A business owner commonly has an accountant, however if asked if they have a business lawyer, many do not have one acting as “general counsel” for their business. There are several reasons that a business owner may not have a “go to” lawyer. For instance, maybe they think they can figure it out themselves, or are fearful of the costs associated with attorneys or believe that a business lawyer will just add a layer or complication to business’ dealings.
Let us discuss why these reasons are mistaken. Hiring a business attorney’s part is to safeguard the business owners’ goals and to keep the business on track. A business lawyer is a key member of the corporate team, and the lawyer knows that working closely with owner(s) and other key members (accountant) will keep the business in compliance and its transactions sound. In fact rather than delay a lawyer’s engagement, good business practice is to have a business lawyer legally audit your business annually. In this audit the attorney will review all of your contracts, corporate structure, intellectual property and human resources to make sure these components are protecting and advancing the business’ interests. Being proactive as such will save you big money in the long run. Avoiding a lawsuit is much more efficient than having to be part of one.
Business owners are often hesitant to hire attorneys because in their mind an attorney and his/her services are not necessary to the daily operations of the business. A common example is when a business owner is obtaining financing from a bank. The bank’s attorneys will draft loan documents in the bank’s best interest; not necessarily in the business owner’s interest. A business owner may feel that the financing will not be offered any other way except in the contract offered by the bank. This is not true. We have reviewed many financing contracts and these contracts are not a “take it or leave it” business offer.
Other times when a business lawyer is a key player include drafting non-compete agreements, drafting employee handbooks, other internal business policies, drafting employment contracts, preparing articles of incorporation and bylaws, managing litigation, trade secret management, trademarks and patent management, selling the business, merging with another business, buying another business, licensing and regulatory compliance and franchise issues.
Sometimes businesspeople are just plain fearful because they do not want to fall into the wrong hands and do not know where to look for a business lawyer suitable to them. To this I say, pick up the phone an make a call. In a telephone call or face-to-face meeting, you are able to describe your business goals, issue-at-the-moment or other business needs and get a sense if the lawyer to the conversation gets it. If they seem hesitant or unexperienced with such business matters, find one who makes you feel comfortable. Afterall, you would not hire any other employee without the same.
What kind of experience should your lawyer have? A small- to mid-size business is best suited with “general counsel” whom experience includes employment law, corporate law, contract law and bankruptcy law. Choosing one lawyer to develop a relationship with and make “general counsel” is more efficient because your lawyer will not have to spend lengthy amounts of time becoming acquainted with your company each time, he/she needs to provide an opinion or when providing his/her legal services.