11 Best Online Legal Services for Small Business Owners 2020

By Daniel Lewis
Advertiser disclosure

An online legal service can really help to assist in the maintenance and filing of essential business records. As the levels of bureaucracy and red tape continue, it is necessary to use automated online tools that let you stay on top of things. Below, you can find the primary functions that an online legal service will perform for your enterprise. 

An online legal service can perform many functions, though it will largely depend on what service you are using. They are most commonly used to

  • File business formation documentation documents
  • Maintain key employment and HR records
  • Maintain and file key real estate documents
  • Maintain family and personal documents
  • Securely store and sign legal documents of all kinds
  • Simple online creation of legal documents that would traditionally require a lawyer (and huge fee)

Editor’s Note: While many online legal services offer ‘free’ filing, it’s good to remember that this should be free! It is free to file directly and the service is completely automated anyway. When a company charges a filing fee, it is on top of the state filing fee. You are essentially paying them to do nothing at all.

In sum, online legal service will help you to securely maintain documents for your business and allows you to share them with the necessary parties. Paying an attorney for a similar service is far more costly, and online legal services are helping to streamline the industry so that it is cheaper and more efficient.

The most common function of an online legal service is to form a business. While this is easy to do yourself, the legal service provides a neat online repository to hold all of your documents securely, so you can access them as you need.

#1 – IncFile (Try now): Possibly the single best online legal service when it comes to the formation of a business (LLC, C-Corp, Partnership, etc). Also happens to be one of the most affordable for business formation.

#2 – LegalNature (Try now): Excellent customer service. A quick and simple process for the creation of legal documents. Also very affordable. Excels in real estate documentation creation, maintenance, and filing.

#3 – LegalZoom (Try now): One of the oldest and most reliable online legal services that cater to a huge range of customers. Closely connected with a network of lawyers and probably the most highly regarded of all legal platforms.

Vendor Type Of Service Basic Service Cost Best For…
IncFile
(Website)
Basic $0 non-inclusive of state filing fees. Simple business looking for form quickly and easily
LegalNature
(Website)
Basic $40 for formation. Any business looking for any legal document without professional assistance.
LegalZoom
(Website)
Basic $79 for business formation. Business looking for professional expertise and a wide variety of legal documents.

#1 – IncFile

IncFileIncFile has been in operation since 2004 and has assisted in the formation of huge 250,000 businesses. So it’s no surprise that they made the Finimpact No.1. But not just because they have such a long-standing. Plenty of businesses have a great reputation and longevity, but maintain a sub-par standard of service. IncFile genuinely makes the formation of businesses so much easier.

First of all, IncFile happens to be the most affordable of all the providers, by a huge margin. How does a $0 LLC formation fee sound, in comparison to the $99 charge imposed by LegalZoom, IncFiles biggest competitor in the business formation space? Pretty good, especially when you consider that you get a full year registered agent package throw in (a registered agent is essential for an LLC and usually costs around $100, spending on the state).

But IncFile really excels in the customer service department, and they really pride themselves in this area. All clients with IncFile have unlimited phone and email support.

They have a 4.8 rating on their official review site, many of which are quite recent:

  • “The most efficient business filing service I have found.”
  • “I jumped over from legal zoom because of the price and length of time advertising for extras was taking. Your check out was straightforward and the process was quicker overall. Thanks incfile.”
  • “Excellent!!!!! Everything is easy and straightforward. Nothing hidden. I loved it!!!!!!”
  • “Love incfile. use them for all my companies”

With regard to Trustpilot, they have a 4-star rating, mainly due to issues during the COVID-19 pandemic (which many businesses have suffered from). They have a 4-star rating on the Better Business Bureau, but this is a little misleading. It is harder to maintain a good rating with the BBB, and nearly all of the 116 complaints have been resolved.

Many corporations simply don’t bother with the BBB, as it is something of a ‘Gold Standard’ in terms of customer feedback. While they used to have an A+ rating, as recently as the start of this year, they have been downgraded due to a recent pattern of negative complaints. Their 4.6 stars at the start of this year have been reduced to 4.0 When we called them, we experienced no wait times and got an email response within 24 hours, though there have been other complaints of long waits in recent times.

