Starting a small business doesn’t require a law degree, but sometimes it feels like it does.
Between filling out paperwork, deciphering business regulations and managing the day-to-day legal risks that all businesses face, entrepreneurs either have to become pseudo experts in the vagaries of the law or find someone who is. And, most often, they have to do both.
But, amazingly, this isn’t as hard as it sounds. There are a number of online legal resources available to help small businesses navigate the complex legal landscape, as well as connect with expert counsel.
In many cases, the tools available can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars in fees, or at least help balance the scales when it comes to negotiating with lawyers. The fact is, there is more legal information freely and publicly available than ever before.
Here are some of the legal resources available online for startups and small businesses.
Even if you have a lawyer, it’s a good idea to get a cursory understanding of business law before actually starting said business. The Small Business Administration provides comprehensive guides to a myriad of legal topics facing small businesses, including employment and labor laws and industry regulations. It also provides links to helpful resources, such as negotiating guides and lawyer referral services. One of these tools is the American Bar Association’s handy search engine for finding legal help in any state.
The Small Business page at legal information database FindLaw is also an excellent resource, with topic guides running the gamut, from business accounting to protecting intellectual property to choosing a business structure. The website also provides its own lawyer database.
Rocket Lawyer attempts to move finding legal help to the cloud, with a database of legal templates as well as an on-call lawyer service for paid subscribers. Free services include online legal templates such as incorporation paperwork, service contracts, non-disclosure agreements, trademarks, patent forms and others. There are also step-by-step guides to working with these templates.
Rocket Lawyer also includes an on-call lawyer service and a search engine for connecting with legal assistance. Subscription plans include legal document review services and pre-negotiated rates for lawyers.
When disputes come up, arbitration is often the quickest, most cost-effective way to resolve them, providing an alternative to the headache that is small claims court.
There are a number of online arbitration services. Judge.me offers dispute resolution –with mediators – via email for both commercial and personal conflicts. The Internet arbitration process is also confidential. Users pay a flat fee for arbitration. And it’s legally binding in more than 140 countries, making it a potential solution for businesses with overseas contractors.
Judge.me also provides the language to add its arbitration services to legal contracts.