By Kate Mesic
Hiring a lawyer can be like pulling a tooth—the damage may be done before you do it.
Waiting to hire a lawyer until you absolutely need one could cost you more time, money and hardship than if you had hired them sooner.
From costly lawsuits to excessive tax bills to acrimonious severance agreements, business is fraught with peril. If you put a lawyer on speed dial from the inception of your business and use them as a general counsel, they can protect you and your company as your business grows.
Whether you are choosing an organizational structure, negotiating a lease or buying a company, the more your attorney knows about your business the better they can help you make a smart decision based on what you have rather than what you want to happen. They can also connect you to experts who can assist, like attorneys who specialize in employee discrimination lawsuits should the need for one arise.
You need not invest a small fortune when hiring a general counsel either. Advances in technology allow attorneys to exchange more information with clients over the Internet, thereby saving them time and you money. You may also be able to negotiate a monthly fee that includes fixed services throughout the year.
Here are some examples of how a general counsel who applies a holistic approach to your business can assist.
Starting a business
The whole point of starting correctly and choosing the right entity, such as a limited liability company or a corporation, when forming your business is to avoid personal liability. Entities like partnerships carry personal liabilities.
You could prepare and file the documents you need to start a company yourself online, but an attorney could help you determine the best organizational structure and direct you on how to properly maintain the required corporate records. They could also ensure that your paperwork is prepared in accordance with Florida law, which is not the case with documents you may obtain from websites.
In the case where you are starting a business with a partner or have an investor, an attorney will help you and your business partner(s) to document the money that each party is investing and to stipulate how the company will operate. They could, for example, help you establish who will manage the company and how powers will be divided in an operating or shareholders’ agreement. Having helped you form your Limited Liability partnership, LLC, corporation or other entity based on your personal and professional goals, your attorney could then advise you how to proceed if something goes wrong, as it often does.
A general counsel could also help you draw up contracts for your clients. If a customer signed a credit application but refused to pay, it would be easier to collect if an attorney had stipulated the provisions for doing so when drafting the document.
A general counsel helps you respond more quickly when a crisis arises because they are already familiar with your company. You can get immediate advice—without having to search for a lawyer and bring them up to speed.
If an employee is injured in an accident while in a company car, your general counsel could advise you how to protect the business from a possible lawsuit. They could educate you on your options and help you choose which action to take based on their understanding of your business, as well as the law.
Similarly, if you were to have a problem with a contract the reaction time would be considerably quicker than if you were to lawyer shop at that particular moment, if your general counsel has previously reviewed it and knows its purpose. They could revise the contract so that it fits into your existing processes and works.
In a worst-case scenario, if you’re being sued for breach of contract, wrongful termination or other reason, an attorney must answer the complaint on behalf of your company. A general counsel who knows your company well could help you fight the lawsuit or negotiate a settlement, which could be more cost effective. Conversely, they may be able to help you negotiate a settlement and enforce it if you are the plaintiff, rather than needlessly draining your company’s coffers if you are unlikely to ever collect the entire sum that you are seeking.
Hiring an attorney is one thing. Hiring an attorney that you can trust to make your business run smoothly—even during trying times—is something entirely different. Investing in a positive, long-term relationship with an attorney can save you a few headaches and prevent you from losing money in the future.