Many small business owners opened their business because they had knowledge, skill or perhaps just a keen interest in something and wanted to work for themselves. However, often they quickly learn that there is much more required for running a business than just the knowledge, skill or interest that prompted them to open the business in the first place. How quickly small business owners learn to deal with the legal and business management aspects of running a business can determine whether the business succeeds or fails.
If you look at any successful business, you find that they all have on thing in common. The thing they all have in common is that, very early on in their existence, they formed a close relationship with four people: An accountant, a lawyer, a banker and an insurance agent. The reason for that is because it is a problem in one of those four areas that can kill a business just as easily and as often as not making enough money. That’s why large corporations have in-house legal counsel and accounting departments. That’s also why many large corporations self-insure themselves. Small businesses obviously can’t afford to do that, but they can use private attorneys, accountants, insurance agents and banks. And by saying ‘successful business’, you’ll find that this is just as true if the business stayed small or chose to grow. Whether they get that help or choose to try to do it all themselves is often the difference between the business succeeding or failing.
Attorneys help small businesses in the same way that legal departments are used in larger corporations; both help keep the business out of legal trouble. Here are just some of the legal services used by small businesses, in no particular order:
- Selection and maintenance of a business entity (corporation, partnership, LLC, etc.) as well as helping to draft a business plan, bylaws and operating agreement.
- Contract drafting or review, including non-compete agreements, vendor contracts, leases, purchase agreements, separation agreements or other types of contracts. It is much cheaper to draft a contract properly to begin with than it is to litigate a poorly drafted contract.
- Filing, foreclosing and collecting mechanic’s liens and other construction law issues.
- Commercial or business litigation, whether the business is a plaintiff or a defendant in the lawsuit. This can include breach of contract litigation, suing (or defending a lawsuit) for money owed, business torts (such as interference with contract or business expectation), and obtaining restraining orders preventing further breaches of a contract, enforcing a non-compete agreement or for other reasons.
- Representing business clients in alternative dispute resolution proceedings such as mediation or arbitration.
- Representation before public entities such as zoning boards or city councils.
- Drafting and reviewing employee handbooks for legal compliance and establishing effective employment policies.
- Representation in various state and federal agencies such as the EPA, state licensing boards, unemployment claims, EEOC, Department of Labor or other entities.
- Providing cost-effective employment law training to managers, supervisors, HR staff and owners in such areas as sexual harassment, hiring, firing, discrimination, and numerous employment laws.
- Providing updates regarding changes in the law that affect the business which the business might otherwise not know.
- Insurance coverage disputes.
- Wage and hour compliance issues under the FLSA and state wage payment laws, including ensuring the correct classification as exempt or nonexempt (sometimes called hourly or salaried) status of employees, as well as contractors.
- Issues unique to not-for-profit corporations.
It usually costs a lot less to prevent a legal problem than it does to fix one after it occurs, and some services can even be handled for flat fees. Just like large corporations consult with their legal departments to prevent or avoid legal problems, so should small businesses with their private attorneys. The key to prevention is not waiting until the crisis occurs. Contacting an attorney for a free initial consultation is essential to discuss what your business might need is far better than waiting until a problem arises.
Attorney’s first goal is to make sure that your business is protected in order to prevent costly litigation from occurring. If litigation can’t be reasonably avoided, then litigation is pursued aggressively to get the best possible outcome.