By UpCounsel Patent Attorney Carlos Perez

Startup formation has increased over the past few years, and most of these new businesses need legal advice to get their venture off the ground. Searching for an attorney online will yield many options: large law firms, small law firms, specialized law firms, online legal marketplaces and freelance attorneys. While companies may feel inclined to hire a law firm, freelance attorneys can provide a host of advantages over firms, particularly to small businesses and startups.

Attentive Client Service

For a freelance attorney, every client matters—whether you have a solo startup or a large business. A small company might get overlooked in a large firm where big corporations monopolize time and resources. With a freelance attorney, every business represents a substantial share of the client base. This ensures that your work doesn’t fall through the cracks—something that is all too common in large firms.

Indeed, the most common complaint large law firms receive from corporate clients is lack of responsiveness. A small business working with a large firm can expect to receive even less communication. An overworked firm attorney on the clock to meet billing requirements will often see a phone call with a small client as an inconvenience. In contrast, freelance attorneys have the ability to be responsive and will spend more time on the phone with clients or answering their emails.

Quality for the Price

Many will choose to pay a premium for a law firm with the hope that they will obtain higher quality work. Unfortunately, this is often not true for small businesses. Given the economic realities of law firms, it is likely that work for small clients will be handed down to the least experienced attorneys. Law firms commonly use small clients to train junior associates fresh off law school. Moreover, these young attorneys are trained like factory workers to become highly efficient at doing a narrow scope of work, and they will often fail to spot issues that more seasoned attorneys immediately would.

Thus, the actual choice for a startup will frequently be between a freelance attorney and a first-year attorney, and the freelance attorney is the clear winner. Freelance attorneys often have many years of experience working at large firms. They are able to take the experience from these firms to perform top-notch work in a handful of key areas. Freelance attorneys also expand their expertise to cover a broader legal scope. This makes them flexible enough to deal with novel legal issues that often come up for new businesses.

As an example, an attorney with even 5-10 years of experience at an Intellectual Property law firm may be excellent at writing patents related to a select technology area for one or two large corporate clients. However, that same attorney may struggle to figure out if another company should try to obtain a patent in the first place, or whether the client should also obtain trademarks, copyrights or trade secret protection. A common question from a startup is: “I have $X in legal budget, what should I spend it on?” A freelance attorney is better equipped to answer that question, and will make more out of that money than a firm.

Cost Efficiency

Working with a freelance attorney is less expensive than hiring a big law firm. Firms have huge overhead costs. Their clients pay a premium for lavish offices with panoramic views that only the largest clients ever get to enter. In contrast, freelance attorneys and startups share the common goal of practicality. There is no need to hold meetings in an expensively furnished conference room with city views when the same can be accomplished via a Skype call.

To justify their prices, big law firms may try to offer multiple specialists under one roof. Although this may seem cost effective if your small business needs legal expertise in multiple areas, it still is often more economical to hire multiple freelance attorneys in different areas of the law. By running lean, freelance attorneys can undercut large firms in pricing, with little overhead to be passed down to clients.


Freelance attorneys are accessible. While a firm will not be shy about running the billing clock on any phone calls or emails, a freelance attorney will see these as a means of establishing lasting relationships with their clients. They will return phone calls and respond to emails promptly. Since many of their clients are inexperienced in legal matters, they are adept at explaining things in terms as simple or as sophisticated as needed.

Firm attorneys do not have the time or incentive to create these personal relationships with small clients. Firm attorneys are barraged with commitments and responsibilities beyond those to owed to their clients. They required to attend trainings, meetings, handle personnel matters, train junior associates, and much more. Again, small clients representing a negligible share of their revenue source will take a back seat to many of these commitments. Freelance attorneys, on the other hand, run simpler operations, and generally consider all their clients a top priority.

The Takeaway

Of course, freelance attorneys are not without drawbacks. Many run barebones operations with little or no support staff and may become overloaded with work at times. But the law firm structure may prove too rigid for a small business, which runs the risk of being left behind at the bottom of the firm’s to-do list. Overall, freelance attorneys prove the best choice for small businesses with limited legal budgets.

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About the author

Carlos Perez

Carlos Perez

Carlos, a former USPTO Patent Examiner, graduated from Georgetown Law and holds a bachelor's and master's degrees in computer engineering. He is a registered patent attorney experienced in all areas of patent law. Carlos has drafted and procured hundreds of patents in various countries, and is proficient in the most complex areas of electrical and computer technologies. Carlos also has substantial experience in post-grant proceedings in front of the Patent Trial and Appeals Board.

Carlos' prior experience includes 4 years at top international law firms, and 4 years as a Patent Examiner. He is based in Pasadena, California, but represents clients throughout the country.

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