If you are thinking about hiring a lawyer to help with your business, you may be wondering why you should work with us, your Family Business Lawyer™ rather than a “traditional” business lawyer. What makes us so different from other lawyers?
The best way to explain how Family Business Lawyer™ firms are different requires an explanation of what it’s like to work with most business lawyers. If you’ve already worked with another lawyer to set up your business entity or prepare your entity incorporation documents, this experience will probably sound familiar.
The Traditional Business Lawyer Experience
During your first meeting with a traditional business lawyer, you’ll listen to the lawyer explain their services and things may sound complicated and confusing. But as a lawyer, you’ll assume the individual must be smart and knows what he or she is doing, so you’ll nod and answer questions, as if you understand everything.
And because you want to do the right thing for your business, you’ll have the lawyer prepare incorporation documents for you, and you’ll sign those documents, feeling relieved that you’ve finally gotten that taken care of. The lawyer may even give you a corporate records binder to store your important documents in.
From there, you’ll take your fancy business binder home, stick it on a shelf or in a drawer, and then cross “incorporate my business” off on your to-do list, and never look at it or think about it again… until something goes wrong, that is.
But Then What?
You might remember your lawyer saying something about the importance of having legal agreements with your clients, vendors, and partners. But since the matter never evolved beyond mere conversation, you realize your agreements are still incomplete.
You may have even reached out to your lawyer for help. But when you call your lawyer’s office, you almost always get their voicemail, so you leave a message and wait for a call back, which takes several hours at least—and sometimes even days. But by that time, you’ve gotten busy with a bunch of other things, so you never get around to finishing your agreements.
And the same thing happens with all of the other legal and financial issues you thought about getting handled, but never found the time to do, including applying for trademarks and copyrights, purchasing insurance, and maybe even implementing financial systems and tax-saving strategies.
And when you actually do get your lawyer on the phone to ask them questions, a couple of weeks later, you get a bill in the mail for $67.50 for 15 minutes of your lawyer’s time. After getting billed just for asking a few questions, you make a mental note: “Don’t call lawyer ever again unless absolutely necessary.”
After that incident, years go by without you talking to your lawyer. Your business will keep chugging along, and although you know these things are hanging out there incomplete, you are way too busy to worry about it.
Leaving these issues unhandled may even affect your creativity, but you don’t want to call your lawyer, since you know you’ll get a bill in the mail a couple weeks later. Plus, your lawyer doesn’t seem very eager to move things forward, and you are simply too busy to deal with anything that doesn’t contribute to your company’s bottom line.
More time goes by, and then you hear something in the news about a change in the tax laws, but you figure your lawyer would surely contact you if it was something that affected you, so you don’t worry about it. Not to mention, you’d have to dig through several boxes to find your incorporation documents and locate your lawyer’s contact information, and who has time for that?
Then Something Goes Wrong
It’s only when something goes wrong (an employee lawsuit, a client demanding a refund, a vendor dispute, an IRS audit, or you need to borrow money) that you realize with a sinking feeling that not only are your legal agreements incomplete, but your lawyer never customized your operating agreement or bylaws. And you haven’t been holding annual meetings or documenting your meeting minutes, either.
You are at a total loss. You clearly see that you’ve wasted time by not having this all taken care of, and on top of everything else, you are an emotional wreck. And what you may not realize is that you’ve been losing money all along, or at the very least, you haven’t been generating anywhere close to the profits your business is capable of earning.
Don’t Learn This Lesson The Hard Way
Far too many business owners learn the hard way that having your company’s legal affairs properly handled is every bit as high a priority as having the right marketing plan or business model in place. This is one of the little-known secrets of the most successful companies—they were set up right from the start.
It’s no secret that the IRS audits unincorporated sole proprietors five- to seven-times more often than incorporated business entities. The reason? The IRS knows that if you don’t have your business set up right, you probably aren’t doing your taxes right, either.
Without a lawyer who is always there to offer you expert advice, you are most likely not hiring and firing right, you likely don’t have enough—or too much—insurance, and your business is probably not structured with the right entity. All of this leads to your company being built on a house of cards, just one accident, audit, or lawsuit away from ruin.
How Do I Know All This?
Not too long ago, my own business was set up this way as well, even though I’m a lawyer myself. But when I saw how much my business took off and thrived once I took care of its foundation, I swore I would never let this happen to any of my clients. And since then, I have worked with countless clients, who have all had this same experience.
Unfortunately, most people who hold themselves out as business lawyers, do nothing more for their clients than incorporate their entity or file their trademark and send them on their way. Yet, if that’s all your lawyer is going to do, you could get your business incorporated for a lot less money by using a do-it-yourself (DIY) online legal document service like LegalZoom or Rocket Lawyer.
Your business lawyer should be your trusted counselor, not just a document preparer. As your Family Business Lawyer™ we focus on counseling, consulting, and “consigliere-ing” over creating documents—document creation simply becomes a useful byproduct of our professional relationship. And yet, if you prefer to DIY, we can even help you do that the right way, with a foundation of education beneath you that ensures your DIY plan will work when you need it.
What makes our firm different is that we were built with the needs of growing businesses in mind. Just because you can’t afford your own in-house legal counsel like Fortune 500 companies have on retainer, doesn’t mean you don’t need—or deserve—such counsel.
We Are That Counsel
We understand you are busy, you are growing, you are planning for prosperity, and you value ease, convenience, and efficiency. You want to know you’ve made the best decisions for your company, and all of the tedious parts of running a business—crunching numbers, negotiating contracts, dealing with insurance, and managing taxes—are properly handled, so you can focus your energy and passion on growing your business to the fullest extent possible.
That’s our focus as well. We’ve developed unique business systems for our clients that were previously available only to the likes of Google, Facebook, and Zappos. With us in your corner, you will have the guidance and support you need to build a business of true meaning and significance—as well as serious profitability.
Next week in part two of this series, we will detail all of the different ways us, your Family Business Lawyer™ will support, guide, and serve your business and how those services differ from other business lawyers. Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about our programs or schedule a visit to consult with us about your business, contact us, your local Family Business Lawyer™ today.
his article is a service of Liz Smith, Family Business Lawyer™. We offer a complete spectrum of legal services for businesses and can help you make the wisest choices on how to deal with your business throughout life and in the event of your death. We also offer a LIFT Start-Up Session™ or a LIFT Audit for an ongoing business, which includes a review of all the legal, financial, and tax systems you need for your business. Call us today to schedule your appointment at 907-312-5436, or find a time for us to call you.