Trying to make sense of law documents and contracts can seem as difficult as learning a complicated foreign language. The fear of mounting legal costs, though, is something we all understand. Fortunately, you have alternatives to using a law firm to address your legal needs. You can access legal documents and get answers and advice on legal questions without paying exorbitant lawyers’ fees by using a do-it-yourself approach or using an online service. In complex legal situations, however, using a lawyer may be the wisest course of action. This guide will help you decide when you can be your own lawyer, when you can use an online legal service, and when you should call a lawyer. Wills or trusts Preparing a will or living trust is an important task that most people want to avoid thinking about. However, having a will or trust that is up to date and done correctly is a gift to your loved ones. It offers them clarity and can prevent arguments and rifts that can last for decades. Do-it-yourself: Creating a will and trust yourself is a simple way to save money. You can read information online about how to create a will or trust or use free online templates. The only drawback is that, like all information on the internet, the quality of the templates varies widely.Online legal services: Thousands of individuals have used online legal services to create effective wills or trusts. These inexpensive and helpful online platforms have hundreds of templates, examples, and ideas. View the Best Online Legal Services for Wills and TrustsAttorney: Estate planning attorneys can give great advice, prevent mistakes, keep documents safe, and act as witnesses. But if you’re planning on only creating a will and understand the risks, it is hundreds of dollars cheaper to using an online legal service or do-it-yourself. Personal injury People often try to settle car accidents or other personal injuries with insurance agents. If you are unhappy with the agent’s offer, or you feel like you were wronged, you can explore other options.Do-it-yourself: Although handling the case yourself is possible, it is not recommended unless the incident is minor. If you have a minor slip and fall case at a major store and want to sue, often big chain lawyers will not want to waste resources fighting and will quickly settle to keep both parties happy. But if you are not happy with what they offer you, speaking to a lawyer is the best option.Online legal services: Online legal services are unavailable to help in this matter. Attorney: Almost all people use an attorney in this situation. Most attorneys will not charge a cent unless you win, and they will work hard to settle the case quickly. They also have access to needed resources to fight. Often insurance companies will try to drag out cases if they feel that the individual paying doesn't have the resources to sustain a long case. View the Best Personal Injury Law Firms Criminal cases Criminal cases can be overwhelming because you’re fighting multiple fights simultaneously. You’re fighting to be found not guilty, but you’re also fighting for a lighter sentence if found guilty. Do-it-yourself: This option is not used very often, but in the following circumstances, it may be better to represent yourself: If you plead guilty and the sentence to your crime is fixed If you believe that your punishment is not severe enough to justify the expense of an attorney If you feel like your lawyer is not on your side and that you can do better without one If you find yourself in one of these situations, representing yourself could have benefits. But in most cases, it would be better to use an attorney.Online legal services: Although online legal services are not as useful in most cases, the access to an attorney feature that some of these companies offer can be useful in getting direction about how to better represent yourself.Attorney: An attorney is the safest option for these cases. Criminal cases can be messy, and people who understand the law can protect you. They can shorten your jail sentence, lower the fees owed, and in the best case, help you completely go free. The odds of you winning increase dramatically with the help of an attorney, and the rates are usually lower in this type of law. Small claims court Small claims court cases consist of any settlement below $10,000. These cases usually last between 5-10 minutes and will be decided by a judge.Do-it-yourself: The small claims court fee depends on the settlement and state. Your fee will generally be anywhere from $30-$100 dollars. Falen Cox and Joseph Hoelscher, both high performing attorneys, provide the following advice for winning small court cases: Do internet research. See if the law allows a person to be sued for the act or omission at issue. Not all bad behaviors are subject to a lawsuit. If you're the plaintiff, you'll want to know this before you spend money. If you're a defendant, you’ll want to include that in your answer to the lawsuit. Find the right forms. Most small claims courts will provide forms for issues they see regularly. Ask the clerks and check the website. If you use the court's paperwork, you're less likely to have a problem because of a technical deficiency. Include ALL of your claims in the paperwork. Say a contractor sues you for not paying your bill, but he damaged your property. If you don't counter sue for the damaged property, you might lose that claim and be prevented from even talking about it. Bring lots of evidence. You need copies of contracts or leases. Print out account statements to show payments. Take lots of pictures and don't forget older pictures to show before and after whatever happened. Print text messages, emails, etc. and put video or audio recordings onto something you can leave with the court, like a DVD. Make copies for the other guy, the judge, and yourself. Be respectful of the judge. Refer to him or her as "Your Honor" and say "Yes/No Sir/Ma'am" where appropriate. Online legal services: These services can help you create documents or gain access to documents needed to help you win. Attorney: Not only would it be pointless using a lawyer in most of these situations, but in some states, it is not legal to bring your attorney unless both parties agree to use an attorney. Disability compensation Some individuals with disabilities or issues associated with aging are eligible to receive compensation. In some cases, the government has not paid these individuals what they are rightfully owed.Some of the disabilities that can receive government aid include, but are not limited to, the following: Musculoskeletal problems Cardiovascular conditions Senses and speech issues Respiratory illnesses Neurological disorders Mental disorders Immune system disorders Sjogren’s syndrome Marfan syndrome HIV/AIDS Lupus Rheumatism Autism Retardation Skin disorders Digestive tract problems Kidney disease Genitourinary issues Cancer Hematological disorders, hemolytic