May 29, 2017

20 Places to Get Low Cost or Free Legal Advice for Your Business


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. Then there are the more routine matters, like forming a new LLC or putting together a commercial lease. 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. Fortunately there are a number of places where you can get free legal forms and information, and even free legal advice for business. Twenty of these resources are listed below.

But a word of caution is in order. Sometimes information and advice can be too general to be applicable to your specific situation. Also, you might misunderstand what you read online, or worse, it could be inaccurate.

So, use the resources here, but run your contracts and/or plans past a lawyer. It is cheaper to have an attorney review your legal work than to have him prepare everything for you (or fix a mess you make), so combining inexpensive do-it-yourself resources with a legal review is a way keep your costs down and keep you safe.

Low Cost or Free Legal Advice for Business

Rocket Lawyer

Rocket Lawyer is one of the leaders of online legal help. You can make one document for free to start, which you can print or download as a PDF. After that you can sign up for a Rocket Lawyer membership free for a week. That lets you create unlimited legal documents and comes with advanced tools like their e-signature service and online sharing. You can also ask a lawyer legal questions and have your completed documents reviewed.

The legal plan costs $39.95 per month after your free trial expires. If you need additional legal help you can get it at a discount.

Nolo

One of the better-known legal websites, the history of Nolo goes back to 1971, when it began as Nolo Press, selling do-it-yourself legal books. Those eventually included business related topics ranging from forming a corporation to patenting inventions.

On its website you can find a wealth of free legal advice for business, as well as books and business forms available for purchase. If you open a free account first, you can create, save and edit your legal form before you pay to download or print it. You can also use Nolo’s Lawyer Directory to find an attorney by specialty and location.

Lawyers.com

The business section of Lawyers.com has free articles and tutorials on many topics, but there are two other features that make this site worth a visit. 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).

Avvo

You can use the Q & A forums on Avvo to get your legal questions answered for free. If you need more help, you can talk to a lawyer for a flat fee of $39. 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

LegalZoom.com has a business legal plan that starts as low as $23.99 per month. For that you get to “Ask business legal questions, get advice on specific situations, have an attorney review your business contracts and more.”

The website also provides legal documents, but they cost more than other online providers. For example, the paperwork to form an LLC will run you $149. There are many places where you can get the forms to do it yourself for less. The advantage that LegalZoom offers is the help of an attorney, who will look over your paperwork and suggest changes if necessary.

FreeAdvice.com

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

In the section on small business law Findlaw has many articles on legal topics that are free to read. They also sell legal forms for all 50 states, at prices starting around $14.95.

Law Guru

LawGuru says it has a “network of over 7,700 specialized attorneys in all legal areas.” You can either type your question into the box on the homepage or search their past answers.

Small Business Forums

Online discussion forums for small business owners can be full of questionable legal advice, since participants are not attorneys. 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. Then you can run the solution past an attorney to verify that it will work in your case.

You can find forums for a specific niche with a Google search (“forum” + industry), and there are forums that cater to a variety of small business owners. For example, Small-Business-Forum.net has a legal issues discussion board.

Federal Trade Commission

If you think your competitors are using unfair practices read through the FTC’s online guide to Antitrust Laws. It provides information on how to report a suspected antitrust violation and whom to turn to for enforcement. There is sufficient information there to either avoid the necessity of hiring an attorney, or to be better prepared when you do hire one.

Small Business Administration

The SBA website has a page about handling legal concerns that links to some useful resources. It may be more useful to use the search box for articles and advice on specific issues. For example, a search for the term “sued by employee” turns up a number of useful articles on topics ranging from how to fire an employee without violating the law to buying business liability insurance.

Internal Revenue Service

If your legal issues are related to taxes you might find the information you need in the Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center. The IRS maintains a collection of resources here, and some are available in Spanish as well.

U.S. Department of Justice

The Justice Dept. website has a list of free legal service providers. Choose a state and click through to find the ones near you. Most are oriented to helping individuals rather than small businesses, but it can’t hurt to check.

Civil Rights Division of the Justice Dept.

For legal questions about the Americans with Disabilities Act visit the ADA Business Connection page. The Civil Rights Division of the Dept. of Justice has an extensive collection of information here about ADA compliance for customers and employees, and even has guidelines for some specific business types.

OSHA

If you have legal questions about your businesses compliance with OSHA regulations, what better place to get them answered than from OSHA itself? Use their “Compliance Assistance Quick Start” program online.

