Starting a business comes with many types of risks, including financial and legal risks. Business owners and lawyers share five ways entrepreneurs can protect their business. Safeguard business finances It’s important to have clear lines between your business finances and your personal finances, especially once you’ve incorporated your business to protect your personal assets. Katie Ziskind, a family therapist with her own counseling practice WisdomWithinCt, says, “Have an entirely separate bank account, credit card, and debit card for your personal finances. Never mix or pay for a personal expense with your business cards. Likewise, never pay for a business expense with a personal card out of convenience. This creates a healthy boundary and sets your business and personal life up for success financially.” Contracts and payment are other important factors to consider when dealing with business finances and protecting your business.Ian Wright, founder of Merchant Machine, says “Contracts are not always realistically enforceable. For example, if you have a contract to provide web design services for $2,000, but your client doesn't pay, you can of course take them to court over it. However, the time, effort, and money spent doing so can easily exceed the contract value, which means the rational choice would be not to chase it.” No one likes it when someone fails in their part of a deal, especially when it comes to payment. What can you do to protect your business’s income? Wright says, “The solution for me is to start small with clients and see if they pay on time. If they do, then I expand working with them.” Another way to protect your business’s income is to ask for part of the cost upfront with the remainder due upon completion. These strategies can protect your business’s cash flow and keep its finances in the black. Purchase liability insurance Tina Willis, Orlando injury and accident lawyer and owner of Tina Willis Law, says “My first piece of advice is to purchase general liability insurance, to cover things like slips and falls, and professional liability insurance, if they are a professional who could make errors during their work.” Liability insurance can help pay for monetary damages resulting from a lawsuit. Legal damages can be quite high, so this kind of insurance can protect your business’s finances and assets in the event of an accident.“Personal injury lawyers, like me, generally will seek insurance coverage first, then only look to business assets in extreme catastrophic injury or wrongful death cases. Even then, if the insurance coverage if high enough, the chances are very slim that we would look into business assets,” Willis says. “I would recommend one million dollars in coverage for most small businesses, but more might be warranted if they have extremely high net worth. Basically the coverage should match the financial protection they need, but one million dollars is enough for most small businesses. This should not be overlooked because we routinely handle cases on behalf of individuals who have been injured or killed on business properties.”In addition to general liability and professional liability insurance, there may be industry-specific liability that you should consider, like product liability.When purchasing liability insurance, make sure that you understand the terms of the policy. You should also understand what kind of liability your business needs.For example, Bret Bonnet, Co-founder and President of Quality Logo Products, says, “As a distributor, we don’t physically touch any of the thousands of promotional products we offer for sale. All our vendors list us as an additional insured on their insurance policies. In the event a product recall is necessary or a product accidently causes harm to a customer, the vendor’s insurance would cover this claim and not our own insurance.”Being listed on their vendors’ insurance policies makes the claims process easier for the company.“It might seem trite, but it saves us from having to make a claim with our insurance company, and in turn, our insurance company taking action against that of our supplier!” he says. Trademarks and intellectual property Trademarks identify your business and are an important part of your brand and how customers will recognize your business. Trademarks can be images, symbols, and even products. You’ll want to ensure that no competitor uses your branding and that others use your trademarks appropriately. Tina Willis, Orlando injury and accident lawyer and owner of Tina Willis Law, advises “If you have any ideas, inventions, slogans, or logos, which you want to protect, then you really should consult with a trademark lawyer early in the business formation process.”Another important consideration for some businesses is intellectual property. Intellectual property can have a lot in common with trademarks.Intellectual property includes ideas and inventions that were created by you or your business. They may be innovative products, which means you don’t want your competitors to be able to take your patent, make a cheaper product, and earn larger profit margins that your business does.“If the business will own or rely on intellectual property, the owners should take care to ensure that the ownership, licensing, and related materials are in order,” says Justin Kelton, Partner at Abrams Fensterman focusing on complex business litigation.You can file the licensing paperwork yourself or work with a lawyer to ensure that it is done correctly.Dr. Julie Gurner, who has served on advisory boards of start-ups, says “Something legally I see all the time, is that founders don't protect and shore up their intellectual property. While it can seem a minor issue as well as expensive line item when beginning, it goes a long way to ensuring your future as you scale.” Protecting your business’s intellectual property is an important way to secure your business’s future and ability to grow. Get a lawyer Many online legal services are available to help with business formation and creating legal documents. These services can be useful if you want to avoid high attorney fees. Matthew Fornaro, Esquire of Fornaro Legal, recommends avoiding the internet. He says, “I guarantee that the “right” answer may be out there, but it is indistinguishable from the wrong answers. Invest money into your business by hiring a business law attorney who focuses on working with small businesses and start-ups.” Tracking down all of the legal answers and figuring out the forms can be time-consuming, especially if it isn’t your area of expertise. Hiring a lawyer can save you time. Will Craig, Managing Director