Despite the cost of legal services, a lawsuit can cost an awful lot more. This is why good attorneys are in such short demand and it is an area worth researching. Choosing the wrong lawyer can actually cost you more for the services and cost you in terms of losing a case – a double whammy. There are also online legal services that can do the same thing that an attorney can do at a fraction of the cost.
With all of this in mind, we have broken it down into a series of logical components so you can find the right business attorney. We’ve also outlined the best online legal services which can save you money. Keep in mind that the time to find a business attorney is right now. If you are looking for one in the face of a lawsuit, it’s too late.
Table of Contents
The Different Types of Attorneys
Attorneys are typically distinguished by their area of expertise. Some of the major areas are outlined here:
- Real Estate Attorneys – This is a highly complex area with multiple subcategories. Within this niche, look for real estate attorneys in your specific area, whether it is for housing contracts, commercial real estate, residential real estate, office blocks, construction, etc.
- Intellectual Property Attorneys – This deals with patents of various kinds and ‘artistic property’ such as books, music, videos, and films. A general attorney will not be able to deal with this area given the level of specialization and the intangible nature of the subject content.
- Criminal Law Attorneys – Attorneys that defend those accused of a range of crimes, ranging from petty theft to murder. These defend the accused against the government/state in court.
- Personal Injury Attorneys – If you have been injured due to the negligence of a person or company, then you will need a personal injury attorney. Car accidents and slips/falls are two of the most common personal injury claims. A subcategory of personal injury lawyers known as medical malpractice lawyers deals with negligence misdiagnosis of medical issues.
- Family Law Attorneys – These attorneys deal with all claims relating to the family such as divorce, adoption, and domestic abuse. They also deal with prenuptial agreements and visitation rights.
- Employment Law Attorneys – These attorneys deal with all employment law situations such as contracts and litigation between workers/employers. A special subcategory of employment law is workers’ compensation. Workers compensation lawyers are involved where an employee has been injured at work and is seeking compensation.
By using an online legal directory you can find the lawyer that matches your specific area. Keep in mind that you need to filter further than the categories above. For instance, if you are looking for an intellectual property lawyer, you need to find one in books, music, film, or whatever your issue happens to involve. Other attorneys types include immigration, bankruptcy, estate planning, tax, and corporate law.
Scenarios That Do Require an Attorney
How to find a business attorney? What are the scenarios where you really do need an attorney that cannot be otherwise avoided? While some might be obvious, others can be surprising. The scenarios include:
- Lawsuits – Regardless of the type of lawsuit, you need an attorney to deal with it. Lawsuits come in all shapes and sizes, from injured customers to malicious manufacturers and distributors. But, at the end of the day, you need a business attorney to tackle it.
- Real Estate – Attorneys are necessary for all manner of items relating to real estate. Drafting reals, purchase agreements, rental agreements, wills, commercial leases for office space, etc. Buying or selling a $500,000 property without getting a legal professional to take a look is financial suicide.
- Employee Contracts & Disputes – Employment law is a giant area, and also kind of a grey one. But if you make an employee work an hour more than the state law permits, he or she will take you to court – and win. With all of the remote work going on right now, having an iron-clad employment contract is essential.
- Other Business Contracts – Business owners deal with customers, manufacturers, third-party contractors of all kinds, distributors, taxation authorities, insurance officials, landlords, banks, financial technology companies, the list goes on. Contracts often need to be drafted between the business and the other party, or existing contracts need to be looked at.
As you can see, there are quite a number of areas requiring business attorneys. They are needed in a vast number of situations. It is understandable that most business owners have absolutely no intention of getting an attorney to look over every small contract with their expensive hourly rate. At the same time, it is definitely best to have a good attorney to look over the most important agreements.
Just ensure you make good use of the time for consultations. Make out a list of questions that you can ask surrounding the topic so you have an in-depth understanding of it
Scenarios That Don’t Require an Attorney
Next, what situations do not require a small business attorney? In many instances, there are other alternatives and legal automation technology that will inform you as to the correct choice. attorneys with specialized knowledge are well worth the money if you are an international company worth more than $500,000.
But for new businesses, there is often no need to pay top dollar. Especially in the USA. If you get sued for $100,000 with a new LLC, you can file for bankruptcy and start over. Same idea, different name. Obviously, this is not recommended as something to aim for but serves to illustrate the point. The following scenarios will not require a small business attorney:
- Business Formation – There is no need to overthink this one. If you need advice on what kind of business structure you need to adopt, check our starting a business guide. You can change the business structure later on for tax purposes. An LLC is one of the most popular choices due to its flexibility, limited liability, and low taxation rate.