anemias, and disorders of bone marrow failure Trying to receive compensation is tricky, but you can use different tactics to fight it yourself, use an online legal service, or hire a lawyer.Do-it-yourself: Fighting this case for yourself is not recommended unless you have a lot of experience in court. These cases can be difficult because it is against the government, but the downside of using a lawyer is that you lose 25 percent of your backend. If you choose to go this route, do your research and prepare diligently. But just know, using a lawyer has the potential to get you more money for your case.Online legal services: Online legal services often have access to lawyers who can give you legal advice about your specific case.Attorney: The largest benefit to going through a law firm for disability cases is that most lawyers only charge you if you win. On top of this, the maximum fee a disability lawyer can charge is 25 percent and only up to $6,000 off the final backend. They also are known to get you more money for your case. Disability lawyer Michael Liner recommends, “I don’t even believe lawyers who don’t specialize in these case are best to handle disability cases because they are so complex and unique — it is its own area of law altogether — so I can’t see how an individual applicant could equip themselves beyond maybe filing their initial application to handle the process after a common denial.”And Lisa Witt, an experienced criminal defense attorney, emphasized another key benefit of using an attorney: “[If you] lose the first application battle, there will need to be an appeal. These appeals have deadlines and requirements that a law firm will know how to address.” Patents and trademarks Patents and trademarks are important for the structure of a company, but creating them can be extremely complex and confusing for the average person. Many people choose to save money by doing it themselves rather than pay thousands to a patent attorney, but is that the best option?Do-it-yourself: Doing it yourself without using an online legal service is extremely difficult. Some law schools or colleges will allow public access to students to help you create a patent. The dean or a professor will then quickly review them and sign them off. Some schools offer this service for free to individuals. Unless you have practice writing patents or have access to someone who does, try one of the other options.Online legal services: These services can help create a good patent and trademark without breaking the bank. These companies often have lawyers who can help you create intellectual property and give you direction to create these patents or trademarks paying only $39 a month instead of over $300 an hour to speak to an attorney.Liza Ann Esqueda, a licensed attorney and owner of Northville Wills and Trusts, explains, “Registering a trademark can be a complicated and lengthy process which takes anywhere from 6-18 months on average. A zealous person can absolutely take on the task if they are trying to save some money. However, without extensive research, or advice from a trademark attorney, it will be an overwhelming process for a layman to take on.Attorney: Patent attorneys are paid an average of $300. These prices are high but can be worth it if you have a complex idea or software. Dr. Michael Ahmadshahi, a practicing attorney, says “When the invention is complex and requires knowledge of multi-disciplinary art, such as mechanical and electrical engineering art... A skilled patent attorney or patent agent has the requisite skill and knowledge to draft the claims so as to ensure that the patent is valid in light of the existing technology and to make it difficult for competitors to design around the patent.” Non-profit, LLC, C-Corp, or S-Corp Creating a corporation has never been easier. In some cases, people may want to use a lawyer, but most people should feel comfortable doing it themselves or using an online legal service.Do-it-yourself: This is a great option for creating a non-profit, LLC, C-Corp, or S-Corp if you know what you are doing. If this is your first business, try using the help of an online legal service or an attorney.Attorney James J. Hsui cautions, “A common mistake when founders go the DIY route or use an online service is that they believe forming a nonprofit corporation at the state level is equivalent to forming a 501(c)(3) organization, only to realize years after, when penalties have accrued, that the organization is not actually tax-exempt…”He further warns, “Another common mistake 501(c)(3) founders make, which can carry even criminal penalties, is not registering with the state charities regulator to conduct activities and raise funds within states that need that kind of registration.”Online legal services: Creating a business can be incredibly expensive, but many online legal advice companies have templates and documents and can give advice on how to create these companies legally.Tanya Hobson-Williams, Principal of Hobson-Williams, P.C., adds, “Forming a corporation is one of the few times I would recommend downloading a form or DIY. That’s because the language used in creating a corporation is pretty standard.”Attorney: Lawyers can be really expensive, and large companies often choose to use them, but creating a business has never been easier than right now. Name changes Changing your name is so simple that a little time and a few dollars can get the job done. Do-it-yourself: You can easily find the documents and directions for changing your name online. Online legal services: If you want to make sure you do this right or lack the confidence to find all the documents, try using an online legal service. Attorney: Name changes rarely require the services of an attorney. But according to Steven Fernandez, a certified Family Law Specialist, ”There are times when it is necessary to involve a lawyer. This is particularly true when one parent wants to change their child's last name after a divorce. Courts will be hesitant to approve the name change unless doing so is in the child's best interest.” In this case, using your family law attorney is best. Divorce and family law This is one of the messiest types of law, so unless you and your spouse can figure all of the issues out yourself, don’t do this step yourself. If the case is uncontested or doesn’t involve children, it may be cheaper to use an online legal service. Do-it-yourself: If you choose to do this step yourself, you may need to go to the courthouse for needed documents. A divorce in which both people agree on the terms is called an uncontested divorce. According to Hossein Berenji, a divorce lawyer, the cost of an uncontested divorce without an attorney can be as little as a few hundred dollars.Deanna Kloostra, a divorce coach, is an advocate for doing it yourself, even if it is messy. She created a website to help individuals fight these cases themselves. Online legal services: If you