The most commonly cited benefits of IncFile are how smooth and easy it is to get set up with a business. You can get everything formed and filed within 24 hours. The issues tend to arise when a customer files incorrectly (such as with the wrong EIN number) and then needs to get an issue resolved. These were the main complaints amidst COVID when customer service became overwhelmed (a pattern found amongst many online services ).

IncFile will send you alerts for all of the typical deadlines of when to file for taxes. This might seem simple, but is a really useful tool when you are running a business. Unless you have a system of reminders, you are simply going to forget to file and have to pay an IRS fine for a late submission.

IncFile offers 3 packages, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. All packages will include the preparation and filing of formation documents, lifetime customer support, 15-minute free consultation with a tax professional, one year of free registered agent services, business name availability searches, online document access, lifetime company alerts, and order status tracking.

The Gold package will additionally have an EIN submission, the customer operating agreements, express shipping, and S-Corp taxation documents. The Platinum package will further include expedited shipping, legal document templates, and a business website and domain name.

Generally, we are very impressed with the free package, not so much with the other packages. After all, it is a completely free service that will satisfy the needs of most small businesses. All things considered, they are the default option for business owners, even with some recent complaints on social review sites.

Also, keep in mind IncFile is only suited for business formation. For comprehensive legal services, you need to use another provider. Business formation is where they excel.

Features

  • $0 LLC filing fee (state fees must still be paid)
  • Free 15 minute tax consultation
  • Online document access
  • Superb lifetime customer support
  • Name availability verification
  • Order status tracking
  • Free registered agent for 12 months

Price: $0 for basic filing with one year of free registered agent. No legal advisory services.

Why We Recommend
Simple. Free. Fast. IncFile are literally perfect for starting a business without having specialized requirements..
Best for…
A small or medium-sized business that wants to form their company quickly, effortlessly, and for a low-cost.
Pros
  • Essentially free
  • Lifetime alerts
  • The fastest of all online formation providers
  • Free business tax consultation
Cons
  • Not the most sophisticated or customizable of legal services.
  • Not suited for specialized businesses needed niche documentation.

#2 – LegalNature

LegalNatureWhile IncFile is suitable for business formation, LegalNature is more suited for the creation and maintenance of various legal documents, as the name suggests. They still offer high-quality business formation packages, but you won’t get them for free. You are paying for a bundle of business formation with associated legal services.

This is an important distinction. Because with IncFile, you would potentially have to pay for separate legal services anyway, though this would depend on your industry and business entity type.

LegalNature has a rating of 2 stars on the BBB but is still A+ accredited. However, this is again a little misleading. All of the customer complaints have been answered professionally, but customers are still free to leave negative reviews.

However, there are many complaints about the Legal Nature sign up process, which we found to be validated. It takes a long time to fill out lots of information for the free 7-day trial, which is not the most generous of free trial periods in comparison to competitors. To put it plainly, it will take 10 – 20 minutes to fill out all of your details, which is time-consuming.

Still, LegalNature is ideal for people who have a need for specific legal documents. IncFile cannot do what they do in this regard. They have a 4.3-star rating on Trustpilot, which is quite strong. Many of the complaints are with regard to the free 7-day free trial. Customers use the service, forget to cancel, and then complain when they see their credit card bill the next month.

LegalNature is brilliant for people who need a diverse range of legal documents. If you need customizable personal documents, business documents, rental agreements, etc, then LegalNature is ideal. As the name suggests, LegalNature is really strong when it comes to document creation within the sphere of rental real estate.

Unlike LegalZoom, LegalNature has very transparent pricing. To create a business, the cost is $40 (half that of LegalZoom, but $40 more expensive than IncFile). They offer 2 pricing plans for legal services. The Standard plan is $84 a year and the Professional plan is $499 a year. For one-off documents, the price ranges from $35 – $79. This is actually a lot more expensive than LegalZoom, who only charge $14 for members for one-off document creation.