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

SCORE is a non-profit association that helps small businesses with advice, mentoring, and education. Its volunteers are experienced business people who provide free counseling by phone, email, and in person. The particular counselor or mentor you get will probably not be a lawyer, but it is possible that he or she will have had some experiences with the same legal issues you face, or can refer you to someone who has.

Use the “Find a Chapter” tool to locate the closest branch of the organization. They have more than 320 around the country. You can also search online for their legal guides.

Free Business Legal Clinics

There are various free legal clinics around the country. For example, the Small Business Legal Clinic in Oregon has had more than 300 attorneys volunteer for the SBLC Pro-Bono Project. To locate one near you, search online using terms like “free legal clinic” “business legal clinic” and the name of your state or locality.

Trade Associations

If you belong to a trade association you might get free legal advice for business, 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. Check a list of trade organizations to find the one that makes the most sense for your small business.

Your Fellow Business People

While you shouldn’t rely too heavily on the legal opinions of non-lawyers, it is possible that other business owners have had the same legal issues you’re facing. Ask around, and to see how they resolved matters. You’ll be better prepared if and when you hire an attorney to help you. Better preparation cuts down on those billable hours you’ll be paying for.

Your Local Attorneys

Finally, there are probably some lawyers near you who offer a free initial consultation of 30 minutes or more. That may not be enough to resolve your matter, but you’ll at least have a better idea how to proceed. Prepare for your initial consultation thoroughly, so you can get to the point quickly and get as much out of the meeting as possible.

How do you find the ones that offer free legal advice for business in the form of a free consultation? Call and ask, or just Google “lawyer free consultation” and the name of your city.

Gavel Photo via Shutterstock

28 Comments ▼

Steve Gillman


Steve Gillman Steve Gillman is a freelance writer, author of, "101 Weird Ways to Make Money" and the creator of Every Way To Make Money. Of the more than 100 ways he has made money, writing is (so far) his favorite.

28 Reactions

  1. Aira Bongco

    Such a great resource. Finding a lawyer or getting legal advice can be troublesome for small businesses because it can be really expensive. I did not even know that there are cheaper or free options. This is an eye-opener for me.

  2. Just remember you get what you pay for-free or cheap is often very expensive in the long run. Is this what small business should be about-trying to get something for value for free? Would that same small business person give away his/her goods/services for free?

    • Anita Campbell

      Hi Jim, you raise a good point, so let me respond.

      If you read the article carefully note that it says: “So, use the resources here, but run your contracts and/or plans past a lawyer. It is cheaper to have an attorney review your legal work than to have him prepare everything for you (or fix a mess you make), so combining inexpensive do-it-yourself resources with a legal review is a way keep your costs down and keep you safe.”

      The article is not suggesting that everything is a freebie. It is simply emphasizing ways to keep costs low.

      Some of these resources are free, and the ones that are, tend to be background reading material. The others are low cost, such as RocketLawyer’s $40/month subscription or Avvo’s $39 flat fee.

      I suspect the lawyers who are part of those low-cost services, see it partly as a way to spread the word about their practices. They offer up their services at a low rate, because it gets them marketing exposure. I would imagine that to them it’s cheaper than paying for marketing and advertising. And in reality, many attorneys offer a free half hour consultation anyway. They know that prospective clients want to get a feel for them before hiring them — or even know whether the matter warrants hiring an attorney.

      In my view (and I am married to an attorney), there’s absolutely no shame and nothing whatsoever wrong with a business owner trying to keep costs down.

      But I also agree with you, that people shouldn’t expect professionals to work for free, and have to realize that free information only goes so far. At some point you need personalized services and there’s a cost to that.

      – Anita

    • Steve Gillman

      Hi Jim,

      A “freebie” is not always worthless (ask lawyers wouldn’t offer a free consultation). Free resources can be of arying quality, but they can also be a great way to get educated enough to know what to pay for and who to pay.

  3. Here’s a thoughtful response from the lawyer’s perspective: http://myshingle.com/2015/02/articles/client-relations/a-new-reason-to-limit-free-consultations/

    One point that the post above doesn’t address is that Gillman’s statement that “It is cheaper to have an attorney review your legal work than to have him prepare everything for you (or fix a mess you make)” is not accurate: often, it’s more expensive to have an attorney fix a contract drafted by non-lawyers than to draft it from the outset.