need documents to quickly get divorced, these services are a great tool. You can access every document needed to finalize a divorce without paying the steep lawyer fee. Attorney: Attorneys are great when things get messy. Your lawyer will have your back and make sure that you get custody issues resolved, paperwork done, child support in place, resources split, etc... In most cases, divorce and family law is done best with mediators. Foreclosure and real estate law Getting renters and signing leases sounds simple, but if done wrong can create big issues. Foreclosure law is also incredibly confusing and difficult to fight. Do-it-yourself: A large part of real estate law is getting the right documents. If you have a background creating documents, or have found a free template online that has the credentials needed for generating a lease, then doing it yourself is not a bad option. If you are fighting a foreclosure case, then doing it yourself may not be the best option.Online legal services: If you’re looking for simple documents to use to rent your basement, online legal services are very effective. The documents and licenses you will need to have a tenant sign a lease, do a background check, or sign a contract to have someone rent your home can all be found online with an online legal service.If you are wondering whether you should fight a foreclosure case by yourself or with an online legal service, the simple answer is to consult a lawyer.Attorney: Fighting to keep your home can be a difficult process. Consult with an attorney on how to best succeed in your case. These lawyers are much cheaper than the cost of losing your home.Patricia Campbell, Chief Legal Manager of ProBono, advises, “A qualified foreclosure attorney would be able to review the original loan documents and disclosures to determine if there are any merits to contesting the underlying mortgage. Additionally, a qualified attorney would know how to navigate the short sale or loan modification process to determine if there is an opportunity for the borrower to retain the property with a reduced mortgage payment.”Joseph Hoelscher, managing attorney at Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda PLLC, explains, “Foreclosure law is heavily influenced by the banking industry and is not favorable to the consumer. Technical defects can ruin a case. Get an expert who makes sure you don't make technical mistakes and who will catch the mortgage lender or HOA when they do. Immigration, green card, or work visa Immigration is the most controversial topic in both politics and the law. According to Vishal Ghadia, a paralegal and owner of Immigration Paralegals.us, “[An] application for a Work Visa and Green Card through employment is required by law to be paid by the Employer. Also, it is not a single form process. It is a multi-part process that requires a lot of background work like Degree Evaluations, Equivalent Work Experience, Labor Condition Application (LCA), and much more.”Do-it-yourself: Saving a few extra bucks to do it yourself would not be worth it. Immigration situations are serious, and paying the extra money to hire an attorney is important.Online legal services: Online services can help with immigration or green cards, but getting a lawyer is almost always the best option.Matthew Asir, CEO of The Legal Bullet, says “There are some services which use a “turbotax for law” or an “Uber for law” model and that way they’re able to offer low-cost legal services. However, immigration law is way too complex for such a basic model, especially right now when immigration law is under more scrutiny than ever under an administration concerned about border security and protecting American jobs.” Asir advises using a service like his that not only has the documents and is cost-effective but also has access to lawyers who understand the complexities of immigration.Attorney: Attorneys are your safest bet in this situation. Most people who immigrate do not have a lot of money and compared to other attorneys; immigration attorneys are relatively cheap. Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer, Executive Consultant at Brav Online Conflict Management, cautions, “The United States legal system is the most complicated legal apparatus in the world. With the political war going on about the immigration system, you will be navigating a minefield alone if you do not have an attorney to talk you through it.”Although it is more expensive, using an attorney can ensure you get a green card or work visa. Safety and peace of mind is more important than trying to fight this yourself. Tax law The tax season is among the most intense times for tax lawyers, accountants, and business owners. Simple mistakes can cost individuals thousands of dollars, while larger mistakes can cause legal issues with the IRS. Representing yourself or using an online legal service may not be the best option for fighting these cases.Do-it-yourself: If you choose not to use a lawyer, make sure you have proof you haven’t broken the law. Dr. Smithmyer advises DIYers to keep evidence in case issues arise: “If you want to do your own taxes, use TurboTax or some other free online service… Make sure to use one with a guarantee; this will let you have someone in your court if there is a failure.” Although fighting a tax issue yourself is risky, it is still possible if you have substantial records.Online legal services: Online legal services do not provide a clear solution to this issue and would most likely refer you to an attorney.Attorney: Tax relief companies are law firms that help individual with tax-related issues. These law firms are helpful for people fighting the IRS and ensure that they are correctly represented. Donald E. Peterson, a Florida trial attorney states, “If it's a dispute with the IRS or a matter requiring knowledge of the tax code, hire a tax attorney, experienced CPA, or enrolled agent to assist you.”Dr. Smithmyer adds, “Tax law, like disability, is guarded by teams of lawyers who do it for a living. This means if you try to do it alone, you are going up against a giant machine designed to take your money. While it may cost more, use a lawyer to help yourself out.”To make sure you are prepared to win your court case, use a tax relief company designed to get the best result for your situation.View the Best Tax Relief Lawyers and Companies
