In legal industry, a call to innovate in 2012

We see more people setting out on their own as first-time entrepreneurs. No matter how bad the economy gets, you won’t be fired if you are the boss.

One thing that we’ve become certain about is that Americans are relentless when it comes to bettering their lives and pursuing their dreams. For many, starting a business can be a great way to hedge against an uncertain day job with a business that can be pursued on the weekends or off hours.

I hear a lot about the needs of small business owners, particularly when it comes to legal solutions. Whether you are a brand new start-up or a veteran small business, legal fees are looked at like the plague. To the budding entrepreneur, every dollar spent reviewing a contract or forming a new LLC is a dollar that will not go to getting their business out of the starting gate. “Overlawyering” and overly risk averse behavior have no place in the fast-paced world of most business owners. They want to know the risk, understand their options, and move the company forward.

Over the last few years, the legal industry has reacted more positively to the need for affordable legal services to small and medium-sized businesses. At LegalZoom, in addition to flat fee legal documents, we now offer membership plans where business owners can receive an entire year’s worth of legal advice from an attorney for the price of a typical billable hour. LawPivot is also taking legal advice to the crowd and offering legal information to companies in new and creative ways.

With all the innovation coming from outside the established legal industry, some traditional law firms are starting to rise to the challenge. For example, Orrick, a large Bay-area firm, offers a “Start-Up Tool Kit” that contains free resources to aid start-ups and their founders on the journey from the garage to the marketplace.

In the upcoming year, I expect to see more innovation from both inside and outside the traditional legal industry to meet the needs of small business owners. Increased access comes from technology and efficiencies, and it’s our hope that the legal industry will embrace change in order to help America get back on its feet.

Chas Rampenthal is general counsel of LegalZoom.com, an online legal services firm based in Los Angeles, Calif.

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