- Small Business Taxation – Check out TurboTax and some other online applications that file your taxes for you. It’s better to use a paid version. Either way, it is far cheaper and more efficient than using an attorney. Just remember that the bigger your enterprise is, the more you will need specialized advice. But even with an advanced enterprise, you can glean some important information with an hourly consultation.
- Tax & Administrative Filings – There is a multitude of forms that need to be sent to the IRS and other authorities monthly, quarterly, and annually. These might include form W2, form W4, Form 1099, Form W9, Schedule C, Schedule K, the list goes on. But a strong payroll provider will be able to alert you to and automatically file these documents. An efficient HR panel can take care of the other administrative duties (they can also help to prevent lawsuits before they take off).
- In Resolvable Situations – Think outside the box. You are faced with a lawsuit from a disgruntled customer. The minute you ‘suit up’, the real winners might be the attorneys. The problem escalates, the legal fees mount, and one side gets a giant bill. Reach out to the customer or third party and try to resolve the situation in a more amicable manner. It won’t work for 90% of cases, but it is definitely worth a shot.
Clearly, the best approach is to be proactive so that you never need a lawyer. But it is also prudent to have a working relationship with a good team so that you have something to fall back on. Otherwise, you will be desperately searching for an attorney at a time when you are under severe pressure, with little time, and not in the best frame of mind. Other areas where you will certainly not need an attorney include choosing a domain name, writing a business plan, applying for a business loan, applying for an EIN number, and setting up payroll.
Where to Find an Attorney
There is no shortage of places to find an attorney. But the real issue lies in trying to find out what you should pay and the quality of the services rendered. There have even been cases of people pretending to be high-quality attorneys on legal sites. These people (con-artists) charge a huge amount and do not even have a degree. But the platforms fail to perform adequate background checks and people get scammed.
The following are some of the top sites where you can find the best business attorney or a viable alternative to the business attorney. The benefits are that there are multiple reviews of lawyers so you can pick the one that suits your needs and has high ratings. This is a huge advantage over the classical method of finding the right small business attorney.
- LegalNature – This platform is perfect when it comes to businesses that need a diverse range of online legal documents. If you go to a lawyer for a legal document, you will pay a whopping fee for the initial draft and a fee for every single edit. Legal Nature dramatically reduces this cost and also allows you to store your documents on the platform. This is not a lawyer service and you do not get access to an attorney. You get company formation services and document creation/storage.
- LegalZoom – Similar to LegalNature but with the option to access an attorney. This was founded all the way back in 2001, so it is well-established. It really excels when you want a legal contract formed for a reasonable price in comparison to going to an attorney in person. You can store all of your legal documents in an easy-access online repository that is also secure. It allows for easy edits to documents, in contrast to paying through the cost for slight changes with regular attorneys. You pay a monthly subscription and gain access to a network of specialized attorneys.
- IncFile – For business formation only. This is one of the most reputable formation platforms for new business owners, that charge little or no money for its services. Customer service is outstanding and IncFile has a stellar rating on TrustPilot.
For more detail on the best places to find a small business attorney and what the alternatives are, check out this comprehensive guide on online legal services. Of course, there are also legal directories and bar associations where you can easily find a qualified lawyer, such as the American Bar Association. The only problem with these lawyers is that they are often not the most cost-effective.
Another great way to find an attorney is by asking your friends and relatives. They can tell you about their experience so you don’t have to engage in what could turn out to be a very costly experiment.
Questions to Ask Attorneys
How Often Will I Be Notified?
For litigation, it can be extremely nerve-racking when you never get an update about a particular case. Some lawyers might not give you an update for weeks! You also want to know the point of contact who you can go to for information. You can’t expect an update every day, but you certainly don’t want to be left in the dark about your own case.
Can I Have a Fee Breakdown?
Serious lawyers should have clearly defined fees. If the lawyer is in any way ambiguous about the payment structure it may be best to stay away. More detail on lawyer fees is given further down on this page.
How Much Expertise Do You Have?
You will want to know how long the lawyer in question has been in this specific area. If you are in a court case, you need to have somebody with at least 10 years of experience in a given industry. For the drafting of contracts and other agreements, you can be a little more flexible in this regard. For active cases, experience is needed. The other side could easily have a veteran lawyer in their court.
Have I Exhausted All Possibilities?