Starting a business comes with many types of risks, including financial and legal risks. Business owners and lawyers share five ways entrepreneurs can protect their business. Safeguard business finances It’s important to have clear lines between your business finances and your personal finances, especially once you’ve incorporated your business to protect your personal assets. Katie Ziskind, a family therapist with her own counseling practice WisdomWithinCt, says, “Have an entirely separate bank account, credit card, and debit card for your personal finances. Never mix or pay for a personal expense with your business cards. Likewise, never pay for a business expense with a personal card out of convenience. This creates a healthy boundary and sets your business and personal life up for success financially.” Contracts and payment are other important factors to consider when dealing with business finances and protecting your business.Ian Wright, founder of Merchant Machine, says “Contracts are not always realistically enforceable. For example, if you have a contract to provide web design services for $2,000, but your client doesn't pay, you can of course take them to court over it. However, the time, effort, and money spent doing so can easily exceed the contract value, which means the rational choice would be not to chase it.” No one likes it when someone fails in their part of a deal, especially when it comes to payment. What can you do to protect your business’s income? Wright says, “The solution for me is to start small with clients and see if they pay on time. If they do, then I expand working with them.” Another way to protect your business’s income is to ask for part of the cost upfront with the remainder due upon completion. These strategies can protect your business’s cash flow and keep its finances in the black. Purchase liability insurance Tina Willis, Orlando injury and accident lawyer and owner of Tina Willis Law, says “My first piece of advice is to purchase general liability insurance, to cover things like slips and falls, and professional liability insurance, if they are a professional who could make errors during their work.” Liability insurance can help pay for monetary damages resulting from a lawsuit. Legal damages can be quite high, so this kind of insurance can protect your business’s finances and assets in the event of an accident.“Personal injury lawyers, like me, generally will seek insurance coverage first, then only look to business assets in extreme catastrophic injury or wrongful death cases. Even then, if the insurance coverage if high enough, the chances are very slim that we would look into business assets,” Willis says. “I would recommend one million dollars in coverage for most small businesses, but more might be warranted if they have extremely high net worth. Basically the coverage should match the financial protection they need, but one million dollars is enough for most small businesses. This should not be overlooked because we routinely handle cases on behalf of individuals who have been injured or killed on business properties.”In addition to general liability and professional liability insurance, there may be industry-specific liability that you should consider, like product liability.When purchasing liability insurance, make sure that you understand the terms of the policy. You should also understand what kind of liability your business needs.For example, Bret Bonnet, Co-founder and President of Quality Logo Products, says, “As a distributor, we don’t physically touch any of the thousands of promotional products we offer for sale. All our vendors list us as an additional insured on their insurance policies. In the event a product recall is necessary or a product accidently causes harm to a customer, the vendor’s insurance would cover this claim and not our own insurance.”Being listed on their vendors’ insurance policies makes the claims process easier for the company.“It might seem trite, but it saves us from having to make a claim with our insurance company, and in turn, our insurance company taking action against that of our supplier!” he says. Trademarks and intellectual property Trademarks identify your business and are an important part of your brand and how customers will recognize your business. Trademarks can be images, symbols, and even products. You’ll want to ensure that no competitor uses your branding and that others use your trademarks appropriately. Tina Willis, Orlando injury and accident lawyer and owner of Tina Willis Law, advises “If you have any ideas, inventions, slogans, or logos, which you want to protect, then you really should consult with a trademark lawyer early in the business formation process.”Another important consideration for some businesses is intellectual property. Intellectual property can have a lot in common with trademarks.Intellectual property includes ideas and inventions that were created by you or your business. They may be innovative products, which means you don’t want your competitors to be able to take your patent, make a cheaper product, and earn larger profit margins that your business does.“If the business will own or rely on intellectual property, the owners should take care to ensure that the ownership, licensing, and related materials are in order,” says Justin Kelton, Partner at Abrams Fensterman focusing on complex business litigation.You can file the licensing paperwork yourself or work with a lawyer to ensure that it is done correctly.Dr. Julie Gurner, who has served on advisory boards of start-ups, says “Something legally I see all the time, is that founders don't protect and shore up their intellectual property. While it can seem a minor issue as well as expensive line item when beginning, it goes a long way to ensuring your future as you scale.” Protecting your business’s intellectual property is an important way to secure your business’s future and ability to grow. Get a lawyer Many online legal services are available to help with business formation and creating legal documents. These services can be useful if you want to avoid high attorney fees. Matthew Fornaro, Esquire of Fornaro Legal, recommends avoiding the internet. He says, “I guarantee that the “right” answer may be out there, but it is indistinguishable from the wrong answers. Invest money into your business by hiring a business law attorney who focuses on working with small businesses and start-ups.” Tracking down all of the legal answers and figuring out the forms can be time-consuming, especially if it isn’t your area of expertise. Hiring a lawyer can save you time. Will Craig, Managing Director of LeaseFetcher, also recommends getting a lawyer to keep track of all the legal matters. He says, “The best advice I was ever given when starting my business, was get a good lawyer. I still stand by that advice to this day. When you're setting up your start-up, there's a lot of legal things that you have to bear in mind — like setting up the right business structure, drafting shareholder agreements, and filing patents, etc.” As you are thinking about your business’s legal issues and choosing a lawyer, it may be worthwhile to consider law firms as part of your networking strategy. Tarek Alaruri, Co-founder of Fairmarkit, says, “Find two legal firms: one high-powered with connections and introductions and the other for the grunt work, like patents, trademarking, contracts, etc. I think having both allows companies to leverage both the prestigious names and connections