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5 Reasons a Small Business Owner Should Talk to a Lawyer

A small business owner needs a lawyer like  . . .  a fish needs a bicycle? I know that’s what a lot of business owners think. When told they should get legal advice, they react with disgust, horror, panic, fear, or some combination of those emotions.  And for good reason.  Going to a lawyer’s office can be intimidating.  Getting a lawyer to pay attention and give practical advice can be daunting.  And thinking about  all the money it might cost is completely overwhelming.  So lots of people try to get around this.  They ask a friend or relative for advice.  They try to do it themselves (maybe with some online help).  Or — by far the most popular — they ignore the problem and hope it goes away.

I understand. In my career, I have hired and supervised dozens of attorneys on hundreds of matters.  I was often frustrated with the level of service they provided.  I was ALWAYS frustrated with the cost.   But if you are starting up a business, or running a business with employee, contracts or other legal needs (which, let’s face it, is pretty much EVERY business), there are at least 5 good reasons you should bite the bullet and get professional legal help.  Why?  Because: Read more

I gave another talk last Friday at SCORE OC’s Women in Business Breakfast, to a packed room of enthusiastic, energized women business owners.  The talk was titled Internet Law and You:  How to Protect Your Business and Your Brand While Marketing Online.  Lots of great interaction and questions from the audience, and a pretty tasty breakfast as well!  You can download the slides here, and there are links to download a couple of white papers I recently wrote about protecting your brand.  Thanks to everyone who came to the talk!

Check out My New “Answer Desk” Post on the SCORE OC Blog!

I’ve posted the first of several comments on a new regular feature of the SCORE Orange County blog site, www.scoreoc.org, called the Answer Desk, where we’re going to ask SCORE counselors with expertise in issues facing small business to provide tips and answer questions from our readers.  While I cannot give specific legal advice in the column, I will do my best to provide general information and answers to legal questions from small business owners as they come up.  You can also get answers to your small business sales, marketing, accounting, employee, and finance questions on the SCORE OC blog.  Check it out!

Independent Contractor or Employee — How do you tell the difference?

I recently had a client ask me whether he could avoid all the hassle of payroll taxes, withholding, unemployment insurance, workers’ comp, minimum wage, overtime, etc. — just by issuing 1099’s to all his staff and treating them as independent contractors.  The short answer?  No.  I mean, think about it.  If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it.

And in fact, many employers are doing this.  But they are also taking on a lot of risk.  Because if the government finds out — let’s say, because you try to fire the “contractor” and he seeks unemployment benefits through EDD, or he decides he really wants some overtime and files a complaint with the Department of Labor — you can be liable for very large penalties, plus interest on all the payments owed.  As anyone who has been through an employee audit will tell you — It’s generally not worth the risk.

So, how do you know whether a worker can legitimately be classified as a contractor vs. an employee?   Read more

Five Reasons Small Business Owners Should Not Rely on Online Contract Forms

We live in a Do-It-Yourself society, especially now that the secrets of the universe can be unveiled with a simple google search. If you can learn how to build a bomb or do brain surgery on the Internet, surely you can figure out your own legal advice. So, one of the most common questions I hear is: Can’t I just download a form (or use an online service like Legal Zoom), instead of paying for a real live lawyer?

It’s a good question. And, being a life-long “Do-It-Yourself-er,” I understand the appeal. But there are lots of reasons why this is a really bad idea . . .

1) The Short Answer: Would you really attempt brain surgery based on what you read online? No of course not — at least not on someone you cared about! And while drafting legal documents is not quite the same as brain surgery (and usually won’t have a life or death impact), it is similarly difficult to do well without lots of specialized training and experience. Here’s why:

2) You Can’t Really Tell Good From Bad (And Why It Matters): When a non-lawyer downloads a legal document he has no way to determine its quality. I’ve found many “legal” documents on the web that clearly were not drafted by lawyers (this is especially true in the world of web developer and artist agreements). Even if you download from a supposedly reputable site, like Nolo.com or Legal Zoom, there is a wide range of quality in the documents available. Without legal training, you have no basis for determining best, worst or mediocre.

Why does it matter? Read more

Internet Marketing Workshop: Internet Law and You

I will be doing a small business workshop designed specifically for business owners who are marketing and/or selling online (and really, isn’t that all of us these days?). I’ll talk about web development contracts, trademark and copyright, and privacy and defamation laws as they impact online marketing — and I’ll give you practical suggestions for minimizing your risk and protecting your brand. The workshop is on May 13, 2011 at 7:30 am to 10:30 am at the Center Club, 650 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.  Breakfast and free valet parking are included in the price.  See further details below, or click here: http://www.score114.org/workshops/WomenInBusiness.aspx.   Read more

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