There's a misconception in business that lawyers are only for big established companies and not necessary for startups.
It's true that big companies need lawyers. But it's not something about size that makes it important. All businesses should have a lawyer to protect themselves from the public, the government, and their coworkers.
Often when legal issues become a problem, it's too late for an attorney to do more than damage-control. There are key times when your business should hire an attorney to protect your future interests.
There are some things best left to business people but certain aspects of a startup are really meant for a lawyer's skills.
Determining an incorporation model and setting up a written agreement between the founding partners are important times to have a lawyer present. Your lawyer's expertise will ensure that you pick the right model and that future disputes won't rip the company apart.
When it comes time to hire employees you'll probably want to call up that attorney again.
Clear employment contracts make a big difference when an employee is unhappy. Having a legally enforceable contract is often the difference between winning and losing a wrongful termination lawsuit.
It can also help to have an attorney deal with intellectual property concerns, both defending your company and filing for protection. Trademarks, copyrights, and patents all require a lot of legal knowledge. Filing them incorrectly puts your company at risk.
The issue of course is cost - legal services aren't free but they don't have to break the bank.
There are some small firms in major metropolitan areas that work specifically with startups and can offer lower rates. Business-oriented small firms and solo attorney offices can also offer lower costs than big firms because they have less overhead.
You can ask about alternate fee arrangements which some lawyers offer. Those often include package deals for a flat fee or monthly subscription rates rather than hourly billing.
If cost is your concern, the bigger cost could be dealing with legal trouble because of inadequate paperwork on the front end. While money may be tight, not having legal counsel to protect your business from the beginning could cost you everything.