while keeping costs down.” Seek industry-specific advice When it comes to choosing a lawyer or a law firm, you should focus on your industry and your business’s needs. “Each business type has its own risks and potential liabilities that need to be gauged on a case by case basis. Find a lawyer that has specific knowledge of how the industry operates. In this way, you will get counsel from a lawyer who can guide your business away from potential pitfalls and show you how to take proactive steps to guard against potential problems,” says David Reischer, Esquire, Attorney, and CEO of LegalAdvice.com. When it comes to protecting your business, general legal advice and industry specific advice is plentiful; however, legal advice tailored to your business will often be the most helpful in reducing risk. Kelton says, “In sum, business owners should identify the most significant aspects of their enterprise, and consult with experienced counsel to determine the best ways to protect the firm.”View advice on business legal formation and starting a business with partners.
Working with a friend to start a business can be great. You probably already work well together, have good rapport, and have established trust. All of these things bode well for a successful business and business partnership.Caroline Conway, who runs her own law office says, “Many people who start their own businesses — and nonprofits — are caught up in the vision and passion for what they want to accomplish, and legal advice is a back burner subject for them. It's not natural to consider the possibility of future disagreements among partners. There may be conflicts about employee management, how to handle finances, and contracting with vendors.” Planning ahead for conflict resolution and defining how business decisions will be made can help your business partnership function well and protect the business. While difficult to envision the worst case scenario when starting on good terms, failure to do so may have consequences down the road. Write an operating agreement Justin Kelton, Partner at Abrams Fensterman focusing on complex business litigation, says “For any new business, I always recommend that clients have a clear operating agreement setting forth the legal rights and responsibilities of each of the owners and investors.”Operating agreements are often part of establishing the legal structure of a business. They can be drafted with the help of a lawyer or independently using online legal services. Take the time to consider potential issues that your business may deal with now and in the future. Having the terms set and agreed upon at the beginning will prevent conflicts from arising and resolve conflicts if they arise.Conway says, “I would also suggest contract templates, review of software licensing agreements, discussion of data privacy issues, non-disclosure agreements, advice regarding independent contractors, and other labor and employment issues.” Non-disclosure agreements protect sensitive business information from being shared with other businesses and competitors. They are a great way to ensure that should a partner leave, they will not share sensitive business information without legal consequences. Reviewing all the legal aspects relevant to your start-up and its future will prepare your business for growth and mitigate potential risks. Define separation terms As you are working through the Operating Agreement, think about potential scenarios and keep your options open, especially when it comes to partners leaving the business. “Think through and negotiate the terms of separation for any partnerships at the outset,” says Elena Ledoux, Chief Mommy, attorney, and founder of Superb Maids and MommyGO. Maybe you’ll want to buy out your partner one day or plan for retirement. Maybe you’ll want to take advantage of a dream opportunity and leave the business. Conversely, if one of your partners wants to leave the business and take their own dream opportunity, you’ll want the business protected. Kelton says, “If the business will rely heavily on certain key individuals, the company should consider whether non-competition agreements may be appropriate.”Non-competition agreements limit an individual’s ability to start a competing business or work for a competing company. Usually, non-compete agreements have a time limit. While a non-competition agreement won’t keep your partner from competing with your business indefinitely, it will allow time for your business to prosper and grow. Protections for minority shareholders If you’re entering the business as a minority shareholder, you’ll want to make sure that you’ll receive dividends from your investment. Unfortunately, that can be tricky.Tina Willis, an Orlando injury and accident lawyer and owner of Tina Willis Law, says, “Under most states’ laws, minority shareholders have very few rights to get paid, even if they want to sell their shares and leave the business, or share in profits. These state laws can be circumvented with a written agreement between shareholders.” Minority shareholders should pay close attention to the terms of the operating agreement and negotiate for terms that will protect their rights. Failure to negotiate these terms from the outset can lead to financial and legal headaches later.Willis says, “My own husband faced many years of not being paid when a family business went bad. We finally had to pursue legal action to sell his shares. Even then, he was only able to sell because he had proof that the majority shareholders were starting a competing business and using money and other assets from the business in that new business. Without that new development, he would have had no ability to get paid for his shares as a minority shareholder, even though the company grossed about $20 million per year.” Understand the terms As with any legally binding document, it’s important to understand the terms.Ledoux says, “I would suggest that entrepreneurs should really make sure they understand the legal agreements they're signing. Whenever the terms are too complex or obscure, they should require simplification and explanations.” Of course, you and your partner can do the research to understand and review your partnership agreement. Doing so will take more time and effort on your part, and you may prefer to spend it on other aspects of your business. It may be worthwhile to work with a lawyer when setting the terms of your operating agreement. Willis says, “Make sure, if they have partners or other shareholders, they pay the money to have a lawyer draft, negotiate, and carefully review the terms of any partnership or corporation documents.” A lawyer can explain the legal terms in an agreement and explain how the terms of the contract would play out in different scenarios. A lawyer will also ensure that your agreement is legally enforceable. Working with a lawyer can help you have confidence in your business and set you up for success.