    • Anita Campbell

      Hi Lisa, As a former General Counsel myself, after many years of hiring and managing outside attorneys back in the day — from the Jones Days of the world, to solo practitioners — I can make a strong counter argument. We saved a lot of money by having our business people outline what they thought they needed, first — before the attorneys started drafting.

      Because often, legal counsel did not understand the underlying business transaction. And it saved wasted legal hours and dollars.

      Myself I just got a contract in the other day that was drafted by an attorney who clearly didn’t have a single clue about the business transaction (they are working for the other side — I now wish I had taken them up on the offer to draft it first).

      The attorney took a contract for some other type of transaction and tried to force fit what we are doing. And now I have to spend many hours of my time, to get it back on track. Is that less expensive? Not to me.

      Hey I get it — they’re attorneys and not involved in the business. So how could they be expected to know? I don’t hold the lack of knowledge against them and their expertise. But I do wish they had tried to understand the transaction first.

      My point is, it can be helpful for the business people to lay out what they think the contract should consist of first. It educates the attorney about the nature of the underlying transaction. And then the attorney can start from there, and not get off track.

      Just saying: it should be a collaboration between business person and attorney. Why is it wrong for the business person to take the first stab?

      – Anita

      • Mitchell Goldstein

        Anita, I disagree completely. What you describe is called being prepared. No one would expect a client, especially not a sophisticated one like a business, to come into a lawyer’s office with no idea of what they want. That is what you describe. I don’t write a contract for a client until I know what he needs. If he wants me to fix what he did, it will take longer at greater cost because I have to first figure out what he did AND what he was trying to do. If he comes to me prepared with what he is looking for, I can draft something that gets there. Again, these are two different things.

        As to your comment and the article’s assertion that this is free legal advice, it is not. You get a free consultation. No lawyer would give legal advice that addresses the nuances of your case for free in the short time of a consultation. To do so would be inviting malpractice.

        I get keeping costs down and I am all for it, but what you both seem to ignore is that free has a cost as well. Instead, you and especially the author should be focusing on value. The value comes in where a client is prepared. The client should be a partner toward solving the problem. If the client expects a complete solution, that takes time and effort which are the lawyer’s stock in trade.

        Neither of you would suggest that a small business consultant or tax consultant give away products and advice for free. Doing that would run the quality organizations out of business. Then, you will be left with what you pay for.

      • Anita Campbell

        Hi Mitchell, call it preparation if you will. It’s a bit like the “You say tomato, I say tomahto” debate.

        And I suspect the tomato-tomahto dichotomy is partially the disconnect here between non-attorneys like the author and those in the legal profession. The non-attorney sees an initial consultation as getting “legal advice,” but what they’re really getting in a consultation is some basic information. But remember, to the non-attorney basic information is more than they knew before. To them it may feel like advice.

        I applaud you for the care you take in understanding a matter before digging in, Mitchell. But I have managed hundreds of outside law firms — literally — and I have seen far too many contracts that started way off track because of lack of understanding by the attorney. Again, I don’t hold lack of knowledge of the business against an attorney. I just wish more would do a thorough job of understanding the nature of the transaction. And even when they do, some have real trouble translating that knowledge into a contract that reflects the transaction.

        And as to others giving away stuff for free, I do in fact recommend it, if done in a pragmatic way. The reality is, it happens all over the place. It’s called marketing. We give away things in my business. Every single day. It’s just that we know where to draw the line between marketing (i.e., giving something away for free) and revenue-generating offerings (charging for it). They’re two very different things. And we only give away so much — I couldn’t run a business and pay staff if we gave EVERYTHING away. But I’d also spend far more in marketing costs if I didn’t give certain things away. So the net result is positive to my business — but again it must be done pragmatically and with clear deliberation as to what you’re giving away and what you’re not giving away. 🙂

        – Anita

    • Steve Gillman

      I’m not necessarily suggesting preparing a contract in its entirety (although I have done that and it did not need redrafting when reviewed by an attorney), but being prepared in any way you can. That legal work can include gathering all the necessary information to save the time of the attorney, listing what is wanted in the contract, and so on. It’s hard to imagine how being prepared can make an attorney cost more.

      • We all agree that the businessperson should prepare in the ways you describe. The only thing we disagree about is what to call this. Calling it “legal work” is misleading. It may lead to a businessperson trying to draft a contract, then insisting that the attorney revise that draft instead of drafting the contract from “scratch.” That’s precisely what could end up costing the businessperson more money.