of LeaseFetcher, also recommends getting a lawyer to keep track of all the legal matters. He says, “The best advice I was ever given when starting my business, was get a good lawyer. I still stand by that advice to this day. When you're setting up your start-up, there's a lot of legal things that you have to bear in mind — like setting up the right business structure, drafting shareholder agreements, and filing patents, etc.” As you are thinking about your business’s legal issues and choosing a lawyer, it may be worthwhile to consider law firms as part of your networking strategy. Tarek Alaruri, Co-founder of Fairmarkit, says, “Find two legal firms: one high-powered with connections and introductions and the other for the grunt work, like patents, trademarking, contracts, etc. I think having both allows companies to leverage both the prestigious names and connections while keeping costs down.” Seek industry-specific advice When it comes to choosing a lawyer or a law firm, you should focus on your industry and your business’s needs. “Each business type has its own risks and potential liabilities that need to be gauged on a case by case basis. Find a lawyer that has specific knowledge of how the industry operates. In this way, you will get counsel from a lawyer who can guide your business away from potential pitfalls and show you how to take proactive steps to guard against potential problems,” says David Reischer, Esquire, Attorney, and CEO of LegalAdvice.com. When it comes to protecting your business, general legal advice and industry specific advice is plentiful; however, legal advice tailored to your business will often be the most helpful in reducing risk. Kelton says, “In sum, business owners should identify the most significant aspects of their enterprise, and consult with experienced counsel to determine the best ways to protect the firm.”View advice on business legal formation and starting a business with partners.
Working with a friend to start a business can be great. You probably already work well together, have good rapport, and have established trust. All of these things bode well for a successful business and business partnership.Caroline Conway, who runs her own law office says, “Many people who start their own businesses — and nonprofits — are caught up in the vision and passion for what they want to accomplish, and legal advice is a back burner subject for them. It's not natural to consider the possibility of future disagreements among partners. There may be conflicts about employee management, how to handle finances, and contracting with vendors.” Planning ahead for conflict resolution and defining how business decisions will be made can help your business partnership function well and protect the business. While difficult to envision the worst case scenario when starting on good terms, failure to do so may have consequences down the road. Write an operating agreement Justin Kelton, Partner at Abrams Fensterman focusing on complex business litigation, says “For any new business, I always recommend that clients have a clear operating agreement setting forth the legal rights and responsibilities of each of the owners and investors.”Operating agreements are often part of establishing the legal structure of a business. They can be drafted with the help of a lawyer or independently using online legal services. Take the time to consider potential issues that your business may deal with now and in the future. Having the terms set and agreed upon at the beginning will prevent conflicts from arising and resolve conflicts if they arise.Conway says, “I would also suggest contract templates, review of software licensing agreements, discussion of data privacy issues, non-disclosure agreements, advice regarding independent contractors, and other labor and employment issues.” Non-disclosure agreements protect sensitive business information from being shared with other businesses and competitors. They are a great way to ensure that should a partner leave, they will not share sensitive business information without legal consequences. Reviewing all the legal aspects relevant to your start-up and its future will prepare your business for growth and mitigate potential risks. Define separation terms As you are working through the Operating Agreement, think about potential scenarios and keep your options open, especially when it comes to partners leaving the business. “Think through and negotiate the terms of separation for any partnerships at the outset,” says Elena Ledoux, Chief Mommy, attorney, and founder of Superb Maids and MommyGO. Maybe you’ll want to buy out your partner one day or plan for retirement. Maybe you’ll want to take advantage of a dream opportunity and leave the business. Conversely, if one of your partners wants to leave the business and take their own dream opportunity, you’ll want the business protected. Kelton says, “If the business will rely heavily on certain key individuals, the company should consider whether non-competition agreements may be appropriate.”Non-competition agreements limit an individual’s ability to start a competing business or work for a competing company. Usually, non-compete agreements have a time limit. While a non-competition agreement won’t keep your partner from competing with your business indefinitely, it will allow time for your business to prosper and grow. Protections for minority shareholders If you’re entering the business as a minority shareholder, you’ll want to make sure that you’ll receive dividends from your investment. Unfortunately, that can be tricky.Tina Willis, an Orlando injury and accident lawyer and owner of Tina Willis Law, says, “Under most states’ laws, minority shareholders have very few rights to get paid, even if they want to sell their shares and leave the business, or share in profits. These state laws can be circumvented with a written agreement between shareholders.” Minority shareholders should pay close attention to the terms of the operating agreement and negotiate for terms that will protect their rights. Failure to negotiate these terms from the outset can lead to financial and legal headaches later.Willis says, “My own husband faced many years of not being paid when a family business went bad. We finally had to pursue legal action to sell his shares. Even then, he was only able to sell because he had proof that the majority shareholders were starting a competing business and using money and other assets from the business in that new business. Without that new development, he would have had no ability to get paid for his shares as a minority shareholder, even though the