Starting a business takes considerable work. In addition to getting your products and services ready, writing your mission statement, and determining your marketing strategy, entrepreneurs also need to have their legal matters in order. The first step is choosing the legal structure of your business.Deborah Sweeny, CEO of My Corporation, says “I believe that the best legal advice I received when starting up was to form a corporation or Limited Liability Company (LLC). Often it seems too difficult, too expensive, and too cumbersome, but the truth is that having your business entity with the right structure can be a benefit in so many ways.”Of course, you can structure your business in a few ways. Corporations and LLCs are common choices.Additionally, you can always run your business using your own name, but there are drawbacks. There won’t be a way to distinguish between your personal assets and your business’s assets. This lack of distinction puts your finances at risk in the event of a lawsuit or liability claim. What are LLCs? LLCs are Limited Liability Companies. They reduce the business owner’s liability and protect personal assets. LLCs can be single-member or multi-member, which is handy for people interested in going to business with partners or by themselves.LLCs are less regulated than other types of businesses. Specific rules for LLCs vary state to state. LLCs are not subject to corporate taxes. Instead, each LLC member pays taxes on their share of the profits in their individual taxes.Individuals who form an LLC do not have to be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. To form an LLC, you must file Articles of Organization that describe how your business will be managed within the state that you will conduct business. You will also need to get ID numbers from the IRS and other government agencies for tax purposes and unemployment. What is an operating agreement? An operating agreement sets forth how an LLC will deal with situations like the death of a business partner, partner being bought out, or a partner leaving the business.State laws also govern these issues in the absence of an operating agreement. However, an operating agreement gives all LLC members more control and options over how things will operate. What is a corporation? Like an LLC, a corporation protects personal assets by limiting a business owner’s liability for company debts. The major difference between an LLC and a corporation is the ability to open the company to investors. Setting up your business as a corporation allows a business to become publicly traded on the stock market.Owners also have shares in the company. Often, the more shares owners have, the more control they have over the decisions.To set up your company as a corporation, you’ll need to file Articles of Incorporation and apply for necessary ID numbers from government agencies. A corporation can be non-profit or for-profit. If the corporation is non-profit, the profits from the stock market are not given to the owners. What are bylaws? Like LLCs, corporations can determine the terms of separation, closing the company, buying a partner out, or divesting from the company. These are called bylaws.However you choose to set up your business, you can hire an attorney to take care of the paperwork for you, or you can do it yourself with the aid of online legal services. Getting it Right When choosing your company’s legal structure, think about your business goals and how you want your business to grow. This will help you decide the appropriate structure for you business.Jesse Silkoff, Co-founder and President of FitnessTrainer.com and MyTennisLessons, started a business as an LLC. He says “Having an LLC structure worked just fine for the first few years until we decided to raise capital from outside investors. In hindsight, if we had known at the beginning that we would definitely be raising capital from outside investors, then we would have set up as a C-Corp from the start.”“This was an expensive mistake on our part because switching from an LLC to a C-Corp in order to take on those outside investors was both time consuming and costly,” Silkoff says.Silkoff is not alone in having to change the legal structure of his business. Zach Hendrix and Gene Caballero, Co-Founders of GreenPal, had a similar experience.Caballero says, “When we first started, we were legally advised that we only needed to incorporate as an LLC — which is totally inaccurate. When we attempted to raise an angel round, they practically laughed at us because we were not a C-Corporation.”“We had to pay a specialist attorney to dissolve the old LLC and very carefully assign everything to the new proper entity which is a Delaware C Corporation,” says Hendrix. “This cost us our first round of funding because we had to change our status and was a $12,000 mistake that almost cost us our business,” says Caballero.Investing to ensure that you have the right legal structure from the beginning can save you money down the road. It can also set your business up for success in other ways. Sweeny says, “When you are looking for a business loan, having a properly formed entity is a critical step. Having your business established is also important when looking for contracts, working with partners, and also hiring. It is an important first step — and getting set up right and early can also help establish business plans and strategies and open up communication with your partners.”
