There are two professionals every business will need early on: an accountant and a attorney. A good business attorney will provide vital assistance in almost every aspect of your business, from basic zoning compliance and copyright and trademark advice to formal business incorporation and lawsuits and liability.
Big Firm Service, Small Firm Feel.
Jason Wischmeyer has been a solo practitioner, attorney in a small law firm and now a senior attorney with a national law firm. As a senior attorney with a large national law firm, Jason has the resources to handle your lawsuits, negotiate your lease of office or retail space, file a patent or trademark, draft a software license agreement, advise you on terminating a disruptive employee, and oversee your corporate annual meeting. You will deal with one attorney that can orchestrate all of your legal matters without the need to deal with deal with two or three (or even more) attorneys.
As part of Gonzalez Saggio and Harlan, all the legal skills you need are “under one roof,” and we have a lot of clout in the local, regional and national legal community. A nasty letter from a “powerhouse” law firm with offices in 16 states is a lot more intimidating than a nasty letter from a solo practitioner who is not admitted to practice in the defendant’s state.
If you have received a lawsuit, you need an attorney yesterday!
Most small businesses put off hiring a attorney until the sheriff is standing at the door serving them with a summons. Bad mistake. The time to hook up with a good business attorney is before you are sued. Once you have been served with a summons and complaint, it’s too late–the problem has already occurred, and it’s just a question of how much you will have to pay (in court costs, attorneys’ fees, settlements and other expenses) to get the problem resolved.
America’s judicial system is a lot like a Roach Motel–it’s easy to get into court, but very difficult to get out once you’ve been “trapped.” Most attorneys agree that while nobody likes to pay attorneys’ fees for anything, but the fee a attorney will charge to keep you out of trouble is only a small fraction of the fee a attorney will charge to get you out of trouble once it’s happened.
Skills for your Business. Like doctors, attorneys are becoming increasingly specialized. Someone who does mostly wills, house closings and other “non-business” matters is probably not a good fit for your business. At the very least, you will need the following sets of skills that Jason Wischmeyer can provide:
1. Contracts. You will need a attorney who can understand your business quickly; prepare the standard form contracts you will need with customers, clients and suppliers; and help you respond to contracts that other people will want you to sign.
2. Business organizations. You will need a attorney who can help you decide whether a corporation or limited liability company (LLC) is the better way to organize your business, and prepare the necessary paperwork.
3. Real estate. Leases of commercial space–such as offices and retail stores–are highly complex and are always drafted to benefit the landlord. Because they tend to be “printed form” documents, you may be tempted to think they are not negotiable. Not so. Your attorney should have a standard “tenant’s addendum,” containing provisions that benefit you, that can be added to the printed form lease document.
4. Taxes and licenses. Although your accountant will prepare and file your business tax returns each year, your attorney should know how to register your business for federal and state tax identification numbers, and understand the tax consequences of the more basic business transactions in which your business will engage.
5. Intellectual property. If you are in a media, design or other creative-type business, it is certainly a “plus” if your attorney can help you register your products and services for federal trademark and copyright protection. Generally, though, these tasks are performed by specialists who do nothing but “intellectual property” legal work. If your attorney says he or she “specializes in small businesses,” then he or she should have a close working relationship with one or more intellectual property specialist.
6. Litigation. The mainstay of your business’ attorney’s skills. You need an attorney that not only can anticipate and avoid issues, but if those issues arise and your business get sued, then you must have an attorney that understands and can represent you in the litigation process. There are numerous aspects a business attorney must know including filing a lawsuit, filing an Answer, discovery, mediation, deposition and trials (both to a Judge and a Jury). When litigation arises, you will work closely with your attorney to get a resolution to your case quickly and efficiently that is in your client’s best interests.
Meet with your attorney regularly.
At first glance, this may not seem like a good way to keep costs down, but you’ll be amazed at how much it reduces the endless rounds of phone tag that plague busy entrepreneurs and attorneys. More important, a monthly five- or 10-minute meeting (even by phone) can save you substantial sums by nipping small legal problems in the bud before they have a chance to grow. A good attorney for your business should be familiar with all aspects of what you do so that he can anticipate issues and assist you in avoiding them before they arise.