company grossed about $20 million per year.” Understand the terms As with any legally binding document, it’s important to understand the terms.Ledoux says, “I would suggest that entrepreneurs should really make sure they understand the legal agreements they're signing. Whenever the terms are too complex or obscure, they should require simplification and explanations.” Of course, you and your partner can do the research to understand and review your partnership agreement. Doing so will take more time and effort on your part, and you may prefer to spend it on other aspects of your business. It may be worthwhile to work with a lawyer when setting the terms of your operating agreement. Willis says, “Make sure, if they have partners or other shareholders, they pay the money to have a lawyer draft, negotiate, and carefully review the terms of any partnership or corporation documents.” A lawyer can explain the legal terms in an agreement and explain how the terms of the contract would play out in different scenarios. A lawyer will also ensure that your agreement is legally enforceable. Working with a lawyer can help you have confidence in your business and set you up for success.
Starting a business takes considerable work. In addition to getting your products and services ready, writing your mission statement, and determining your marketing strategy, entrepreneurs also need to have their legal matters in order. The first step is choosing the legal structure of your business.Deborah Sweeny, CEO of My Corporation, says “I believe that the best legal advice I received when starting up was to form a corporation or Limited Liability Company (LLC). Often it seems too difficult, too expensive, and too cumbersome, but the truth is that having your business entity with the right structure can be a benefit in so many ways.”Of course, you can structure your business in a few ways. Corporations and LLCs are common choices.Additionally, you can always run your business using your own name, but there are drawbacks. There won’t be a way to distinguish between your personal assets and your business’s assets. This lack of distinction puts your finances at risk in the event of a lawsuit or liability claim. What are LLCs? LLCs are Limited Liability Companies. They reduce the business owner’s liability and protect personal assets. LLCs can be single-member or multi-member, which is handy for people interested in going to business with partners or by themselves.LLCs are less regulated than other types of businesses. Specific rules for LLCs vary state to state. LLCs are not subject to corporate taxes. Instead, each LLC member pays taxes on their share of the profits in their individual taxes.Individuals who form an LLC do not have to be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. To form an LLC, you must file Articles of Organization that describe how your business will be managed within the state that you will conduct business. You will also need to get ID numbers from the IRS and other government agencies for tax purposes and unemployment. What is an operating agreement? An operating agreement sets forth how an LLC will deal with situations like the death of a business partner, partner being bought out, or a partner leaving the business.State laws also govern these issues in the absence of an operating agreement. However, an operating agreement gives all LLC members more control and options over how things will operate. What is a corporation? Like an LLC, a corporation protects personal assets by limiting a business owner’s liability for company debts. The major difference between an LLC and a corporation is the ability to open the company to investors. Setting up your business as a corporation allows a business to become publicly traded on the stock market.Owners also have shares in the company. Often, the more shares owners have, the more control they have over the decisions.To set up your company as a corporation, you’ll need to file Articles of Incorporation and apply for necessary ID numbers from government agencies. A corporation can be non-profit or for-profit. If the corporation is non-profit, the profits from the stock market are not given to the owners. What are bylaws? Like LLCs, corporations can determine the terms of separation, closing the company, buying a partner out, or divesting from the company. These are called bylaws.However you choose to set up your business, you can hire an attorney to take care of the paperwork for you, or you can do it yourself with the aid of online legal services. Getting it Right When choosing your company’s legal structure, think about your business goals and how you want your business to grow. This will help you decide the appropriate structure for you business.Jesse Silkoff, Co-founder and President of FitnessTrainer.com and MyTennisLessons, started a business as an LLC. He says “Having an LLC structure worked just fine for the first few years until we decided to raise capital from outside investors. In hindsight, if we had known at the beginning that we would definitely be raising capital from outside investors, then we would have set up as a C-Corp from the start.”“This was an expensive mistake on our part because switching from an LLC to a C-Corp in order to take on those outside investors was both time consuming and costly,” Silkoff says.Silkoff is not alone in having to change the legal structure of his business. Zach Hendrix and Gene Caballero, Co-Founders of GreenPal, had a similar experience.Caballero says, “When we first started, we were legally advised that we only needed to incorporate as an LLC — which is totally inaccurate. When we attempted to raise an angel round, they practically laughed at us because we were not a C-Corporation.”“We had to pay a specialist attorney to dissolve the old LLC and very carefully assign everything to the new proper entity which is a Delaware C Corporation,” says Hendrix. “This cost us our first round of funding because we had to change our status and was a $12,000 mistake that almost cost us our business,” says Caballero.Investing to ensure that you have the right legal structure from the beginning can save you money down the road. It can also set your business up for success in other ways. Sweeny says, “When you are looking for a business loan, having a properly formed entity is a critical step. Having your business established is also important when looking for contracts, working with partners, and also hiring. It is an important first step — and getting set up right and early can also help establish business plans and strategies and open up communication with your partners.”
