As your small business begins to grow, as will your entrepreneurial enthusiasm, and though manifesting your ideas into an empire is extremely exciting– it can also be risky. As your business begins to grow– garnishing more traffic, revenue streams, and overall success, it also becomes more vulnerable. And, understanding the multiplicity of legalities a small business owner must take to protect their business from these threats is very important. The Southeast Colorado SBDC understands it can be a daunting task for small business owners to fully realize all the different legal
structures involved, so don’t worry… we are here to help!
What Is Legal Aid?
According to the National Legal Aid and Defender Association:
Running a small business can be a very costly endeavor, and as a small business owner, it should be expected that you will need to deal with legal situations from time to time. Whether you are buying a new building for your business, disputing and/or justifying federal tax information, making certain you aren’t infringing another’s company’s trademarks, or simply need legal advice– consulting with a legal expert is a must. Although, as we all know, finding expert help isn’t always cheap, especially if you need legal advice from several professionals working in different realms of law.
Priyanka Prakash, J.D., a Dr. of law, claims on fundera.com that the average hourly rate for a business lawyer can range anywhere from $100 per hour in a small town to more than $1,000 per hour for a senior partner at a big city law firm. Prakash states, “Given these rates, it’s no wonder so many small business owners want to know if it’s possible to get free legal advice for their business. While free and cheap legal services aren’t easy to come by, they are available if you know where to look.”
Why would I need legal aid for my small business?
Where Can I Find Legal Aid in Southeast Colorado?
Colorado Legal Service– La Junta Office
207 1/2 Colorado Ave
La Junta, Colorado, 81050
Lower Arkansas Valley Area on Aging– La Junta Office
13 West Third Street
La Junta, Colorado, 81050
S. Central Council of Governments, Area Agency on Aging– Trinidad Office
1222 San Pedro
Trinidad, Colorado, 81082
Office of the Colorado State Public Defender– La Junta Combined Courts
402 Sante Fe Ave,
La Junta, Colorado, 81050
Office of the Colorado State Public Defender– Trinidad Combined Courts
122 West 1st St,
Trinidad, Colorado, 81082
Legal Aid Facts and Questions:
1. What legal related issued can I handle on my own?
Although you can always get help on the following items, these are things a small business can often handle on their own without a lot of risk: writing a business plan, applying for any license and permits, picking a name for your business, choosing and buying a domain name for your website, and obtaining an employer identification number (EIN). -upwork.com
The Southeast Colorado SBDC encourages all business owners to outsource to outside entities that can help them and their businesses prosper. Though legal aid isn’t required for the items listed, we always encourage patrons to do their research, and then schedule a consultation with the Southeast Colorado SBDC and get one-on-one help!
2. How does legal aid help?
Legal assistance is often the only lifeline available to people facing life-altering consequences, such as losing their home, employment, or custody of their children. For example, research has shown that the provision of legal services “significantly lowers the incidence of domestic violence.” The form of assistance depends on the type of legal problem the client faces. Legal aid lawyers advocate for clients in a variety of matters outside of court, litigate on their behalf in court, and often lead complex legal actions seeking systemic changes that affect large numbers of people facing similar circumstances. -The National Legal Aid and Defender Association
3. Who receives legal aid?
Despite dedicated advocacy by lawyers who often devote their careers to serving the needs of low-income people, programs are significantly under-resourced and often forced to prioritize serving the most disadvantaged clients on a limited number of matters affecting their most pressing legal needs. Even so, it is estimated that roughly half of the eligible people that request assistance from legal aid programs have to be turned away. Those who are served often receive brief advice and limited services. Those turned away must rely upon self-help resources and the provision of legal information, but even these resources are not available to all who need it. -NLADA
4. Who provides legal aid?
Legal aid providers vary in size and mission; some are locally focused or concentrate only on a specific issue (such as domestic violence or employment practices), while others may take cases from across a city or state with few restrictions on issue area.
The total amount allocated to the delivery of civil legal aid in the United States is around $1.345 billion. The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is the single largest funder of legal aid programs in the United States, providing about one-fourth of this funding. LSC is a federally-funded nonprofit corporation which makes grant awards to 134 grantees nationwide. With this federal funding, its grantees are required to meet certain restrictions on advocacy and client eligibility that are not placed on many other sources of funding for civil legal aid. NLADA played a leadership role in the creation of LSC in 1974, and continues to lobby vigorously in Congress in support of its funding.
Additional sources of funding for legal aid include private foundations and donations, state funding often through state bar foundations, contracts and grants from federal, state and local government entities and cy pres awards.
Pro bono assistance from private attorneys is an invaluable adjunct to the services provided by staff-based legal aid programs. Pro bono practice is rapidly becoming institutionalized in private firms and corporate legal departments. However, the unmet need for civil legal aid is so great that only transformative change in the resourcing of America’s dedicated legal assistance structures will enable this country to provide access to justice for all. –NLADA
5. What are some unorthodox ways can I obtain legal advice?
The reality is that finding free legal advice might take some time, and it’s best to only go these routes if you have time on your side. If you have a legal emergency, need to meet a deadline, or if there’s a lot of risk or money on the table, it’s wise to consider hiring a lawyer, or finding legal aid, as soon as possible and negotiating the best rate possible.
