A contract dispute, a lawsuit from a customer, an employee filing an ADA complaint -- these are a few of the legal issues you could face as a small business owner. There are also the routine issues, such as forming an LLC or putting together commercial leases. One way or another there will be times when you need legal help.
Of course a lawyer can be expensive. The American Bar Association reports that a recent analysis puts the average hourly billing rate around $536 for law firm partners and $370 for associate attorneys. You have many options to get legal forms and information free of charge, including free business legal advice. Below are 20 of these sources.
But a word of caution is in order. Sometimes advice and information is too general to be relevant to your specific situation. Sometimes, information and advice online may not be clear or accurate.
So, use the resources here, but run your contracts and/or plans past a lawyer. It is much cheaper to hire an attorney to review your legal work than have him prepare it for you (or fix the mess you made). This combination of inexpensive resources and a professional review is a great way to save money and to keep you safe.
Rocket Lawyer is the leader in online legal aid. To get started, you can create one document free of charge. You can either print it or save it as a PDF. Rocket Lawyer membership is available for free for one-week. This membership allows you to create unlimited legal documents, and includes advanced tools such as their e-signature and online sharing. You can also ask legal questions to a lawyer and have your completed documents checked.
After your free trial expires the legal plan will cost $39.95 per calendar month. You can receive additional legal support at a reduced rate if needed.
Nolo is a well-known website about legal matters. The site's history goes back to 1971, when Nolo Press began selling legal books. These books eventually covered topics related to business, such as how to form a corporation and how patenting inventions are done.
Its website offers free legal advice for businesses, as well books and forms that can be purchased. If you open a free account first, you can create, save and edit your legal form before you pay to download or print it. Nolo's Lawyer Directory can be used to search for an attorney by location and specialty.
Lawyers.com provides tutorials and free articles for businesses on many topics. However there are two other great features that make this site well worth the effort. First, the "Ask a Lawyer" form lets you submit a question for free and "receive multiple answers from top rated lawyers." Second, its "Find a Lawyer" tool not only lets you search by area of law and location, but provides customer reviews of the attorneys listed (Nolo, for example, does not have reviews as part of its directory).
You can use the Q A forums on Avvo to get your legal questions answered for free. For a flat $39.95, you can speak to a lawyer if you require more assistance. Its directory of business lawyers has "over 89,064 in-depth profiles on attorneys who handle Business matters," and the entries come with ratings from previous clients.
LegalZoom.com's business legal plan starts at $23.99 a month. You have the option to "Ask Business Legal Questions, Get Advice on Specific Situations, Have an Attorney Review Your Business Contracts and More."
Legal documents can also be found on the website, however they are more expensive than other online providers. The paperwork required to create an LLC costs $149. You can purchase the forms from many places for much less. LegalZoom has the advantage of having an attorney look over your paperwork to make suggestions if necessary.
Like many legal websites, there is a large collection of articles here, which may answer your questions. On the "Ask a Lawyer" page you can get your questions answered by an attorney for free.
Findlaw's section for small business law has many articles you can access free of charge. They also sell legal form for all 50 US states starting at $14.95
LawGuru claims it has "over 7,700 specialized lawyers in all areas of law." You can type your question into the box at the homepage, or search for their past answers.
There is a risk that small business owners who participate in online discussions forums may receive unqualified legal advice. But sometimes you'll find people who have faced the same issues you're facing, and you can read about or ask how they resolved them. You can also run the solution through an attorney to make sure it applies in your case.
Google searches ("forums" + industry) can lead you to forums dedicated to specific niches. Additionally, there are forums that cater for small business owners. For example, Small-Business-Forum.net has a legal issues discussion board.
Look through the FTC’s online Antitrust Laws guide if your competitors are using unfair practices. It provides information on how to report a suspected antitrust violation and whom to turn to for enforcement. There are enough details to avoid having to hire an attorney and to make you more prepared for hiring one.
The SBA website has a page about handling legal concerns that links to some useful resources. You might find it easier to search for advice and articles on specific topics using the search box. You can search the term "sued from employee" to find a lot of helpful articles about topics like how to fire an employee and avoid violating the law, or how to buy business liability insurance.
The Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center can help you with your tax-related legal issues. Here are some resources provided by the IRS.
The Justice Dept. You can find a list of legal service providers on the Justice Dept. website. Choose a state and click through to find the ones near you. While most of them are more focused on small businesses than individuals, it doesn't hurt to look.
For legal questions about the Americans with Disabilities Act visit the ADA Business Connection page. The Civil Rights Division of the Dept. The Civil Rights Division of the Dept. of Justice contains extensive information on compliance with the ADA for customers and employees. There are also guidelines for certain business types.
OSHA has the answers to your legal questions regarding compliance with OSHA regulations. You can access their online "Compliance Assistance Quick Start" program.
For small businesses, they also offer a free "On-Site Consultation Program" to help you determine if you're in compliance with the law.
SCORE is a non-profit association that helps small businesses with advice, mentoring, and education. The volunteers are business professionals who offer free counseling via phone, email, or in person. Although the mentor or counselor you choose will not be a lawyer in most cases, it is possible they have dealt with similar legal issues to you or can refer you.
Find the closest branch by using the "Find a Chapter” search. They have over 320 locations across the country. You can also search online for their legal guides.
Numerous legal clinics are available for free in the United States. One example is the Small Business Legal Clinic, Oregon. It has hosted more than 300 attorneys who have volunteered for the SBLC Pro-Bono Project. For help finding one, use the keywords "free legal Clinic" or "business Legal Clinic" along with your state and locality to search online.
Members of trade associations may be entitled to free legal advice for their businesses. They can also offer advice and help from their legal staff. If you don't yet belong to one, it might be worth the cost to join. Typically you'll at least get online and newsletter-based legal advice. You can find the right trade organization for you small business by looking through a list.
Although you shouldn't trust the opinions of non-lawyers too much, it's possible for other business owners to have faced the same legal problems as you. Ask around, and to see how they resolved matters. Hire an attorney to assist you. You will be better prepared. Better preparation cuts down on those billable hours you'll be paying for.
There may be lawyers near you that offer a free initial consultation lasting at least 30 minutes. Although it may not be enough time to resolve your case, you will have an idea of how to proceed. You should prepare for your first consultation well so that you can get to the point quickly, and get the most out of the meeting.
How do you find the ones that offer free legal advice for business in the form of a free consultation? Ask by phone or Google "lawyer-free consultation" to find the nearest one.
You can find more information at Business Lawyer Free Consultations. Get low-cost or free legal advice.
Gavel Photo via Shutterstock