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Online Legal Services: Small Business Money-Savers - NerdWallet

When starting or growing a business , it's tempting to cut costs by tackling projects yourself. When it comes to legal matters, a DIY approach works sometimes, but it can be risky.

Online legal services offer do-it-yourself options and lawyer access at far lower costs than traditional law firms.

Denise G. Bayer, a business attorney at Harrington, Hoppe Mitchell, Youngstown, Ohio, says that technology is key to providing more access to legal services. She says online self-service tools are helpful and often safe for basics such as general contracts, service agreements and nondisclosure agreements. You can also save money by completing some forms directly on government websites, such as reserving a business name or obtaining a tax ID, Bayer says.

It's wise, however, to hire an attorney when creating your business entity, Bayer says, since lawyers understand legal and tax implications and can tailor their approach to your specific needs.

You can either create basic documents online or hire a legal professional at affordable rates. Here's a list of online legal service providers that you might consider. Be sure to check with the providers for the most up-to-date product pricing.

Type of service

How it works: Starting your own business is not without risks. Even seemingly simple documents can be complicated and require the assistance of an attorney. James B. Rosseau Sr. is president of business solutions. LegalShield essentially crowdsources costs faced by business owners to make legal services more affordable.

LegalShield partners in all 50 states with law firms. On average, lawyers have 20 years of experience. Individuals and small-businesses can subscribe to monthly flat-fee plans, which offer unlimited legal consultations and letters, as well as some documents and calls. The trial defense services are at the top of the tiers.

LegalShield provides support throughout the life of a company. This might include the development of HR policies, reviewing vendor agreements, and drafting letters to late-paying client. Rosseau states that a letter sent by an attorney will have a different response than one from a business owner.

Type of service offered: Self-service, pay per document or flat monthly fees for personal assistance.

It works as follows: Chas Rampenthal (general counsel and vice-president of product development) says that the organization was founded on the principle of "democratizing law" and making it more accessible for everyone.

LegalZoom provides a wide range of documents that can be done by small businesses. To form your business entity, complete a questionnaire. A similar process can be used to trademark a business' name.

The company also has a library of legal documents you can download and customize. The most common forms are nondisclosure agreements and partner dissolution agreements.

Small businesses can also pay a flat monthly fee for legal assistance with local lawyers when needed. Rampenthal says that the annual fee is less than an hour for a traditional attorney.

Type of service available: Self-service at a charge per document

How it works : Nolo is best known for its directory of lawyers and a plethora of free legal information. It offers legal forms, online documents and tools for business formation. Nolo has a huge section of customizable business operation documents, such as contracts for working with independent contractors and breach of contract notices.

Type of service: Pay per document for self service, or a flat monthly fee including some personal legal help.

Rocket Lawyer can save you thousands of money by having pre-negotiated rates with legal professionals. Rocket Lawyer maintains a database of business documents. Monthly payments allow unlimited revisions and copies to one form.

For one-time legal processes such as the incorporation or creation of LLCs, small businesses can pay a flat price. You may also get a consultation from an expert if you register a mark, or if you need to consult with a trademark attorney.

A Rocket Lawyer membership includes unlimited copies and revisions to all documents from the legal library. Rocket Lawyer members receive on-call advice, and it's free to have a Rocket Lawyer lawyer review any Rocket Lawyer documents.

Type of service available: Online marketplace

UpCounsel is a platform that connects individuals and companies with hundreds of lawyers on demand. Matt Faustman is the CEO. He says that they are able to cut down on legal costs by up to 60% and 70% for their customers.

Faustman recommends that you post your needs to UpCounsel. Within minutes, you can receive proposals from several lawyers. Bids can be flat fees for single projects, or hourly rates to meet ongoing needs. UpCounsel offers document storage, electronic signatures and communication records for free.

UpCounsel lawyers are meticulously vetted. They average 14 years of experience most from well-respected law firms and companies. Lacking the overhead of a big firm and able to work virtually, they charge comparatively reasonable rates.

Faustman says many small businesses use UpCounsel to set up business entities and tackle commercial contracts. UpCounsel lawyers can also help with intellectual properties, such as the securing of trademarks or patents, as well tax and employment law issues.

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