Every small business should start with at least three essential outside team members: a small business accountant, an experienced commercial insurance agent and a small business attorney. Just as you should not wait to look for a lawyer until you’ve been sued, 10 months into your new business venture is also not the time to search for an accountant.
Needless to say, after the pipes burst is not the ideal time to start looking for your insurance agent, and no one starts looking for an account the day after their taxes are due, so why wait to look for a business attorney?
Everyone remembers Debby Downer, the Saturday Night Live character who just loves to bear the bad news. As a business litigator, I think we have something in common. Considering all the downsides is just as important as the upsides to the day-to-day operations of your business. There is a lot the small business owner should know and it is much easier (and less expensive) for you to learn from the mistakes of others. Your business attorney, or Debby Downer, probably has lots of stories about things gone wrong. People work with people whom they like and trust and I would like to think we here at Bergmann & Good are a bit more fun to be around than Debby. Take your business lawyer’s advice and listen to the war stories. Don’t be at the center of the next piece of avoidable litigation.
Take the time to interview an accountant, a lawyer and a commercial agent before you take the deep dive into the world of small business. Civil litigation is not something any new business can afford and not being properly insured can put you out of business quickly. What I hear most often from established small business owners is: “I’ve been in business for 20 years and never been sued.” That’s fantastic, but what if you were sued? Court imposed response timelines are tight and scrambling for counsel, even against frivolous claims is very time-consuming. Would you feel better working with something who knows not only you, but the internal workings of your business rather than your Uncle’s neighbor, Jan, a divorce attorney?
The best use of a your small business attorney is as a partner to guide and protect you in all aspects of opening, running and even selling a business–before you’re faced with legal issues. Pre-litigation counseling is a much better use of your resources, rather than hoping you never need to hire an attorney.
Some areas a business attorney can guide you through include:
- Contract and/or lease negotiation and review;
- Developing employee, office and business policies for recruitment, hiring, discipline and termination;
- Creating non-compete and confidentiality agreements;
- Business succession planning;
- Creating and protecting intellectual property;
- Regulatory compliance;
- Banking and finance law;
- And, of course, litigation.
Small business owners dread the idea of dealing with lawyers because they assume the business cannot afford it. Lawyers are expensive. For this reason many business owners simply avoid investing in legal counsel until there is simply no choice. There are better ways to address this very basic business need. Simply incorporate an attorney as part of your ongoing business expenses. Budget for the unexpected litigation, and when it never happens, your end-of-year bottom line will be better than expected. Once you develop a relationship with a business attorney, there are many things than can be resolved via a fixed fee, which of course, allows the small business owner certainty and the ability to budget for necessary work. By having an ongoing relationship with your very own Debby Downer, including basic litigation avoidance counseling, you just may avoid the problem altogether.