Divorce is just one of many situations that requires legal assistance. According to the National Center for Health Statistics website, there were 2,140,272 marriages with a total of 813,862 divorces in 2014. Although the divorce rate has steadily decreased since 2002, many people facing divorce are unsure what to do. Below are five steps for getting a legal divorce. 1. Determine if the divorce will be contested or uncontested According to divorcesource.com, how much time, energy, and money a couple spends on their divorce will depend on whether the divorce is contested or uncontested. Contested divorce—both partners cannot agree on the either the divorce in general or the divorce terms such as assets and children. Uncontested divorce—both partners agree and do not require court assistance in determining divorce terms. If the partners can come to an agreement and file for an uncontested divorce, they will both save money, time, energy, and stress. 2. File an official complaint According to Divorce Magazine, filing a complaint is the next step. The legal documents that are filed at this point are known as a summons, which announces the divorce's action, and a petition, which identifies assets/children of both partners and what relief is sought, according to womansdivorce.com. 3. Set orders If children and large reoccurring payments/debts are involved, temporary orders need to be set until the court hearing. These orders are designed to secure finances and keep things like insurance and bank accounts from changing. 4. Set a court trial, if necessary Any terms or issues that the partners cannot agree on are then sent to a court trial where the decisions will be made by a judge. During the trial, both people involved in the divorce proceedings will have the opportunity to provide their testimonials, witnesses will be asked to provide information, and exhibit documents will be shared. After this occurs, decisions to settle the disputes will be made. Either party may choose to appeal the court decision(s) afterwards; however, there are typically strict time limits for appeals. 5. Finalize divorce The divorce is usually made final after both parties willingly take the settlements and all legal work is reported and put to rest. Divorces take time to work through and you will want to do research before moving forward with divorce proceedings. Online resources and services are available to provide reliable information on divorce proceedings. A list of reputable online legal services as well as 150 honest consumer reviews can be found on bestcompany.com.
Choosing the right professional legal aid may seem overwhelming. Websites, advertisements, and even recommendations from friends can provide a flood of information to wade through. But the most vital step before obtaining legal help is to know if it is even necessary. American law, according to lawteacher.net, is split into two categories: civil law and criminal law. Civil Law involves every legal issue that is not dealing specifically with breaking the law or the criminal justice system. This category is specifically designed to benefit the person making a legal claim (also known as the plaintiff). The plaintiff chooses whether to take the case to court and/or settle terms. Depending on the nature and complexity of a civil suit, legal assistance may or may not be required. Criminal Law deals with punishment for those who break the law. This criminal justice system is not designed for direct plaintiff, or victim, compensation; rather the victim is more of a witness in the case with the justice system making decisions on pursuit and settled punishment. Some of the punishments include jail sentences, community service time, large fines, and probation. Understanding which situations require legal aid can save you time, money, and unnecessary stress. When Not to Use a Lawyer According to lifehack.org, there are a few circumstances where a legal representative is not necessary, including the following: Anything within a small claims court: designed for "civil disputes" and less formal proceedings. Traffic ticket violations: violators generally pay the fine to avoid hiring pricey legal aid. Non-contesting lawsuits: depending on the circumstance, some people opt to pay the amount that someone is suing them for and plead no contest in order to save money on an attorney. Although it's good to know what situations don't necessarily require a lawyer's help, it's also helpful to understand what circumstances do call for legal aid. When to Use a Lawyer According to the American Bar Association website, here are some of the legal situations that would require assistance from a lawyer: Getting arrested Receiving documents related to a lawsuit Being involved with accidents that cause injury or damage Having a death in the family Adopting or birthing a child Switching guardianship Getting a divorce Filing for bankruptcy Obtaining or losing property/valuable real estate Creating a will/trust Being a victim of sexual assault, robbery, etc. Knowing and understanding these legal system basics is an active way to avoid legal issues in general. However, when legal situations do arise, figuring out if legal help is needed and where to get it are both important. Online Resources There are multiple resources for finding legal advice and taking advantage of the many available online resources is usually the beginning step. With so many sites to choose from, it is easy to get lost when researching law help. Bestcompany.com can save you time searching for legal advice and representation by providing detailed research about the right online legal services provider for you.
