By Daryle A. Jordan, Esq.
The phrase “lawyer up” is often associated with an accused in a criminal proceeding. If you run a business, however, you will inevitably need to “lawyer up” or seek the services of a competent and trusted attorney. In addition to other vital representation, you will need an attorney to assist you in negotiating an important contract, advise you regarding protection of valuable intellectual property or a difficult employee, or represent your company in a difficult lawsuit. Lawyers are an essential professional resource to your business team. They ensure that you are conducting your business in accordance with Federal, state and local legal formalities, and minimize the legal risks associated with operating your business enterprise. At a recent business symposium, the keynote speaker put it this way—to be successful and grow your business you “must” have a lawyer on your team.
If you are trying to build your business without the help of professionals such as lawyers and accountants, you are not alone. It is not uncommon for a small business owner to save money by taking on the roles of accountant, marketing manager, and even attorney. Large businesses generally have in-house lawyers (lawyers employed by the company) and retained lawyers (outside law firms) to assist them with important legal matters. On the occasion that a small business owner hires a lawyer or law firm, he/she typically relies on that lawyer to advise him/her regarding routine legal matters as would an in-house lawyer, as well as represent his/her company in lawsuits as would a retained (or outside) law firm.
Taking on legal matters without the assistance of a competent and trusted lawyer could expose your business to undue risk and even financial ruin. This is true even if the legal matter appears to be routine. This is because a legal matter that is relatively routine at its origin may worsen exponentially in complexity and cost if not addressed early. The fee an attorney will charge you to keep your company out of trouble is but a fraction of the fees and expenses you will pay an attorney to get your business out of trouble. Worse, acting as your own attorney could place your and your family’s personal assets at risk. Thus, developing a relationship with a knowledgeable and skilled lawyer is a “must” to achieve your business goals and objectives.
As a small business you should seek an attorney or small law firm that can address the majority of your business legal needs without having to engage the services of multiple law firms or lawyers. For example, if your firm originates or develops ideas or products that require copyright, trademark or patent, you should select a firm that has experience and expertise in handling intellectual property matters. If your company is in the construction industry, you should engage the services of a lawyer or law firm that has experience in this industry.
Following are a few examples of situations in which an attorney may be able to help you and your small business:
• If your company derives its revenue from providing commercial products and services to a broad range of customers with which you have to negotiate numerous contracts to other companies, you will need an attorney to assist you in contract negotiations, draft contracts and/or review contracts originating with other companies. You can be assured, that if you negotiate a contract with a large company, the large firm will have a team of in-house lawyers to review the contract before it is executed and one or more retained law firms to advise it if a dispute arises during contract performance.
• If your company primarily derives its revenue from providing products and services to federal, state or local governments, you will need to attract larger and more complex contracts in order for the business to grow. Larger and more complex contracts inevitably attract more competition. In the federal marketplace in particular, to win such a contract, you may find it necessary to file a bid protest if your company received unfair treatment or otherwise the government’s award of the contract was not in accordance with federal law and policy. Similarly, if you win a contract award, you may find it necessary to engage the services of an attorney to intervene in a bid protest filed by one or more unsuccessful competitors aiming to force the government to revoke contract award to your firm and make an award to their company.
• If you are attempting to grow your company by purchasing or merging with another company, you will almost certainly need the advice and representation of an experienced attorney to ensure that you get what you pay for. On the other hand, if you are trying to sell your company to a larger business, and perhaps on the verge of a financial windfall including generational wealth and financial security for you and your family, you will also need an experienced attorney to assist you in assessing and addressing important details of the transaction, including tax implications and/or environmental concerns that could turn a profitable transaction into a disaster.
• In addition, it might not be important today, but in the future you may find yourself being sued or needing to sue another party for breach of contract, or in the case of a federal government contract, facing suspension and/or debarment from participating in a government contract or any government program due to perceived misconduct.
• As a participant or candidate for participation in the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) 8(a) Program, the SBA HUBZone or Women Owned Business Program, the Verified Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program, the Minority Supplier Development Council, or other small business programs, you may need advice regarding the subtleties of certification or administration of these and other small business programs
• If you need assistance preparing or reviewing your company’s employment handbook, if you need advice regarding employee discipline, or if you are being sued for wrongful termination or discrimination, you will need the advice and representation of counsel.
• You also need the advice of counsel for establishing the business entity most appropriate for your needs and objectives, drafting/reviewing contracts and nondisclosure agreements and much more.
While some tasks can be handled without the help of an attorney there are many situations, which require the knowledge of someone trained to handle often times perplexing legal issues.
Your primary consideration in hiring a law firm should be to hire a firm that will provide creative solutions to help you and your company meet your business goals and objectives. The lawyer or law firm you choose should possess the relevant diversity and depth of experience to assist you and your firm, to not only meet, but exceed your goals and objectives. Your legal team should render you and your company efficient, professional and high quality legal services.