This has been briefly covered above. But consider alternative legal services. There are many dispute resolution services offered that can reduce fees by 50% – 80%, once both parties consent. This virtually eliminates lawyer fees. Other methods include reaching out to the person or considering a settlement. The issue is that most people go to lawyers first to analyze their options. And lawyers are not going to direct you away from them anytime soon!
Can I Afford This?
Perhaps the most important question of them all. Legal services are costly and can really mount up over time. This is especially the case for lawsuits, which can also completely wreck your life if it is incorrectly handled and you don’t have the necessary support. You can only decide whether you can afford it or not by obtaining a complete fee breakdown from the organization. Small business attorney fees are certainly not cheap.
Questions to Ask Yourself
What Kind of Lawyer Am I Looking For?
You want to find a lawyer that specializes in the area you are dealing with (IP, employment law, consumer law, tort, etc). Next, you want a lawyer familiar with the regional/state law of that particular industry. The law in California is usually a lot different from the law in New York. This makes it easier to narrow your search and find the right small business attorney.
What Is the Communication Like?
How did the lawyer communicate? Were they polite, courteous, and responsive? Or did you have to wait 5 days for a response? The wheels of law are known to grind slowly, but they should not come to a standstill. How a person communicates is very significant in terms of what they think about their customers. And you should really expect a lawyer to be an expert communicator.
Am I Dealing with the Actual Lawyer?
Most lawyers have sales representatives who try to hook in potential clients. They often have a legal background and are good at dealing with people. However, the person who you are communicating with is often not the one handling your case! Always speak to the actual attorney who is actively working on your case. Not the person responsible for making sure clients are satisfied and retained.
How Do I Feel About This Person?
The most important question of all. Trust your instincts. Even if a lawyer has lots of reviews and seems to have lots of experience, they might simply have bitten off more than they can chew. If something feels off, go elsewhere. They might have previously been very good but currently dealing with something. Even lawyers experience toothaches, family loss, financial difficulties, and, of course – lawsuits! People change even while old reviews and testimonials stay the same.
Fees, Charges, and Retainers
Small business attorney fees, charges, and retainers can be very confusing for potential clients. The best thing to do is to arrange a flat fee. For routine services, an attorney might charge you a flat fee for it with a discount for bundled services. This way, you know exactly what you will be paying. This is a method of keeping small business owners happy so they come back again and again. And you will build up a good working relationship with the attorney, over time.
Of course, for litigation, this is virtually non-existent. What you really want to look for in a litigation case is a contingency fee. This means that the lawyer will only get paid if you win the case. This is an added incentive for the lawyer to win and gives you breathing room. You will only have to take care of your own personal legal fees if the case is won. However, lawyers will often charge a lot more for this. A potential problem can also arise for the attorney if a client fires them halfway through the case.
Potentially the best option for a small business owner is the retainer agreement. You pay a fixed fee every month in return for a set amount of legal hours to cover certain areas. This allows increased legal time at a reasonable rate and is excellent for staying on top of all legal issues as they arise, and before them.
The hourly rate for an attorney can range from $75 – $1000. So it definitely pays to understand everything about your options before it is too late. A small number of attorneys might agree to take an equity stake in your business if they take on the case. But with the high failure rate of small businesses, you really have to make it in their interest to do so.
Perhaps the most powerful method for saving on legal fees has already been mentioned – the retainer agreement. You have access to professional legal advice for a set amount of hours each week. You know what you are paying and it is a steady and consistent payment. This is different from the retainer fee, which is simply a trust account you pay into while your attorney handles litigation. When you do hire a lawyer, be sure to understand what the charges are upfront. A flat fee is the best option. If you are being charged hourly, make sure you use it wisely.
The best cost-cutting strategy is possibly to make intelligent use of your available options. With the rise of automation tools and online legal services, there are fewer and fewer instances where you truly need expensive legal services. Once you know what you are looking for, you can easily choose the exact legal service that you need. For example, if your small business regularly creates contracts that need to be updated and stored securely, then LegalNature or LegalZoom are perfect.
Dispute resolution processes are available for litigation and these facilities are often underused. Payroll services, tax filing, and business formation do not require the assistance of a lawyer – so save your money in these areas. Knowing the different types of attorneys and which one you need is also a great way to save money and avoid erroneous expenditure.
Clearly, finding the best small business attorney is no easy task. But it certainly can be done. Just clearly identify the area you need help with and find lawyers that specialize in that area. Next, identify what your budget is and what the costs are. This is critical. Be extremely clear about the fee structure.
If you are not currently involved in litigation, then you can use online legal services for most of the typical duties involved in running a business. You can build a relationship with an attorney without breaking the bank by using these services. They will be there for you when a situation arises.