  4. Martin Lindeskog

    Do you know if you could find a similar selection of free legal advice for international businesses? I listened to the Break It podcast recently and they said that standardized online services is now entering the Scandinavian market, with for example contract templates.

    What is the general hourly fee for legal advice in the United States?

  5. As a small business attorney (and owner of a small law firm), I understand where this article is coming from and the desire of small business owners to keep costs down. However, consulting with an attorney is not limited to the task that the business owner needs done. For example, a person may speak with me about starting a business with a partner(s) and not understand the tax implications of certain business forms. Others may not have thought about having a buy-sell agreement in place from the beginning or, if they have, how one functions. As to contracts, you can find a wealth of information online, but nothing can replace the attention of an attorney who knows your business and tailors a contract to your needs. Finally, going to an attorney is not simply about having a discrete task accomplished, but having that attorney render advice on the business owner’s situation. Having the attorney assist you from the outset can save you time and a multitude of headaches.

    By the way, I take particular issue with this article citing hourly rates that reflect large law firm partner and associate rates. There are plenty of solo and small firm attorneys who charge significantly less ($75-$150) for the same or better work. In addition, solo and small firm attorneys often provide flat fee services, which allows a business owner to know exactly what they will pay (instead of the uncertainty of the hourly rate).

  6. I think that it is important for businesses to receive legal advice on many of their endeavors. There is a lot of times when business and law coincide. Not all businesses can afford legal advice, so it is extremely helpful to read a list like this with so many helpful resources. Thank you for the informative article and for so many helpful references!

  7. Legal advice is one of the most important things to consider when running a business – definitely! Thanks for the article, keep up the awesome blog!

  8. I found another source that is even better than the ones mentioned above! It’s a service called LEGALSHIELD (www.legalshieldassociate.com/jerriharris) and the difference with this company is that you have complete, high quality LAW FIRMs on retainer for anywhere between $49-$149 per month and it’s month-to-month, cancel anytime, you’re not locked into anything. This company has been around for over 40 years and has been highly endorsed by the American Bar, BBB and has great ratings on Yelp! (I do my research, believe me!)

    The benefit to having their service was that they handled all of my issues because they are full service law firms in each state, so therefore, they handle ALL areas of law—even the personal issues for you, your family, and your employees. These attorneys, tell you your rights, review contracts, handle IRS Audits and more!

    I researched and found that some of my business clients, used their services without the membership and was actually paying the same law firm I had through the membership more than $500 per hour! After I told one client about the membership, he switched! Due to the power of “Group Buying”, the rates for these law firms are available to LegalShield members at much lower rates (similar to having health insurance cover your health care needs). You can check it out my agent’s site here (she’s awesome!) http://www.legalshieldassociate.com/jerriharris

  9. Great resource for people looking legal advice. The best thing about this is that it have something for everyone.

  10. WARNING! Rocket Lawyer is a fraudulent organization! They will take your credit card info for the “Free trial” then won’t allow you to cancel it and will continue to charge your card unless you actually cancel your bank card. Disappointed that you are recommending them… there was a lawsuit over it a few years back but unfortunately they are still getting away with this false advertising.

  11. Legal advices is one of the best services because lots of people doesn’t know their wright and your content provide information about legal services which is looking really great thanks for sharing this. one more thing we are(letscomply) also providing that kind of services.

  12. Another option is LawTrades.com,a platform for businesses in need of a top notch, affordable attorney. Our site offers free consultations & no obligation price quotes too.

  13. I loved reading your advice about how it is cheaper to have an attorney review your legal work than to have him/her prepare everything for you. This sounds like a really good way to save money when seeking legal services. I would imagine that many lawyers offer a free consultation as well, which could be a great way to get advice for your case without breaking the bank.

  14. You made a good point that information and advice may be too general. I would think that it’s critical to find legal services that have experience with exactly what you are going through. If I were in need of a lawyer, I would use these tips.

  15. Thanks for this list of sources of legal advice. I like that you mention that local attorneys can often help. Many lawyers will hold free consultations.

  1. Pingback: 20 Places to Get Low Cost or Free Legal Advice for Your Business | thinstaff

  2. Pingback: 20 Places to Get Low Cost or Free Legal Advice ...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*



Looking for templates, checklists or guides? The Small Business Resource Center has them!


Free eBook - Take Advantage of Energy Tax Savings for Your Business






No, Thank You