This is a guest post from John Corcoran. John is an attorney and former Clinton White House writer, and he advisesentrepreneursand small-business owners on how to use networking to grow their businesses . In addition to the tips in this article, you can download his free report for an additional 10+ tools to save you money on legal fees.
Like it or not, everyone has to use a lawyer now and then. Whether you run your own side business or have income properties, or simply need a will, you will probably need legal help sooner or later.
Unfortunately, lawyers are very expensive – often prohibitively expensive.
Trust me. I am one — don't hold it against me. The problem is many people simply skip using lawyers entirely. That's about as smart as never going to the doctor because you don't like paying doctor's bills.
Like it or not, it's a complex and litigious world, and we all need a “checkup” from time to time.
Fortunately, there's good news. The Internet revolution has dramatically changed the legal landscape, just like it has nearly every other industry. Numerous new start-ups and online resources have made some basic legal services more accessible and affordable.
However, it's not easy to understand all the different options. To help you make sense of it all, I am going to give you a number of tips on how you can save money on legal fees.
Use an Alternative Fee Arrangement
As J.D. would say, you can negotiate anything – even how much you pay your lawyer. When you're shopping around for a lawyer (you are interviewing at least two or three, right?), be sure to ask if the lawyer you are interviewing will consider a flat fee or alternative billing model.
Not every lawyer will agree, of course. It really depends on the situation. But it's worth asking.
Use an Online Legal Document Preparation Service
Companies like LegalZoom, RocketLawyer, ReadySetLegal and others will help you to prepare basic legal documents, and even allow you to get basic legal questions answered by an attorney. LegalZoom, co-founded by former O.J. Simpson Dream Team lawyer Robert Shapiro, is the most well known and it has grown so fast, there have even been reports it might file for an initial public offering.
Just as companies like TurboTax have simplified tax preparation for the masses, these legal document preparation sites have vastly simplified (some say over-simplified) legal processes that are normally too confusing and overwhelming for the general public.
Not all the change has been good. These companies often supply boilerplate, cookie-cutter templates that do not account for all the unique needs and situations that can arise in life and business.
Some lawyers would probably like to burn me for witchcraft for even suggesting that online document preparation services, which have taken away a lot of what has been historically lawyers' bread-and-butter work, are a viable option.
However, I think an imperfect solution is better than no solution. And in many cases, people who are using sites like these are not choosing to not use a lawyer; they simply cannot afford one.
I usually say if you do use an inexpensive online service to save money, commit yourself to going to a lawyer later as resources permit to review everything and update as needed.
Educate Yourself by Doing Your Own Legal Research
There are a lot of places where you can look up state and federal statutes and case law. Better yet, as lawyers have moved into blogging and companies like Avvo.com have set up Q&A forums, there are more and more places online where you can find answers to common legal questions written in plain English.
Here are a few of the better Q&A forums:
For years, I was hoping Google would jump into organizing the world's legal research like it has other sources of information. Finally, they did. Google opened up Google Scholar, which is an excellent resource I use to look up cases and statutes and even law-review articles.
But I'll let you in on a little secret (just between you and me): when I'm doing legal research, I often start by just Googling it.
Of course, the law is infinitely complex, and so you don't want to take this too far by handling your own litigation, any more than you would want to practice medicine by yourself if you're not a doctor. It's one thing to educate yourself on symptoms of the flu by reading WebMD; it's another thing to try to perform brain surgery because you think you're a doctor.
Organize Your Documents in Advance
Before you go in to meet with a lawyer, get yourself organized. Print up copies of any digital documents or emails, and put them in some semblance of an order. If you have an issue that occurred over time (such as a dispute with a client or customer, or an employee), prepare a timeline or brief history of the facts leading up to present day. This preparation will save time and keep your costs in check.
Swap Services With an Attorney
Do you have a service you can trade with a lawyer? There are plenty of things lawyers are not good at but need help with anyways, from SEO to bookkeeping to marketing.
You might try approaching a lawyer and offering to provide them with a service in exchange for legal advice or services.
To make this work, here are a few tips:
- Be detailed: Get specific about what it is you're looking for in a lawyer, and what it is you have to offer. The more specific you are at the outset, the more likely you won't waste your time.
- Agree to written terms: Have a written agreement up front as to the terms of your barter, including how you value your service and the lawyer's, and what money (if any) will change hands.
- Be aware: Be aware of the terms of your trade, and keep your eyes open. There's definitely the possibility you could run up a bill if the cost of the legal services you receive exceed the value of the services you provide.
- Get tax advice: Just because you aren't receiving monetary compensation for your end of the barter doesn't mean there are not tax issues. Get advice from an accountant on the tax implications of bartering in advance.
Smaller firms or solo practitioners are the most likely to be open to such an arrangement. And you may have to ask around before you find a lawyer who can both do what you need them to do and who is open to this kind of arrangement.
Finally, if you don't have any pressing deadlines, then take your time. Do your research, ask for advice and recommendations from trusted friends and advisers, and be sure you make an informed decision in whatever you do. You will be glad you did.
P.S.: I came up with so many money-saving legal ideas that I couldn't fit them all in this article, so I put an additional 10+ tools and tips for saving money on legal fees in this free report just for Get Rich Slowly readers.
What tips do you have for saving money on legal fees?