It's easy for small business owners to gloss over hiring a lawyer because other matters, such as marketing and operations, seem more pressing. A lot of legal issues may not be of immediate concern to small business owners who easily justify holding off on paying for these services. However, there are many ways that lawyers can help small businesses.
BUSINESS FORMATION. Some of the most important matters are handled at the beginning of the business. For example, a small business lawyer owner may want to structure his or her business in a way that limits personal liability. Lawyers can help with the process of incorporation so that new business owners are assured that their business starts on strong legal footing.
CORPORATE GOVERNANCE. Even if businesses use a lawyer to help incorporate the business, they may fail to maintain this status. A lawyer can advise clients to have annual shareholder, director, or partner meetings in order to maintain this status. Likewise, certain types of businesses must record minutes and elect officers according to their state’s requirements. Failing to take these steps can have disastrous consequences for the business. If sued, the business stands to have its corporate "veil" pierced and exposes corporate officers to personal liability.
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. Before a business really launches, it must take steps to protect its intellectual property, if applicable. This includes the business name, logo, brand name and other aspects of the business that should be protected by copyright.
Businesses may have other intangible assets that should also be protected, including architectural blueprints, devices, creations and software. Certain business processes may also be eligible for patent protection. Lawyers can assist clients with acquiring the necessary copyright, patent, and trademark registrations that are necessary to protect this important aspect of their business.
NONDISCLOSURE AGREEMENTS. As the business begins to operate, business owners may enter into agreements with other parties. However, business owners will want to ensure that their ideas and trade secrets are protected. Lawyers can help draft nondisclosure agreements so that businesses can expand without having to worry about having their information stolen.
EMPLOYMENT AGREEMENTS. While many businesses start as a single-person operation, many small businesses owners quickly learn that they need some help for their business to thrive. Lawyers can assist their clients by helping to draft employment agreements, including nondisclosure agreements, employment contracts for a specific duration, and non-compete agreements. The last group mentioned often requires very specific catering to detail. Every state has specific rules regarding the duration of a non-compete agreement, the geographical proximity of such a contract, and the scope of the agreement.
SERVICE AGREEMENTS. As the business grows and becomes more successful, it may take in new clientele. To protect the business, a lawyer can draft agreements between the business and the client. By having the terms written upfront, disagreements and misunderstandings can be avoided.
COLLECTIONS. When customers don't pay their bills, small businesses and their cash flow system can become crippled. A lawyer can help in collecting past-due accounts. Even if a client decides that going to small claims court is faster and cheaper, a lawyer can walk the client through this process and provide advice about how to present evidence and support the case.
If you're a small business owner and need legal advice on any of these topics, give us a call at 253.858.5434. We represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.