They ask me this question all the time. Mostly this question comes from people I meet, who run a small business and have always done things for themselves. The business may have some employees, own some assets, and is quite profitable. When I talk to them, I always hear, “I don’t really have any legal problems, so why do I need a lawyer? Business is doing well and my employees love me.” Well when I hear this I know what I’m getting into.
The first thing I ask these people is: how is your business structured? LLC? Corporation? Once we determine that answer, the next questions are: Do you have an operating agreement if you are an LLC or bylaws if you are a corporation? Do you have minutes of annual meetings? Seven times out of ten people answer “no” to these questions. That is why they need a business lawyer. If they don’t follow corporate formalities and organizational protocols and someone would sue the company, the possibility of the plaintiff breaking the corporate veil and attacking the owner’s personal assets increases exponentially.
Another question I ask is: do you have written contracts for the work you do and the business you are involved in? About 4 in 10 say no. Again, this is why they need a business attorney. The handshake agreement does not work in today’s society. Everything must be in writing, not because you cannot trust anyone, it is because you need to protect your rights. If they don’t have contracts that they use or have written them themselves, you can bet that they will spend huge amounts of money to resolve disputes that could have been avoided by working with a business attorney from the start.
Finally, I usually ask them if they understand the various federal and state labor laws that govern the employer-employee relationship. Most respond with “Pennsylvania is an at-will employee and I can fire anyone at any time.” This is what I call a time bomb. Yes, it is true that Pennsylvania recognizes employment at will; however, there are several laws that provide protection to employees against discrimination, unfair treatment, unfair wages, etc. Most of the time, these business owners have no idea what they don’t know and end up doing something that costs them tens of thousands of dollars. That is why they need a business lawyer.
As you can see, there are many reasons to work with a business attorney when you are a business owner from the start. People incorrectly assume that the only time they will need a lawyer is in case they are sued. However, a good business attorney will help you run your business in a way that limits the reasons you could be sued at a fraction of the cost it would cost to litigate and resolve a dispute in the future.