Divorce is just one of many situations that requires legal assistance. According to the National Center for Health Statistics website, there were 2,140,272 marriages with a total of 813,862 divorces in 2014. Although the divorce rate has steadily decreased since 2002, many people facing divorce are unsure what to do. Below are five steps for getting a legal divorce. 1. Determine if the divorce will be contested or uncontested According to divorcesource.com, how much time, energy, and money a couple spends on their divorce will depend on whether the divorce is contested or uncontested. Contested divorce—both partners cannot agree on the either the divorce in general or the divorce terms such as assets and children. Uncontested divorce—both partners agree and do not require court assistance in determining divorce terms. If the partners can come to an agreement and file for an uncontested divorce, they will both save money, time, energy, and stress. 2. File an official complaint According to Divorce Magazine, filing a complaint is the next step. The legal documents that are filed at this point are known as a summons, which announces the divorce's action, and a petition, which identifies assets/children of both partners and what relief is sought, according to womansdivorce.com. 3. Set orders If children and large reoccurring payments/debts are involved, temporary orders need to be set until the court hearing. These orders are designed to secure finances and keep things like insurance and bank accounts from changing. 4. Set a court trial, if necessary Any terms or issues that the partners cannot agree on are then sent to a court trial where the decisions will be made by a judge. During the trial, both people involved in the divorce proceedings will have the opportunity to provide their testimonials, witnesses will be asked to provide information, and exhibit documents will be shared. After this occurs, decisions to settle the disputes will be made. Either party may choose to appeal the court decision(s) afterwards; however, there are typically strict time limits for appeals. 5. Finalize divorce The divorce is usually made final after both parties willingly take the settlements and all legal work is reported and put to rest. Divorces take time to work through and you will want to do research before moving forward with divorce proceedings. Online resources and services are available to provide reliable information on divorce proceedings. A list of reputable online legal services as well as 150 honest consumer reviews can be found on bestcompany.com.
Choosing the right professional legal aid may seem overwhelming. Websites, advertisements, and even recommendations from friends can provide a flood of information to wade through. But the most vital step before obtaining legal help is to know if it is even necessary. American law, according to lawteacher.net, is split into two categories: civil law and criminal law. Civil Law involves every legal issue that is not dealing specifically with breaking the law or the criminal justice system. This category is specifically designed to benefit the person making a legal claim (also known as the plaintiff). The plaintiff chooses whether to take the case to court and/or settle terms. Depending on the nature and complexity of a civil suit, legal assistance may or may not be required. Criminal Law deals with punishment for those who break the law. This criminal justice system is not designed for direct plaintiff, or victim, compensation; rather the victim is more of a witness in the case with the justice system making decisions on pursuit and settled punishment. Some of the punishments include jail sentences, community service time, large fines, and probation. Understanding which situations require legal aid can save you time, money, and unnecessary stress. When Not to Use a Lawyer According to lifehack.org, there are a few circumstances where a legal representative is not necessary, including the following: Anything within a small claims court: designed for "civil disputes" and less formal proceedings. Traffic ticket violations: violators generally pay the fine to avoid hiring pricey legal aid. Non-contesting lawsuits: depending on the circumstance, some people opt to pay the amount that someone is suing them for and plead no contest in order to save money on an attorney. Although it's good to know what situations don't necessarily require a lawyer's help, it's also helpful to understand what circumstances do call for legal aid. When to Use a Lawyer According to the American Bar Association website, here are some of the legal situations that would require assistance from a lawyer: Getting arrested Receiving documents related to a lawsuit Being involved with accidents that cause injury or damage Having a death in the family Adopting or birthing a child Switching guardianship Getting a divorce Filing for bankruptcy Obtaining or losing property/valuable real estate Creating a will/trust Being a victim of sexual assault, robbery, etc. Knowing and understanding these legal system basics is an active way to avoid legal issues in general. However, when legal situations do arise, figuring out if legal help is needed and where to get it are both important. Online Resources There are multiple resources for finding legal advice and taking advantage of the many available online resources is usually the beginning step. With so many sites to choose from, it is easy to get lost when researching law help. Bestcompany.com can save you time searching for legal advice and representation by providing detailed research about the right online legal services provider for you.
