Taking a Bite Out of Small Business Attorneys' Fees

For most startups and fledging small businesses, retaining a lawyer would be a vital asset, but is often out of their price range.

From hiring employees, to inking supply contracts, an attorney is crucial to ensuring a small business is operating within state and federal laws.

When it comes to legal advice, most small businesses have three options: having an attorney on retainer, hiring one when needed, or forgo legal advice altogether. Any of these options is going to cost the business money.

RocketLawyer, a San Francisco-based legal service, aims to eliminate the expense hurdle for small businesses needing a lawyer, by offering legal resources and  documents online.

“Legal needs are part of small businesses,” says Charley Moore, founder and chairman of RocketLawyer.  “Every business has many legal needs at the beginning, middle and all through the business life cycle.”

In a recent survey of 1,000 small businesses, RocketLawyer found that 51% of respondents said they would forgo hiring an attorney simply because of the cost even though 25% said legal issues pose the biggest risk to their business.

RocketLawyer users get access to the documents required to do basic tasks like incorporate, as well as more complex issues like employment contracts and supplier agreements. Customers also get access to a legal checkup to ensure their company is in compliance with regulations.

By answering a few questions online, RocketLawyer provides a legal health score and a snapshot of the legal health of the business. Users with a score under 50 will receive recommendations to improve their business’s legal health, whether it’s creating an employee handbook or putting a deal in writing.

For issues that go beyond documentation needs, RocketLawyer also provides members with access to a network of attorneys that agree to discount their services by 40% off the published rate.

“The lawyers fee is a mystery to a lot businesses,” says Moore. “For the first time they get to see what the lawyers published fee is.”

According to Moore, the legal health assessment is modeled after an appointment with a lawyer or accountant sans the legal jargon. “Everything on the site is in plain English. Just by answering questions with your own set of facts the system is intelligent enough to provide a solution-- whether it’s a legal document or referral for an attorney,” says Moore, noting the legal health assessment works similar to tax preparation software like Turbo Tax.

The service costs $39.95 a month, which includes the ability to create legal documents, have the documents reviewed by attorneys, use legal health tools, store documents in the cloud, edit, share and print documents, a document e-signature service and a library of legal documents.

The company also has a personal service that costs $19.95 a month. With that, customers can create wills, divorce documents or a bankruptcy decree, to name a few.

To attract small businesses, RocketLawyer is offering incorporation for free, excluding taxes, which can save a small business $5,000, according to Moore.

For the most part, small businesses need lawyers to review documents, according to Moore, making a service like RocketLawyer, a big money saver. He says the going rate for an attorney working for a small business is typically $300 to $500 an hour.

“RocketLawyer can save businesses several thousands of dollars. Basically it’s taking care of all the legal compliance matters that come up over the business’s lifetime.”