The only real difference between the Standard and Professional plan is that you get an unlimited number of the same document. LegalNature offers a free 30 day month back guarantee, if you are not satisfied, as well as a 7 day free trial period. The 7-day free trial period is the industry standard.

What sets LegalNature apart is that they are strictly a document creation and maintenance service. They do not provide any legal advice and are not connected to any lawyers. In other words, they offer streamlined legal self-services with sophisticated documentation customization and hosting functionality.  But they offer a giant list of legal templates for any kind of requirements. In the sphere of rental real estate agreements alone, the documents they provide include:

  • Eviction Notice
  • Lease Agreement
  • Lease with Option to Purchase
  • Month-to-Month Residential Rental Agreement
  • Month-to-Month Tenant’s Termination Letter
  • Notice to Quit
  • Notice to Vacate
  • Rent-to-Own Lease Agreement
  • Residential Lease Agreement
  • Residential Lease Amendment
  • Residential Rental Agreement
  • Residential Rental Application
  • Residential Sublease Agreement
  • Tenant’s Notice of Intent to Vacate Premises

Regardless of what legal document you are creating, you will find a lot of helpful assistance to what the document is used for and how to create it. LegalNature really makes it easy for novice users to understand legalese and to create their very own documents. In fact, if you are looking to understand the nature of legal documents and their relationships with one another, LegalNature can be a tremendously useful educational tool to make use of. It is helping to make a traditionally complex field very manageable. 

Features

  • Document creation and storage
  • Business formation
  • More legal document templates than any other online legal service
  • Very fast and reliable execution
  • Extensive knowledge base and resource center

Price: $40 for business formation, $38 a month for documents on Standard Plan, $59 a month on Professional plan.

Why We Recommend
Suitable to everybody looking for easy document creation, regardless of industry. Reasonable customer review ratings.
Best for…
Any small to medium sized business in need of document creation at a reasonable cost. Especially useful for those in the rental real estate industry.
Pros
  • Gigantic list of legal documents to suit all industries
  • Easy to use
  • Reasonably priced
  • Very customizable
  • Good reviews
  • Good customer service
Cons
  • No specific legal services.
  • Business formation is more expensive compared to other vendors.

#3 – LegalZoom

LegalZoomFounded in 2001, LegalZoom was one of the first-ever online legal services and has grown in stature since as one of the most widely used providers. LegalZoom is one of the most well known of all the online legal services.

With LegalZoom, you purchase a monthly subscription where you get connected to a network of specialized attorneys. With this business package, it is akin to having an on-call business attorney. This is in strict contrast to LegalNature, which offers legal self-service only. The most commonly cited advantages of LegalZoom are that it is:

  • Easy to use
  • Informative
  • Diverse in its scope of functionality
  • Has qualified and reliable legal professionals

LegalZoom is suitable not just for small businesses but also for businesses with more longevity. It has the capacity to handle employee and Human resource records and agreements. This has historically been a massive expense. Some countries require document storage for longer than 7 years, especially in the healthcare and insurance industries. The result is a warehouse full of documents! The price for business creation in the US is $79 with a $159 fee for a registered agent.

LegalZoom is really not for small businesses looking to file formation documentation. This is essentially a waste of money ($240 including a registered agent) in comparison to IncFile. They do not openly advertise their pricing plans for documents, which is a little irritating. But they have such a huge range of documents, each with different pricing, that this can be difficult gauge pricing in a general sense.

If you are running a small to medium-sized business and have need for the creation of any kind of legal document or expert advice, then there is no better company than LegalZoom. They make it so easy, and though it can seem a little expensive, it is far cheaper than going to an attorney directly, who charges extortionate prices.

LegalZoom is pretty much a one-stop-shop for legal services. This is one reason why you might consider using them for business formation, as you could then use them for a vast number of diverse legal tasks. While many providers specialize in one area, LegalZoom really does it all. You have access to a personal advisor for whatever your requirements happen to be.

