Pro bono legal services are as important in business as they are in law, but not everyone knows that it’s entirely possible to find and use them. We usually assume — wrongly — that pro bono aid is for individuals living below the poverty line. But small businesses can also find pro bono services. It shouldn’t be that surprising! We value the contributions of small businesses in our country much more than we value those of larger businesses or rich individuals.
Where can a business find these services? The options available depend on the services required.
The Small Business Association (SMA) has offices in many small and large communities and can help provide free legal help for a business contracts dispute. The SMA is also useful when a business owner isn’t sure if they need a lawyer or has a simple question that needs answering quickly.
Business owners can also approach the local chamber of commerce, believe it or not! Sometimes, the chamber will provide free legal services to business owners who need questions answered or aren’t sure what benefits are available for small business owners living in a specific region of the United States.
Other options are more generalized. For example, business owners can use a search engine to find local non-profits. Although these organizations are often viewed as “anti-business,” they sometimes provide business law clinics or workshops to help new business owners get a headstart. Some even provide mentoring services!
Check the National Association of Secretaries of State to find information on forming or registering a business in a specific jurisdiction. Many would-be entrepreneurs have no idea where to start. This is where they should start. The Secretary of State’s website will provide invaluable information on local, state, and federal laws where applicable.
Small business owners can find similar information by researching the Federal Trade Commission. The organization’s goal is to prevent consumers from being taken advantage of by over-zealous business owners, and the best way to accomplish that goal is by providing those business owners with high-quality information they can use. Sometimes this involves free legal help navigating the more complicated laws.
Small business owners often have trouble filing taxes for the first time. The best place to find information on how to do it is the IRS itself, of course, but the IRS also provides small business owners with legal recommendations about various laws both new and old. The Department of Justice (DOJ) provides similar information to those who seek it out.
Many pro bono services are offered by students of law. While they might not seem like the best option for business owners who need quality legal help, students can sometimes be more willing to spend extra time making sure you get it right — because they’re not accustomed to being paid anyway. Small business owners might also try the SuperLawyers website for free legal help when affording a lawyer is impossible. Most will understand that new business owners don’t yet know how much money they will make in the first year — or if they will make any at all.