That being said, here are five ways to find free legal advice:
- Attend free legal workshops and pro bono clinics:
Most state bar associations, which are responsible for licensing attorneys in the state and regulating their work, have requirements for free or pro bono hours that lawyers have to complete each year. Lawyers can satisfy these requirements in multiple ways, and one way is by participating in free legal clinics and workshops.
Various organizations provide free legal aid:
Public organizations, such as libraries, nonprofits, and courts, often host free legal aid clinics. Volunteer attorneys attend these events and provide basic legal advice. Keep in mind that these lawyers will not represent you, but they will be able to answer basic questions in a short session (usually half -hour sessions).
State bar associations often have free legal aid hotlines. For example, the New York City bar has a phone number that low-income residents can call to get free legal advice on a range of matters, including small business topics.
Law schools also have clinics where law students and professors can give you basic guidance about a legal issue. Some law schools have clinics that specifically serve entrepreneurs and a small business clientele.
Free legal aid clinics can fill up fast, so make sure you sign up for an appointment well in advance.
To get more information about legal aid options near you, visit the American Bar Association’s online directory and search for your state or city. You can also call law schools in your area to find out about clinics.
- Take advantage of free consultations:
Many attorneys offer free initial consultations to satisfy their state bar’s requirements on pro bono hours. This consultation is an opportunity for you to ask initial questions and to discover if the lawyer is a good fit for you and your business.
Here are some questions to ask the lawyer during your initial consultation:
What is your background? How experienced are you with my business’s industry and the type of legal issue that I have?
What will be your strategy for my case?
Will my case potentially involve litigation/court appearances?
Besides you, who else (paralegals, partners) will handle my case?
How often will you communicate with me about my case, and what method of communication will you use (phone, email, or in-person appointments)?
What is your fee structure?
If the lawyer doesn’t answer these questions to your satisfaction, you’re free to walk away.
Sometimes, the initial consultation can provide you with sufficient information to resolve your legal problem. In most cases, however, the consultation will just give you a starting point, and you’ll need to make additional follow-up appointments with an attorney (which will then be charged at the attorney’s standard hourly rate).
- Choose a lawyer who uses a contingency fee structure:
It may surprise you to know that many lawyers these days are open to creative billing arrangements to get more small business clients. Instead of an hourly rate, business lawyers can use a contingency fee structure or alternative arrangements.
A contingency fee structure means you’re obligated to pay the lawyer only if you win your case. The lawyer’s fee then comes out of the money that’s awarded to you. While this isn’t “free” legal advice, this payment model does give you a risk-free way to obtain legal representation.
Contingency fees are used primarily in personal injury lawsuits, but they can be used in any type of case, including business litigation. If your business has been sued and you need to defend yourself in court, consider looking for a firm that will work for you on a contingency fee basis. Not only does a contingency fee structure work in your favor, but it also incentivizes the attorney to work harder on your case so that they can get paid. To find a firm near you that works on a contingent basis, you can either call up your local bar association and ask them to recommend one, or you can simply Google “[your city] + business + contingency fee.”
- Use an online legal service:
There are several online legal services that offer legal assistance for free or for a low fixed rate. They can be an excellent resource for tracking down legal forms, getting advice on how to structure your business entity, and finding local lawyers.
Here are some of the top services to try:
LegalZoom: Fixed monthly rate for custom legal forms, document review, business formation, and phone calls with a lawyer.
Rocket Lawyer: Fixed monthly rate for custom legal forms, document review, online legal Q&A, business formation, and phone calls with a lawyer.
LegalShield: Fixed monthly rate for legal correspondence, debt collection assistance, document review, and phone calls with a lawyer.
Nolo: Free articles, authored by attorneys, about a range of legal topics.
- Sign up for online legal courses:
One final option for free and inexpensive legal support is online courses for entrepreneurs and business owners. Some online education providers host courses in business law to help entrepreneurs navigate the complexities of starting and running a business. Here are some of the options:
Alison, Fundamentals of Business Law (free): Covers the differences among sole proprietorships, general partnerships, limited partnerships, C-corporations, and S-Corporations.
Coursera, Protecting Business Innovations via Patent (free): Covers the following information about patents: What is a patent? What do they protect? How do I get a patent? Where are patents valid? How much do they cost?
MIT OpenCourseWare, Law for the Entrepreneur and Manager (free): Covers the life cycle of a corporation from formation to going public. It also addresses business financing, mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property, and more.
Udemy, Business Law for Entrepreneurs ($11.99): Covers the different choices for business entity structure and the critical components of a business contract.
These courses are a nice way to get an overview of the business legal landscape. However, if you have a specific question about your business, some of the earlier options for finding free legal ad-vice will be better suited to you. -Fundera.com
Discover more information about legal aid from Fundera.com and, “Compare financial options you never knew you had!”