NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Rob Phillips helps entrepreneurs and inventors maneuver through the legal mazes to form businesses with high potential growth and secure patents, trademarks, copyright, and other intellectual assets, and he does it pro bono -- i.e. free.

Phillips is an attorney at RMBA Group in Fort Collins, Colo., and he and other professionals team together to grow small businesses.

Entrepreneurs and inventors come to Phillips through the local non-profit business incubator Rocky Mountain Innosphere. Savings for these fledgling companies run from $5,000 to $10,000, Phillip says.

This is smart business for attorneys who donate their time. Companies that take off often come back to hire them.


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Different states have different organizations that link innovators with free legal help. Pro bono programs can be found at the American Bar Association.

North Carolina Lawyer Entrepreneurial Assistance Program (NC LEAP) “helps entrepreneurs establish their business, and seek legal help, especially in the area of intellectual property,” says Kathleen Lynch, who’s an intellectual property attorney at Law Office of Kathleen Lynch in Cary, N.C. Lynch is on the steering committee for NC LEAP. The committee recently started a patent pro bono program.

“For inventors who qualify financially, we help them write, file, and prosecute their patent applications before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office,” Lynch says.

Among others, Lynch helped Michael Lloyd, owner of Num Num Sauce and Num Num Brands, advising him on intellectual property issues. “He is now being carried in a number of stores and is doing well,” Lynch says.

"Most small businesses simply can't afford to invest in strategies that do not bring back an immediate return on investment,” Lloyd says. “At the small business level, survival is about execution to stimulate immediate growth to be re-invested back into the business, whereas many legal services outside of initial startup are more in line with long-term growth.”

Sean Morrison, a solo practitioner of a business law practice in New Orleans, considers “pro bono and low bono (reduced fees) work as a vital part of the firm’s business strategy.” It allows him to expand the type of work he does. He chooses pro bono clients primarily based on his interest in their missions and uniqueness.

Unlike other lawyers who do pro bono work, Morrison, who practices law in Washington, D.C., searches for pro bono clients on listservs in addition to receiving them from organizations that match attorneys to startups in need of legal guidance.

Like other lawyers who do pro bono work for startups, Morrison benefits from word-of-mouth marketing “and the kind of reputation in the legal community that only comes with experience in these types of cases,” he says.

"Past clients have the potential for generating new paying clients," he adds. "I have had paying clients say they heard of me through those I did pro bono or low bono work for in the past.” 

That’s good business for both businesses.

—Written by Your name for MainStreet