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5 Ways A Business Lawyer Helps Grow And Protect Your Business
Business law, or corporate law, is the application of law to the business world. The two are completely intertwined at all times. For that reason, as a business owner you should plan to work closely with a business attorney throughout the life of your company, right from the very start. Here are 5 common ways a business lawyer can help you and your business.
1. A business lawyer will help you create your business.
This is called “choice of entity” and it’s a crucial step every business owner must take. Should you be an LLC? A corporation? If so, what kind? Both provide shelter from creditors to your personal assets, but the two entities are very different from one another. Furthermore, there are four ways to structure limited liability companies in South Carolina, and numerous ways to structure corporations.
An experienced business attorney can advise you on which entity is right for you and can tell you the potential pitfalls that you won’t read about on LegalZoom or other DIY sites.
2. A business lawyer can draft your corporate governance documents.
Corporate governance documents describe, govern and constrain activity of the business owners. They “set the rules” and tell everyone involved how things should go and what should happen when a particular occasion arises. They are unique to each business.
You absolutely should have these documents if your company has two or more owners/shareholders/partners (these terms will be used interchangeably through the rest of this article, though they are technically different). Here are some you might consider having:
Bylaws detail how the business is structured and give information on the board of directors, the responsibilities of the owners and more.
An Operating Agreement details how much each member owns in the company, how profits and losses will be allocated, what each member’s responsibilities are, how the company should be managed and more.
A Buy-Sell Agreement is essentially a “pre-nup” for the company. This document lays out what will happen in the event that one of the owners or shareholders dies, becomes ill, simply stops working, etc.
A Capital Call Agreement spells out what happens when the company needs to raise money and what happens when one of the partners can’t come up with their part. A partner who can’t contribute equally may lose voting rights, give up shares, or forego distributions, for example.
Non disclosure agreements (NDAs) and covenants not to compete are intended to protect your company against a former owner or employee running off with your trade secrets and your best customers, thereby hurting your business.
Question: Can you DIY? Should you?
Google these documents and you’ll find plenty of examples and templates you can download and fill in yourself – but don’t do it! Those documents might have been created in a different state, or before a significant change in the law, and they may not be valid. They were certainly drafted for a different business, for different people with different needs from yours. No two businesses are alike, and no two sets of governance documents should be alike.
Question: When is the best time to get these documents?
The best time to draft these documents is at the birth of your new company, when it’s likely that you’ll come up with documents that are fair to all parties. Imagine three years down the road, when one of your partners can’t come up with the money for a capital call – do you think they will want to sign a capital call agreement penalizing non-payment with a high rate of interest? Probably not. To avoid situations like that, it’s best to do it as early as possible, when all the owners feel goodwill towards each other. However, if you’re years into your business and still don’t have them, get something drafted now. Every single company faces issues that these documents address, so it’s not a matter of if but of when something will happen.
3. A business lawyer advises you on the best course of action and helps protect you from potential problems.
A lawyer is often referred to as “attorney and counselor-at-law.” A lawyer both applies the law and provides counsel on it. During a company’s growth, a business lawyer will be most helpful providing counsel on various issues that pertain to the law in order to deal with problems as they arise or, better yet, prevent them in the first place.
Contracts are the area in which you’ll probably need the most regular help from an attorney. As a business owner, you should have a lawyer familiar with your business draft your contracts and look over contracts given to you before signing. Other issues attorneys can help with may include long-range planning (see #4 on succession planning below), drafting terms & conditions for a website, advising on letters received, and, in the case of an attorney experienced in real estate law like Gem McDowell, rezoning or buying and selling land, to name just a few.
4. A business lawyer helps you with succession planning.
Succession planning allows all partners to come to an agreement about what will happen when one of the partners retires and leaves the company. Succession planning usually happens when one partner starts thinking about retirement.
5. A business lawyer represents you in litigation.
Working with a lawyer in the four situations above should hopefully reduce the likelihood that you’ll ever be involved in a lawsuit – and that’s really the point. Litigation is costly, lengthy and stressful for all parties. By being proactive and working with a business attorney from Day 1, you can sidestep the landmines that could otherwise destroy your business.
Learn more about how a business lawyer can help your business
Contact South Carolina attorney Gem McDowell and his associates at their Charleston office at 843-284-1021 to discuss your company and its legal needs. Whether you’re thinking of starting a new entity or you’ve been running a thriving business for decades, it’s never too late to get legal advice from lawyers with experience in corporate law.