Consider the key stages of company growth. If the company is a start-up, you may need an attorney who specializes in financing. Small companies need investors and access to cash. Attorneys who specialize in early stage financing, often referred to as emerging companies and venture capital lawyers can help a start-up prepare their key financing documents and assist with diligence.
If the company is early-stage, a law firm attorney (often referred to as out-side counsel, as they are outside of your company) can prepare NDAs, sales agreements, and licensing agreements.
As the company grows, you may be able to afford an in-house attorney. They are the "quarter-back" for your company and are knowledgeable on a range of topics including employment law, intellectual property, litigation, and corporate governance.
If your company is strapped for cash, consider a pro-bono clinic. Pro bono programs are meant for individuals who cannot afford a lawyer. A law school or non-profit organization in your area can help you find volunteer lawyers who may offer legal advice or take on a case free of charge.
Depending on the size of the company, location, and experience an attorney's annual salary can range from $120k - $180k.
Hiring your first in-house lawyer is often a big step and significant expense for a small company. However, hiring an in-house attorney can often reduce risk and lead to better business decisions because legal issues have been taken into account. Hiring an in-house attorney can also lead to cost savings -- either by reducing outside counsel fees or by avoiding litigation or other business disputes. In-house counsel also can be more effective than outside counsel because they have an opportunity to really learn the business and focus on advising a single client, whereas outside counsel typically has many clients and "parachutes" into a matter only when a problem has already arisen (whereas the in-house counsel may have been able to help the company avoid the problem in the first place).
Salaries are very dependent on the industry, the geographic location of the company and the experience level of the attorney. For example, if you are looking for an attorney with 10+ years experience, you likely will have to pay a salary of $150K+ in the Northeast. In the pharmaceutical industry, that salary would likely be $200K+. Certain specialties (e.g., patent/IP) will command a higher salary. Of course, you could probably pay $100K or even less for a junior lawyer without much experience, but i think that is a mistake for a small company with a single lawyer. There are a number of salary surveys on the internet that can help you determine the appropriate salary range in your region and industry.
Finally, i note that some attorneys (such as myself) have started to offer part-time GC services to start-ups and emerging growth companies for an affordable, fixed monthly retainer payment. In essence, the lawyer would be an independent contractor (i.e., not on payroll, no benefits) and receive a fixed "salary" to provide all required legal services for the company.
I hope my answer was helpful.
Peter recommends the following next steps:
You really only need a lawyer at your company if that is something you need on a regular and consistent basis. If you are a smaller company or start up watching costs, you can get a lawyer on retainer or even join groups like prepaid legal where you pay a subscription or maintain a membership where you have access to legal blogs, can ask a certain number of questions, and can have limited live representation in court. This is good for those that only have occasion needs but want something consistently available where you can still be a priority. Not sure about exact costs, but in this area, you dont always get what you pay for - sometimes younger, more inexperienced lawyers are fresh and eager as well as less expensive and willing to grow with the right business.