LegalZoom is one of the only providers that offer unlimited document review by a professional, as long as the document is not longer than 10 pages in length. It also offers the longest money-back guarantee at 60 days and is more affordable for what it provides. While there are some negative reviews, we found it to be quite responsive for all of our queries. Just be mindful of the terms and conditions of LegalZoom, and indeed most online legal services:

“LegalZoom is not a law firm, and the employees of LegalZoom are not acting as your attorney. LegalZoom’s legal document service is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. LegalZoom cannot provide legal advice and can only provide self-help services at your specific direction. LegalZoom is not permitted to engage in the practice of law. It is prohibited from providing any kind of advice, explanation, opinion or recommendation to a consumer about possible legal rights, remedies, defences, options, selection of forms or strategies.”  

Features

  • Business formation
  • Creation of a single document
  • 60-day satisfaction guarantee
  • 30-minute phone consultation
  • Access to a network of vetted attorneys for legal advice and document review
  • Business formation services
  • Trademark registration, copyright application, and patent application
  • Legal forms, articles, and other resources
  • Unlimited document reviews

Price: $79 for business formation, $14 for the one-off document, $31 per month for the business advisory plan.

Why We Recommend
This can be described as a ‘one stop shop” for all of your business/legal requirements. Very affordable for its business advisory service in comparison to other providers.
Best for…
Business looking for specialist advice and for complex documents. For those with a long list of legal document requirements, then LegalZoom is ideal.
Pros
  • Wide range of legal documents available
  • Free phone consultation
  • Experienced attorneys
  • Cheap one-off document creation
  • Most affordable of all online legal services
Cons
  • Mixed customer service reviews across multiple sites
  • Expensive $159 for a registered agent

Atrium: Atrium is more of a specialist legal services brand. Their legal services provided by Atrium can be divided into Corporate, Regulatory, Intellectual Property, and Litigation. In other words, they are much more “niche”. In addition to legal counsel, Atrium offers professional services related to fundraising, HR, company culture, and hiring. It is disrupting the legal industry in the sense that it automates all legal tasks. Lawyers can no longer bill clients by the hour as they complete mindless, repetitive tasks. The atrium is best suited for larger businesses or startups in the technology sector.

Avvo: Avvo is an online legal service in the “traditional” sense. Meaning that it is merely a job board where you get connected to attorneys in your area. It does not offer documentation creation and storage or online business formation. It is a directory of lawyers. Still, for what it does, Avvo is very reliable and has great longevity. Unlike many other platforms, Avvo does quite a lot to verify its attorneys, so you know you are getting high-quality legal advice. You can browse by topic, state, or city.

Rocket Lawyer: RocketLawyer only narrowly avoided making our top 3 list. It is well-known, popular, cheap, easy to use, and functional. As an industry standard, it offers a 7-day free trial and a $40 a month charge thereafter. Similar to LegalZoom, RocketLawyer offers legal advisory services with a working professional. It is an excellent platform for document formation and signatures, similar to LegalNature. But it definitely falls short on business formation, which tends to be needlessly expensive.

UpCounsel: UpCounsel covers 8 key legal areas – finance, labor, immigration, general counsel, patents, trademarks, business formation, and general legal agreements. It is incredibly intuitive and easy to use with amazing customer service. It really ticks all the boxes for those looking for a diverse legal service, at a low cost, with outstanding customer service reviews. Like Rocket Lawyer this only narrowly avoided our top 3 list. However, there have been claims that UpCounsel does not do enough to verify its attorneys, and enough horror stories to remain sceptical of this platform for now.

MyCorporation: Similar to IncFile and ZenBusiness, MyCorporation specializes in business formation services. What separates it from the competition is the no-cost business consultation it provides, which is helpful to uninformed, new business owners. MyCorporation also provides a “MaintainMyBiz” plan, which (for an additional cost) takes care of up to four legal document filings every year. The downside is that MyCorporation is nowhere near as cheap as IncFile, with plans ranging from $99 – $324 non-inclusive of state fees

BizCounsel: This organization was started by the founders of LegalZoom. BizCounsel aims to make legal costs more affordable for small businesses. It provides advice from business attorneys on a wide range of legal and business creation topics such as business structuring, intellectual property, and employee management. BizCounsel charges a monthly fee for attorney consultations and a flat fee for legal document creation. The only real downside is that it provides no online scheduling features. BizCounsel is quite expensive, at $89 – $189 per month.

