Filing Forms Online
FindLaw offers legal forms services that can help small businesses incorporate or set up an LLC (Limited Liability Company). You fill out an online questionnaire. FindLaw partner LegalZoom.com creates and files the articles of incorporation with the appropriate Secretary of State and sends you the documents when they arrive. You follow a few simple steps to finalize the incorporation.
LegalZoom claims its fees $140 to $370 depending on level of service will save customers more than $1,000.
BizFilings offers online forms services for a whole raft of processes, including incorporation/LLC formation, local business licenses, hiring a registered agent, filing for a Federal Tax ID Number and so on.
Templates for Legal Documents
Sometimes all you need is a template for a contract or other business form with legal ramifications. Nolo sells packages of forms that you can receive either as a CD in the mail or as downloaded files.
LegalDocs.com offers dozens of very specific legal document templates that you can download and in some cases fill in online, with prices starting as low as $2.99. Biztree Inc. has Business-in-a-Box, a $200 compendium of more than 1,400 templates that include sample contracts and legal agreements as well as templates for non-legal business documents. You can download a trial version for free.
How to Find a Lawyer Online
As tempting as Internet-based do-it-yourself legal solutions may be, possibly the best use of the Web is to help you find a real lawyer. FindLaw, as its name implies, provides such a service, one of the best of several available on the Net.
First you select or key in the type of legal advice you want and your geographic area, and FindLaw returns all the law firms in its database in your area that do that kind of law. When you click on a firm, FindLaw takes you to its Web site if it has one, or a page on its own site with contact information. A sample search for business lawyers for Port Huron, Michigan returned 100 firms, but almost all were in other towns in Michigan, not Port Huron.
None of the find-a-lawyer sites has comprehensive listings, because most only include listings paid for by lawyers. You may need to try a few services to find the right kind of attorney in your area.
One of the best and most comprehensive, is Martindale, a service used by other lawyers when theyre looking for a colleague in another city or practice area. It offers peer review ratings of many firms ratings by other lawyers who have worked with the firm and provides a longer list of practice areas, making it easier to zero in on the type of lawyer you need. It also lets you look for attorneys outside the U.S.
When we asked Martindale for attorneys practicing business law in Port Huron. It returned three, but all had addresses in the city.
We found Bruce Lieber through SmallBusinessLawFirms.com. With this site, you can use online forms to provide a bunch of information about your case the category (business formation, contract, etc.), size of your company, status (public, private), your name and contact information and a text description of the case.
SmallBusinessLawFirms.com returns a list of law firms in the your area it returned one when we entered a Port Huron zip and submits your case to all those you leave selected in the results list. They theoretically send you a free evaluation or quote on your case.
Lieber says small business shouldnt just take the first name they find at a Web site, though. Talk to a few lawyers on the phone most will chat for five minutes and tell you if theyre able to help you and then go and visit the two or three that seem the best fit.
Gerry Blackwell is a freelance technology writer based in London, Canada. Read his blog, AfterByte
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