys, though you’ll need to meet certain income requirements to qualify for assistance.

4. Join a Small Business Incubator with Legal Services

Open to the idea of joining business incubator? You stand to receive more than business mentorship, access to investors, and a place to set up shop (which is a lot already, for sure).

You can also receive free or discounted legal assistance as part of their membership. Incubators tend to work with more experienced volunteer attorneys and other service providers, and that can give your company an edge with intellectual property-related and other small business legal advice.

Just like with law school clinics, you need to apply and become accepted into an incubator in order to access the full suite of membership perks. If you’re in the beginning stages of your business, associating with an incubator can be beneficial for obtaining small business legal advice, plus networking and other huge perks.

5. Use a Legal Marketplace to and Match Your Legal Needs with Interested Attorneys

Think gig economy, and probably think Lyft, Handy, or Rover—but how about Upwork, Hire an Esquire, and UpCounsel? That’s right, entrepreneurial lawyers are starting to advertise their services on-demand. And that’s great for those seeking small business legal advice on a budget.

For many of these legal marketplaces, all you generally need to do is post details about your specific project, provide your budget, and invite experienced lawyers to submit bids. You can also browse through lawyer profiles on each of these marketplaces as well, and reach out to schedule interviews and learn more about their rates and services. Payments are also usually processed by the marketplace itself, giving you a secure and vetted way to work with attorneys online.

With all of these options for low-cost small business legal advice, there’s no excuse not to get yourself and your business set up with a lawyer that works perfectly with your needs.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Eric Pesale

Eric Pesale is an attorney and entrepreneur who writes about business and legal issues for law firms, publications, and companies as the founder and chief legal contributor of Write For Law℠ (https://writeforlaw.com). He is a graduate of New York Law School and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has been published in CSO, the New York Law Journal, and Above the Law.He is actively engaged with startup business issues, and also helps with Barkitwear® (https://barkitwear.com), a family-run, USA-made dog products company.

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