Law Depot: LawDepot is a do-it-yourself legal form builder, similar to LegalNature. You choose the form (or contract), answer the required questions, and the software builds your document. Legal form builders are always awesome to use, for those who have no need for specialist legal advice.  What separates LawDepot from other online legal document creators is the $10,000 insurance policy that covers any costs incurred from an out-of-date or incorrect legal doc. Most legal document providers absolve themselves of any liability from such errors in their fine print. You can test-drive LawDepot and create legal documents for free during its 7-day trial.

Zen Business: Similar to IncFile, ZenBusiness specializes in business registration services. What separates ZenBusiness from competitors is the legal entity management packages. It also has an overall high online review rating. ZenBusiness does not offer legal services aside from its business formation. They have excellent customer service and are a serious competitor to inc file, though not as cheap. The subscription packages will typically include rush business filing, EIN registration, and a domain name. If you want to form quickly, ZenBusiness is the perfect solution.

We evaluated each of the Online Legal Services based on a list of criteria, outlined below:

  • Price
  • Range of services
  • Ease of documentation
  • Availability of free trial
  • Security of stored documentation
  • Quality of Customer Service
  • Mobile Accessibility
  • Ratings And Complaints From Various Sites (primarily Consumer Affairs, BBB, and TrustPilot)

We placed the most emphasis on price, range of services, security, ease of documentation creation, and customer ratings. 

We spend a few days using each service. Unlike rating payroll services or scheduling software, it only takes a couple of days to try out an online legal service. We tested the most common documents, how long it took to create a document, the price, and also for additional features. The results from our testing team were inserted into an Excel spreadsheet for analysis, where we scored each legal service.

IncFile, Legal Nature, and Legal Zoom stood out, for a myriad of reasons. Primarily, they were the most affordable, the easiest to use, and were able to complete the essential business functions. At the end of the day, you want an online legal service that makes it simple to create, file, and access key business documents.

However, if you have specific requirements in a  particular field (such as commercial real estate, health care services, construction, etc ), then you might need to find an industry-specific legal service. Each industry will have specific documents that the more generic online legal services may not be able to handle.

To offset this, you can still use a service like LegalZoom. They will put you in touch with one of their attorneys when you need specific documents created. For all the base documents, the core service will have you covered.

Vendor Business Formation One-Off Document Standard Plan Monthly Professional Plan
IncFile $0 N/A N/A N/A
LegalNature $40 $38- $79 $38 $59
LegalZoom $79 $14 $31 N/A

What you are looking for in an online legal service will vary depending on where your business is at. For business formation, what you are looking for is truly just an easy way to form business documents at a low cost. Remember that you can do this for free yourself, though you still have to pay state taxes. 

For businesses looking for specific documents, then it will be relevant to your industry. Check the list of document templates on the website to see if they provide those templates. Most online legal services should cater to the legal documents that you need. But if you are involved in a niche industry, such as healthcare or intellectual property, then you need to onboard with a provider that can cater to this specific industry.

For instance, if you happen to be a medium-sized company looking to cater to Human Resource documents, then your standard items will include:

  • Confidentiality Agreement
  • Consulting Services Agreement
  • Employee Confidentiality Agreement
  • Employee Handbook
  • Employee Non-Disclosure Agreement
  • Employment Agreement
  • Employment Contract
  • Employment Offer Letter
  • Independent Contractor Agreement
  • Independent Contractor Confidentiality Agreement
  • Independent Contractor Non-Disclosure Agreement
  • Job Offer Letter
  • Mutual Confidentiality Agreement
  • Mutual Non-Disclosure Agreement
  • Non-Compete Agreement
  • Non-Disclosure Agreement

Choosing the best online legal service for your business is largely a function of what you really need. When starting off, you will have less of a need for them. It is only when you start to expand that you need to give some thought to a good online legal service.

Most of the really large companies will have in-house legal services. But if you are an independent contractor or running a small business, then it can definitely be helpful to have an easy way to create and store documents, for a minimal fee.

The most surefire way to select the best online legal service is first to identify what it is you are looking for. Otherwise, what could happen is you sign up for services you do not really need right now.

