by William Murphy
While many people never think to hire a lawyer until they have a legal problem, the time to hire your business lawyer is before your business runs into trouble. It is much easier and more cost effective to prevent legal problems than it is to solve them. But if problems do arise, you'll be better off for having an established relationship with a lawyer who is familiar with your business.
A business lawyer can help you even from the planning stage of your business by evaluating the potential liability associated with your particular business. This has implications for what type of business structure you ultimately choose to form. If your business is one that involves a high risk of being sued, you probably want to structure it as a corporation or limited liability company in order to protect your personal, non-business assets.
If you will be going into business with others, a lawyer can help protect your interests. If you'll be in a partnership, your lawyer can let you know what areas of the partnership agreement might be troublesome to you. Anything from salaries to profit and loss distributions to management decisions could lead to disagreements among you and your business partners. If you have an agreement that clearly sets out each person's responsibilities and expectations, you may avoid these conflicts.
Your business lawyer can also make sure you stay in compliance with any laws that are applicable to your business. Without a lawyer, you may not even be aware that a particular law affects your business, until someone complains that you are violating the law. As a business owner, you will need to comply with laws on everything from zoning to business filings to employment practices.
A lawyer is also useful in dealing with customers. If you will enter into standard contracts with customers, your lawyer can draft them to steer you clear of trouble. Your lawyer can also help you with collections. And in the event of a dispute with a customer, having your lawyer involved early on may help you settle the matter quickly.
Your lawyer should also be helpful when it comes to employees. He or she can make sure that your employment application doesn't ask any discriminatory questions and advise you on how to comply with anti-discrimination laws. Your lawyer can also draft any employment agreements that may be necessary, including confidentiality and non-compete agreements. If you provide employees with an employee handbook, your lawyer should look it over to make sure you don't inadvertently create an employment contract.
With the many legal issues that arise in business, it is important to establish a relationship with a business lawyer. He or she can help you address your concerns and keep legal problems from getting out of control.