Based on the current data in the survey, my guess is that you are making less than $50,000 per year. When your business is running lean and mean and cash flow is a concern, you might think that hiring an expert like a lawyer or a CPA is out of your reach.
I also know that it is fun (and seems easier) to chase after the shiny things when growing our businesses. It’s easy to think that a guest blog post or a piece of press will turn our business from struggling to thriving. So we hire the branding expert or the PR rep so that they can get those shiny things for our businesses.
However, if the foundation of your business isn’t secure, then no matter what shiny things your business attracts, you’ll still be in constant risk of toppling and going under.
Working on the foundation of your business isn’t fun and doesn’t give you a pretty picture that you can share on social media. It also can be scary because it requires you to do the work (and admit to yourself) what you want in your business and where you see it going.
It’s my opinion that making sure the foundation of your business is secure is one of the best ways to set your business up for long-term success.
So how do you hire a lawyer on a limited budget?
More and more lawyers are working with their clients on a flat fee basis. This means that both of you are taking a gamble. It could take more or less time that the lawyer estimated, but both sides share the risk. It also allows you to budget what the cost of something will be. If the lawyer tells you it will be a specific price to file your trademark, then you can budget for that, rather than having an unknown bill hanging over your head each month.
In my law firm, I primarily work on a flat-fee basis and I like it because it helps us build a relationship. You don’t ignore my calls/emails because you are afraid that it’s going to result in me charging you more and in turn you feel comfortable shooting me an email or calling me to ask a question about our project. I’ve found that working with people on a flat fee basis results in a more open and honest relationship (and really no one should ever lie to their lawyer).
Working with an attorney on a limited scope basis means that the attorney is only responsible for portions of the project. For example, you might be presented with a licensing agreement and feel pretty confident that you understand it, except for Sections 4, 7, 12, and Exhibit A. So you can hire an attorney to only review those portions of the agreement, rather than the whole contract.
This arrangement is quite common in family law but is only starting to catch on in other areas of law. As such, you’ll find fewer lawyers willing to undertake this kind of arrangement.
Ok, let’s get the record straight—when you hire LegalZoom or Rocket Lawyer it’s the same as buying a template contract from the Internet.
These services are not a replacement for working one-on-one with a lawyer, regardless of what their marketing may lead you to believe.
Their value to business owners is selecting the document and giving you a simple way to fill it out and submit it. That being said, there are times when even I suggest that people turn to LegalZoom instead of my services when their situation is straightforward and they have limited cash resources.
However, I’ve also worked with people who paid LegalZoom to set up their LLC or file their trademark, only to run into problems later on. In several of those cases, we needed to scrap everything and start from scratch, thus wasting them a lot of money.
Bottom line: these services can’t replace working with a lawyer one-on-one, but if you have a lawyer that you trust (and that knows your business) they can tell you when it might be a better use of your resources to turn to a form service, rather than having them prepare the documents.
While you can work with a lawyer on a budget, just like working with any professional these services still won’t come cheap. And while everyone thinks that lawyer rates are absorbent, I know several life coaches and PR reps in the SF Bay Area that charge more an hour than most attorneys.
And making sure that your foundation is in place before you start chasing the shiny objects will assure that you can capitalize on the opportunities presented to you when your PR rep gets your products in that magazine you’ve been dreaming about.
What other questions do you have about hiring a lawyer? Let me know in the comments below.