Legal Services on a Start-up Budget

How to choose an option with a small budget: Signing up for large-scale services like Legal Shield V.S. choosing an in-person lawyer

Nicole Gaither

A trademark and copyright attorney with my own virtual law firm, Creativa IP Law LLC. I work with small businesses, startups, future entrepreneurs, and creatives to protect their brands, their content, and grow their businesses.

Using a service like “Legal Shield” may not give you the attention you need as a startup. Some of those attorneys sign up to be a part of the service for extra revenue. They might not take the time to learn about your business, your goals, your plans, and what you want to achieve because you are just another number or source of quick revenue for them. In addition, the plans only cover a limited number of services each month (some you might not even need). You are only getting a consultation for legal matters that truly matter for a startup business. The fees for the attorneys are discounted for some services, but they are based on the attorney’s “corporate hourly rate.” A retainer may be required and even then, it only covers a limited number of services that might not be applicable to your business in the startup phase.

You can choose to have an in-person lawyer, but keep in mind that those can be expensive - most will charge for phone calls (and some charge in 6 to 15-minute increments), emails, copies, mail, etc. Some firms are moving to a new model to work with startups because they understand that they are on a budget. A lot of attorneys now have virtual firms and conduct almost all work electronically and remotely. They do not have the overhead expenses like rent that some other attorneys have because they do not work from an office or for a large firm with billable hour requirements. Most charge flat fees for services and will set up payment arrangements with you because they have that flexibility.

An even newer billing model - subscription services - is starting to become popular. Attorneys have clients pay a set and predictable monthly fee (which makes budgeting easier because the amount is the same from month to month), and provide a group of services, depending on the plan that was selected. You can get unlimited legal advice, business coaching and strategy, document drafting and review, and even intellectual property identification, registration, enforcement, and monitoring on a monthly basis.

Relationship & Expectations

Nance L. Schick

A small business attorney/mediator who has also run her own firm in New York City for nearly 16 years.

What to expect during your first Meeting...

During your first meeting with your chosen lawyer, you should expect your concerns to be addressed. We might know the law better than you, but you know your business better than we do. So, we should be listening to what you think you need and why.


From there, we will ask questions about your business structure, your products or services, your vision and current goals, your workforce plan, and other unique needs. We will discuss the risks you need to be aware of and steps you can take to insulate yourself. We will probably review your formation documents and ask about your record-keeping, so you don't lose the separate entity treatment you sought for personal protection. We'll be screening you as well to make sure we are the right fit for your needs or have access to attorneys and resources that meet the ones we can't. We'll be considering how well your business and our firm will work together in a strategic legal partnership. We hope this will be a good fit for everyone involved, but we have ethical obligations to point you in other directions if we don't think we have the appropriate competence. So, you can relax. It's rare that we counter our negative public image.


Lawyer fees will vary greatly. Some law schools and bar associations offer low-cost or free clinics. In some areas, there are subscription services and flat-fee options, as well as attorneys who charge by the hour. The rates attorneys charge by the hour varies greatly, too. In small towns or mid-sized cities, attorneys might charge $200.00 to $300.00 per hour. Attorneys who operate in metropolitan areas, have the large firm experience, and got degrees from expensive universities will probably command higher fees ($450.00 per hour and up in Manhattan) and might not provide you anything different from what the graduate of a state school provides. All of us practicing in the state in which you are operating presumably passed the same bar examination, have the same license and abide by the same laws. So, shop around for someone who can provide you the services you need within the budget you have. Don't screen solely on price. Ask about experience with service versus retail businesses, the size of most of the firm's clients, the most interesting business they've worked with (not the name of it) and what they did for it, what they think are the biggest legal challenges for businesses like yours, and more. Choose someone you feel comfortable sharing your secrets and financial reports with. There will be times when you need to confide things that embarrass you, and you'll want an attorney who can be honest, clear, direct, non-judgmental, and results-focused, regardless of the circumstances.

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