How We Evaluate Online Legal Service Companies We rank and measure online legal service companies on a number of carefully selected criteria points. Because most people seek help from an online legal service company as an alternative to an expensive law firm (i.e., to save money), price plays a major role in a company's score. We also evaluate companies on their ability to provide on-call attorneys, and personal legal services such as estate planning, family law, and patents/copyrights. Companies are also scored on their case completion and document delivery times. Each online legal service company is individually ranked and reviewed according to these and other important industry standards. Companies that perform consistently well across these criteria points tend to receive higher scores and top spots. To learn more about how we rank online legal service companies, click here. #1 LegalShield At the top of the list is LegalShield, a company that provides individuals and small businesses with online access to legal services through an expansive network of provider law firms. LegalShield has been in the business of connecting people to helpful and affordable legal services for over four decades, and partners only with select law firms to ensure its customers are receiving the best legal services possible. The company charges individuals and businesses via monthly subscription, as low as $24.95 and $39/month respectively. What We Like about LegalShield In addition to providing a full array of personal legal services-wills and trusts, estate planning, and family law-LegalShield is also one of the few companies in the online legal services industry to provide on-call attorneys, a big plus in our eyes. LegalShield members can expect to receive a call from an attorney within eight business hours. We especially like LegalShield's international network of provider legal firms, which covers all of the United States, as well as select Provinces in Canada. #2 Rocket Lawyer Rocket Lawyer has provided affordable legal services and free legal documents to more than 20 million people in its short eight-year history. The company works with a vast network of more than 50,000 attorneys to provide fast and affordable legal services to a multinational clientele (U.S. and U.K.). Rocket Lawyer's legal professionals handle all sorts of inquiries from general legal questions, to more complex matters like tax and immigration. What We Like about Rocket Lawyer As we've come to expect in a top online legal services provider, Rocket Lawyer is one of the few companies in the industry to provide on-call attorneys, who can respond to a request within one business day. The company also offers a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, where customers can use Rocket Lawyer's services for one week, free of charge, and can cancel at any time. Rocket Lawyer services are competitively priced, and we like that customers can print important legal documents directly from their computer for free. #3 LegalZoom Since its inception in 1999, LegalZoom has pioneered the online legal services space by providing accessible and affordable legal services to a rapidly expanding clientele. LegalZoom was among the first to offer clients an independent attorney network to help respond to the growing need for sound legal advice that doesn't break the bank. While many attorneys viewed LegalZoom as a threat to their business, they eventually joined LegalZoom's team in an effort to reach underserved populations and individuals. The company now serves over 3 million customers. What We Like about LegalZoom One thing we like most about LegalZoom is its prices. LegalZoom offers some of the most affordable rates in the industry-as low as $9.99/month and $23.99/month for individuals and businesses (respectively). We also appreciate the company's extensive, 60-day satisfaction guarantee, which states that if customers are not satisfied with the LegalZoom's services, the company will resolve the issue, offer a refund, or provide credit to customers. Not surprisingly, we like that clients can leave their own reviews about working with one of LegalZoom's attorneys. For a full list of all our reviewed online legal service companies, click here. The Future of the Online Legal Services Industry While the online legal services industry has done a great deal to improve the access, speed, and affordability of legal help to underserved individuals and businesses, the industry as a whole has a long way to go. There are many areas in which these companies could improve. For example, many customers have complained that legal forms downloaded from one of these company's websites did not hold up in court. Companies will need to do more to provide clients with valid and standardized legal documents that will prove valid in a courtroom. Additionally, online legal sites that provide document processing services need to improve their accuracy at filing legal documents in the correct manner. Online legal service companies should also look into addressing the amount of time a network firm or attorney can spend helping a client. For while seeking help through one of these companies does make the process faster, several details can slip through the cracks without a dedicated attorney giving full attention to the case. Granted, an attorney's time is extremely valuable, but in order to compete with the attention to detail of full-service law firm or dedicated attorney, online legal service companies will need to find a way to grant clients with fuller attorney access without hiking the subscription price. As the landscape for online legal services continues to develop, BestCompany.com will likewise evolve in its ability to accurately review and rate online legal service companies. Those in need of fast legal help, or who can't afford an attorney, can rely on BestCompany.com to provide them with up-to-date information on which online legal services provider can best meet their unique circumstances.
Online legal services are increasingly becoming more popular, as consumers are able to get professional legal advice for an affordable price. There are several services available for personal needs and for small businesses. These unique services are offered by a broad range of companies at all different prices, depending on what services are needed. In an effort to find out which service features are most important to consumers, BestCompany.com experts conducted a survey to find out what subscribers actually care about. Over 1,000 subscribers were asked what the most important feature was when choosing an online legal services company. The results showed that over 35% felt that a user-friendly website was most important when choosing an online legal services company, followed by client resources and service options at 24.7%. It is understandable that a user-friendly website would be of high importance since this industry is online legal services. Some companies provide customers a great user experience with an online portal and easy navigation throughout the entire website. Phone numbers, education information, legal definitions, etc are all found easily and can be accessed 24/7 by customers, providing customers will the service they most desire. Following client resources and service options, personal and business options (19.5%) and on-call attorneys (17.4%) also played a role in a consumer's decision.