Another item to keep in mind is that your first port of call should actually be customer review sites. The reason people need good accountants and attorneys is not just because of their expertise but because of their reliability.

If you choose a poor online legal service, then it could end up delaying your business formation a couple of months to get disputes resolved. In times of crisis, nothing is worse than a low-quality legal service. It is where the good ones shine through.

There are some core questions to ask before you go ahead with an online legal service. The top 5 most relevant questions to ask before you utilize an online legal service are as follows:

  1. What kind of rating does this company have on the Better Business Bureau, Trustpilot, and Consumer Affairs?
  2. Does this legal service provide what my business needs right now?
  3. What is the cost of this legal service in comparison to others?
  4. How old is this service?
  5. How easy is this service to use?

Legal service is a sensitive area. Remember, you will be giving your data away to these companies. Do not do so lightly. Make sure they are trustworthy and that you will have a smooth experience with them.

Conclusion

An online legal service can really help you out, though it will depend on what you are looking for. For business formation, either do it yourself or try out IncFile. For document creation, LegalNature has you covered. And for legal advisory services, LegalZoom is the most affordable and professional.

Don’t make things any more complex than they need to be. For organization and peace of mind, an extra $10 a month is definitely worth it, as opposed to maintaining all of the forms and documents yourself.

FAQ

Most likely, yes. For basic formation, you can use a service like IncFile for free, with a registered agent. But you could also do this yourself quite easily. However, if you have more extensive legal requirements, then you definitely need to use an online legal service. It is more cost-effective and using an attorney for specific document customization is simply not viable. In the digital age, it makes more sense to use online legal services.

The primary functions of an online legal service are the fast creation of a business with the filing and storage of the appropriate documents and the storage of said documents. In addition, many will offer a legal template library with a list of the most common legal documents required. You can customize these documents as needed. This list can be helpful if you need to submit an SBA(7)(a) application. It simply helps to have a list of legal templates with a stored repository for all of your forms.

It really depends on your unique industry. If you are involved in commercial real estate (‘CRE’) and need lots of high-end contracts worth millions of dollars, where each contract needs to be unique, then you definitely need an attorney. But for most small businesses, an online legal service can serve as a substitute for most situations. All of your legal documents will be stored in one place and are automatically filed.

You still need a good accountant, regardless of your business and industry. However, you can certainly reduce your dependency on an accountant. Remember, a good accountant knows certain tricks (mainly in relation to tax) that can grossly reduce your tax liability. As a rule of thumb, you can keep all of your documents with an online legal service. And when it comes near to tax time, then consult your accountant on an as-needed basis. Most small businesses have no need for a full-time accountant when there are so many automated services out there.

Some online legal services will cover legal property, though the vast majority of them will not. Intellectual property is a very niche field with a lot of moving parts. The process of filing patents on ideas is a multi-billion dollar industry with some very big fish in it. But some online legal services will provide services for the creation and storage of intellectual property documents, for an additional cost. You will need to go to a specialist provider for this.

An online legal service won’t directly save you money. You are still paying the state filing fees (for business formation) and potentially the legal service filing fee. But it will save you on peace of mind and organization. You will be alerted to what forms need to be submitted each month and have an easy place for document storage and retrieval. The full-service legal platforms can also save you money directly if you were to compare them with the cost of visiting an attorney. But it all depends on the size of your business and what you are looking for.

The 3 most important features to look out for in online legal services are business formation capabilities, a diverse range of legal document templates, and good customer support. No matter what a company offers or how cheap its services are, if you cannot get hold of a representative when a crisis rears its head, then your business will suffer.

Depending on what you are looking for, the price will vary. For business formation, you can get free services. For more comprehensive business advisory legal services, you can expect to pay between $100 – $400 a year. The definition of ‘legal’ is broad in scope and expands depending on what you need to do.

Daniel Lewis
Daniel Lewis
Daniel Lewis is an MBA accredited investment professional who wants to assist small business owners to gain access to finance. After going through many channels for funding, Lewis has found that getting the first loan right is vitally important for future success.