Below is a reprint of an article that I wrote for the Albany County Chamber of Commerce "Visions" Magazine.
I think that it provides a very good insight into the role that an attorney can play in your business.
Please contact me if you would like a consultation about any legal issues regarding your business.
WHY DOES MY SMALL BUSINESS NEED A LAWYER?
The adage, “a good attorney is not measured by the trouble he or she can get you out of, but by the trouble he or she can keep you from getting into” is especially true with respect to the day to day operations of your business. Simply stated, the best attorneys prevent problems, help you make key decisions about the legal structure of your business, and help you make strategic moves and deals that are crucial for your success. In New York State businesses face mounting challenges that touch on all aspects of the law, from governmental regulations, taxes, contracts, employment issues, debt collection and litigation. The time to begin a relationship with a business attorney is not when one of these issues has presented itself, but in advance so that you have a trusted advisor to turn to when needed.
WHEN SHOULD YOU HIRE A LAWYER?
If you are reading this article, you are likely a business owner or are looking to start a business. If you own an existing business and do not already have a relationship with a lawyer, now is the time to start solidifying a relationship so that there is someone to turn to if and when the need arises. If you are looking to start a business, retaining a business lawyer is a smart move to ensure that you select the proper corporate structure for your business, have the right forms in place and to ensure that your business is in compliance with the many rules and regulations imposed on businesses by the State of New York.
HOW SHOULD YOU SELECT A LAWYER?
While there is no hard a fast rule on selection of an attorney, the best and most time-tested approach is to ask for referrals from other business owners whose opinion you respect.
The first and most important step to take in choosing an attorney to represent your business is to “interview” several local business attorneys to see which attorney best suits your needs and is most compatible with your personality and goals. The bottom line is: you want to be comfortable with your attorney.
You should approach this process with the anticipation that your relationship with your attorney will expand into one of the three most important professional relationships that you will have as a business owner. The three most important professionals hired by you to advise you in making business and strategic decisions are your attorney, your accountant and your insurance agent. Each person in this trifecta should complement the other two in terms of skill sets and be able to work with and communicate with each other in realizing your goals.
In my opinion, an attorney who has the confidence to advise you that, for example, he or she is unsure of the tax aspects of a particular transaction and because of his or her relationship with your accountant can simply state “let’s call up Susan and see what she thinks about how this contract will affect your tax liability for next year” is far more valuable than an attorney who either does not know the answer and advises you that the attorney will have to perform research to located the answer, or is afraid to appear to the client to not know the answer. To know when to advise the client to seek the advice of another professional in implementing a business goal is a value that a good attorney brings to the table.
In addition, good legal advice goes beyond preparing forms and contracts. A good attorney has the training and real world experience to help you see the broader picture. A good attorney can provide you with entirely new concepts, ideas, contacts and specialists to help you grow your business.
You should look for characteristics in an attorney that make them a good negotiator or business savvy deal maker who will help you achieve your goals. No client wants an attorney who is only focused on the downsides and risk as this will only stagnate your business. The worst lawyer is one who says, “You can’t do that.” The discussion your attorney should have with you is more along the lines of “You shouldn’t go about Y because of X, instead you should do Z and here is why”. Of course there is always legal risk and at some point your attorney should advise you of the risks vs. benefits and then allow you to make a business decision.
Most importantly, a good attorney will be willing to meet you at your business. A good attorney will want to go on a tour of your facility and understand your operations, your product, your customers and your suppliers. This tour should enable the attorney to ask questions regarding your business and help them have a working knowledge of what it is you do and how you do it. This visit will also assist the attorney in identifying potential risks. After this meeting, whenever you will need legal advice, you will have a business lawyer that is familiar with your operations, key employees and business objectives. The inside knowledge of your business obtained beforehand will enable the attorney to offer you the right advice rather than try and scramble around to identify issues after a problem arises.
WHAT IS THIS ALL GOING TO COST?
In the Capital District, attorney fees will vary depending on the business, size and geographic location, the experience of the attorney, the details of their service, and your financial situation. Some attorneys may be willing to do the first consultation for no charge, but expect to pay as much as $200 to $300 per billable hour after the initial consultation. Some matters may be worked out on a “flat” or onetime fee basis, while for larger businesses a law firm may be willing to enter into a yearly retainer arrangement to handle all of the legal needs of a business for one flat fee. Don’t be afraid to ask if a different fee structure could be used or to ask if the attorney offers alternate payment arrangements, many do.
In the end, however big or small a business you run having a business lawyer will ultimately end up saving you time, effort, money and stress. A good lawyer will be able to represent your company in all legal matters as well as having contacts to provide you with other professionals. Having a good business lawyer in your back pocket will go on to generate confidence in you and lessen your chances of having to go to court to face any litigation. In case of ever having to litigate an issue, you will be in a position to best generate a positive outcome for your business.
Jonathan Schopf is an attorney located in Albany, New York and is a graduate of Albany Law School. A respected attorney in the local area, he is the Past-President of the Rensselaer County Bar Association. His primary practice involves advising municipal, institutional, business clients and technology companies in tax certiorari litigation. He also advises business clients in developing successful strategies for risk management and liability protection as-well-as in day-to-day transactional matters including real estate and corporate management. Mr. Schopf represents such clients at trial in both state and federal courts as both plaintiff and defendant in litigation involving tax certiorari, insurance coverage, commercial transactions, and general commercial litigation.
A frequent lecturer on legal issues related to animals, he maintains a niche practice in the field of animal law. In this unique boutique practice area, Mr. Schopf advises clients who operate animal related businesses such as farms, kennels, veterinary, animal service and not-for-profits as to legal issues which are unique to their business.
He is admitted to practice in all courts in the State of New York, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and the Supreme Court of the United States. He has litigated numerous cases to verdict in courts throughout New York.
Attorney in Clifton Park Center, New York. Conveniently located off Exit 9 of the Northway. Friendly and approachable.