The first question for many people is do I even have a business? Some people have a business and they do not realize it. Obviously, if you have a storefront on Broadway, you are business owner. But, you also have a business if you are renting a property or consistently doing odd jobs for people for money. If you have a business, having a good relationship with an attorney can be very beneficial. A good business attorney will provide vital assistance in almost every aspect of your business including: business startup, handling copyright and trademark issues, contract drafting and review, zoning compliance, collections and lawsuit defense. Hearing that from an attorney would make me very skeptical as a business owner and I do not blame you. So, let me explain more specifically some of the advantages.
The old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure holds very true with regard to businesses. Over the course of operating a business, there are many legal decisions to make. The first decision business owners face is how to set up their business. The law gives businesses a few choices and each choice has its benefits and detriments. Your business can take the form of a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability partnership, limited liability company or corporation. Certain business forms provide the owner with personal liability protection and tax advantages provided you follow some basic rules. Having a good working relationship with your attorney will ensure that your business is initially setup properly and that you continue to do what is necessary under the law to keep the liability protection and tax advantages provided by your business form.
If a business puts off hiring a lawyer until they are ready to sue someone or the sheriff is standing at the door serving them with a summons, it is often too late to take advantage of certain business planning techniques. The time to establish a relationship with a good business lawyer is before the need for a lawyer arises. Once you have a large dispute, the problem has already occurred, and it’s just a question of how much you will have to pay (in court costs, attorneys’ fees, settlements and other expenses) to get the problem resolved.
A lawyer who understands your business can also help you prepare the standard contracts you will need with employees, customers, clients, and suppliers; and help you respond to contracts that other people will want you to sign. An attorney can provide you with a lease for your tenants to sign that is tailored to your needs and the specific property that you are renting. Many times, small business owners sign lengthy contracts agreeing to have disputes settled by the laws of other states without even realizing it. When a problem occurs, the courts treat business owners as sophisticated bargainers and the excuse that I did not know what I was signing rarely, if ever, works.
A good working relationship with an attorney is like having an insurance policy that the business owner can rely on. The fees incurred by regularly consulting with a competent business attorney are going to be far less than the fees required to settle a dispute that could have been avoided by preventative planning. Having a lasting relationship with a reputable, stable law firm will give business owners peace of mind and allow them to do what they do best: run their business.
Michael A. Rieman
Marchal & Marchal, Ltd.