Given the complexities of business and daily involvement with the legal system, every business operator should establish a relationship with an attorney. I do not mean that every business owner should have an attorney on retainer, but every business operator should know of an attorney who they can call upon if the need arises and it should be an attorney that they have met, before a crisis develops.
I would suggest that a forward planning business operator make an appointment with an attorney when there is no crisis, and if possible when they first decide to open a business. I then recommend that the owner keep in touch with the attorney, on a periodic basis, to make sure that their business is operating within a proper legal framework, to prevent potential future problems. When meeting with an attorney for the first time, the initial consultation should be at no charge (about thirty minutes), and a potential client should ask all the questions of the attorney to make sure they are satisfied that this is the right attorney for them. Ask for references and you want to be sure to discuss fees. You should find an attorney who charges reasonable fees, but remember, don’t choose your lawyer based upon the lowest fee being offered.
Use your attorney to help you decide how to protect the business, the shareholders and employees from potential liability. If you are not incorporated or operating under some other form of business entity which protects your assets, you need to correct this immediately. Incorporation fees vary somewhere between $800.00 to $1,750.00. Compare the services being offered and what you are receiving for your fee. Our firm runs a special for incorporating, as we hope to be of service to our clients as other needs arise. Other forms of protecting your interest may be more expensive, such as for a limited liability company. You need to discuss your needs with the attorney.
It is important to remember, while your accountant may be an expert when it comes to tax planning and accounting, do not rely on your accountant for legal advice or for protecting your assets by creating your corporation. While they may have your best interest at heart, I can only relay the fact that most corporations formed by an accountant usually do not provide the protection desired, and could subject you to personal liability and loss of many tax benefits. You would not go to a mechanic for a medical problem, so use a lawyer for a legal problem, not an accountant.
If you have not had a meeting with an attorney since opening your business, I urge you do so as soon as possible. If you are seeking a free consultation, be aware your appointment may be scheduled between 7 and 10 days after making your call, as a good qualified attorney usually has a full calendar. Once you meet with the attorney and if you decide to use the attorney, have your arrangement reduced to writing so you are not surprised by a bill, and find out if the attorney charges for simple phone calls.
When meeting with an attorney for the first time, determine their skill level and their areas of practice. A good business attorney should be well versed in general business, business litigation, taxes, estate planning and offer referral resources if you need an attorney outside of the attorney’s expertise. A good business attorney will know their limitations and not try to be an expert in all areas of the law.