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How a Lawyer Can Help Your Business

For many small business owners, using a lawyer is like calling a firefighter or plumber. You only call one when there's a problem. This type of thinking doesn't accurately reflect the business needs of a small business. A small business lawyer can help preempt many legal matters rather than just reacting when you need legal help.

It's easy for a new business to focus on marketing, sales, staffing, and getting the business off the ground. But thoughtful business planning also includes preventing legal issues and protecting the business against potential trouble by working with a business attorney early in the process.

Common Concerns Before Hiring a Business Lawyer

Let's address some of the most common concerns business owners have when starting their search for a lawyer.

Cost of a Business Lawyer

There are some things, like writing a business plan and securing a website name, that a startup or business can handle on its own. But sometimes, a business lawyer is needed. Getting legal help is a cost of doing business that often saves money and helps your business with legal issues in the long run.

The fee structure and legal costs for your legal counsel are important to know. Good lawyers aren't cheap—but then again, neither is any other consultant critical to your business. A brief consultation with a lawyer can often determine a business's legal needs. The investment of a lawyer's time, like a fire code inspection or medical checkup, can help prevent major problems down the road.

Many business lawyers work on a retainer. This means they request a deposit from you and have a fee for using their services. Others use the hourly rate method, billing you for the time they spend on your matter. A trend for many business lawyers is flat fees, or a one-time fee, for some issues like creating a business plan or business entity formation.

Connecting With Your Lawyer

The client relationship with your legal counsel is worth more than any fee they may charge. Make sure you choose wisely. Ask the right questions during your consultation to get to know them. Pick someone you enjoy talking to but who also shares the same values as your company.

Difference Between a Small Business Attorney and an Employment Attorney

A general small business attorney focuses on a broad civil litigation practice. This means they can handle a variety of issues that pop up, from hiring employees, forming or dissolving the company, and filing or defending lawsuits.

An employment attorney focuses on your business's employee and employer relationship. Some will only represent employees, others just employers, and some will represent both. Knowing what "side" that lawyer or firm is on is important before you schedule a consultation.

Areas Where a Small Business Attorney Can Help You

Knowing when you need a business lawyer is easier to figure out than it may seem. There are a few common areas where legal problems can be preempted or fixed by a business attorney.

Corporate Governance

Most corporations will use an attorney to help with their business structure and the startup's business formation. Other businesses sometimes neglect the ongoing legal requirements to maintain their corporation status. Annual shareholder, director, and partner meetings need to be held. Recording minutes and electing officers must conform with state requirements. A business law attorney can help with this.

Failure to comply with corporate law in your state could jeopardize your corporate status. This allows injured people or other business entities to pierce the corporate veil in a lawsuit or other legal action. The corporate members no longer have the liability protection of the small business and are then liable personally.

Intellectual Property

Trademark, copyright, and patent registrations can help a business protect what gives it a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Your startup's logo, sound recordings, processes, and new products could use a business lawyer to provide you with legal advice for intellectual property protection.

Many intangible business assets should be legally protected. These assets include artistic works, like the small business's corporate branding, and distinctive goods and services. These assets are intellectual property. Intellectual property takes four forms: trademark, copyright, patents, and trade secrets.

Worker Agreements

Many companies count the knowledge of their employees and independent contractors as some of their most important assets. Yet, they fail to protect those assets. This is easy to do through non-disclosure agreements (NDA) and non-compete agreements with their employees. Some employees will leave the company eventually. It's important to protect your business against them taking trade secrets over to the competition.

The right lawyer can draft your small business NDA for your employees and independent contractors. This will keep your business trade secrets, vendor lists, and processes within your company. Look for a lawyer with experience in employment law.

With agreements also come disagreements. This can manifest as unfair termination and employer discrimination claims based on age, sex, race, and other protected classes. An experienced business law attorney will navigate your issues with you.

Exit Strategies

Entrepreneurs sometimes are so focused on starting a new business that they need to consider what happens if one of the principals leaves the business. A partner or major shareholder suddenly exiting could threaten the ability of the business to continue operating.

Partnerships should have a business attorney draft a partnership agreement before the startup that addresses what happens in the event of closure or dissolution. Closely held corporations need to have a carefully structured buy-sell agreement. The agreement should ensure that partners or major shareholders can sell their interest or enter into a merger without legal entanglements or placing an undue financial burden on the company.

Find the Right Business Attorney Near You

As you have just learned, business ventures involve quite a few legal maneuvers and know-how. While entrepreneurs must wear several hats to achieve success, sometimes it's best to leave the complicated matters to lawyers focusing on employment law and corporate law.

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