How We Evaluate Online Legal Service Companies We rank and measure online legal service companies on a number of carefully selected criteria points. Because most people seek help from an online legal service company as an alternative to an expensive law firm (i.e., to save money), price plays a major role in a company's score. We also evaluate companies on their ability to provide on-call attorneys, and personal legal services such as estate planning, family law, and patents/copyrights. Companies are also scored on their case completion and document delivery times. Each online legal service company is individually ranked and reviewed according to these and other important industry standards. Companies that perform consistently well across these criteria points tend to receive higher scores and top spots. To learn more about how we rank online legal service companies, click here. #1 LegalShield At the top of the list is LegalShield, a company that provides individuals and small businesses with online access to legal services through an expansive network of provider law firms. LegalShield has been in the business of connecting people to helpful and affordable legal services for over four decades, and partners only with select law firms to ensure its customers are receiving the best legal services possible. The company charges individuals and businesses via monthly subscription, as low as $24.95 and $39/month respectively. What We Like about LegalShield In addition to providing a full array of personal legal services-wills and trusts, estate planning, and family law-LegalShield is also one of the few companies in the online legal services industry to provide on-call attorneys, a big plus in our eyes. LegalShield members can expect to receive a call from an attorney within eight business hours. We especially like LegalShield's international network of provider legal firms, which covers all of the United States, as well as select Provinces in Canada. #2 Rocket Lawyer Rocket Lawyer has provided affordable legal services and free legal documents to more than 20 million people in its short eight-year history. The company works with a vast network of more than 50,000 attorneys to provide fast and affordable legal services to a multinational clientele (U.S. and U.K.). Rocket Lawyer's legal professionals handle all sorts of inquiries from general legal questions, to more complex matters like tax and immigration. What We Like about Rocket Lawyer As we've come to expect in a top online legal services provider, Rocket Lawyer is one of the few companies in the industry to provide on-call attorneys, who can respond to a request within one business day. The company also offers a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, where customers can use Rocket Lawyer's services for one week, free of charge, and can cancel at any time. Rocket Lawyer services are competitively priced, and we like that customers can print important legal documents directly from their computer for free. #3 LegalZoom Since its inception in 1999, LegalZoom has pioneered the online legal services space by providing accessible and affordable legal services to a rapidly expanding clientele. LegalZoom was among the first to offer clients an independent attorney network to help respond to the growing need for sound legal advice that doesn't break the bank. While many attorneys viewed LegalZoom as a threat to their business, they eventually joined LegalZoom's team in an effort to reach underserved populations and individuals. The company now serves over 3 million customers. What We Like about LegalZoom One thing we like most about LegalZoom is its prices. LegalZoom offers some of the most affordable rates in the industry-as low as $9.99/month and $23.99/month for individuals and businesses (respectively). We also appreciate the company's extensive, 60-day satisfaction guarantee, which states that if customers are not satisfied with the LegalZoom's services, the company will resolve the issue, offer a refund, or provide credit to customers. Not surprisingly, we like that clients can leave their own reviews about working with one of LegalZoom's attorneys. For a full list of all our reviewed online legal service companies, click here. The Future of the Online Legal Services Industry While the online legal services industry has done a great deal to improve the access, speed, and affordability of legal help to underserved individuals and businesses, the industry as a whole has a long way to go. There are many areas in which these companies could improve. For example, many customers have complained that legal forms downloaded from one of these company's websites did not hold up in court. Companies will need to do more to provide clients with valid and standardized legal documents that will prove valid in a courtroom. Additionally, online legal sites that provide document processing services need to improve their accuracy at filing legal documents in the correct manner. Online legal service companies should also look into addressing the amount of time a network firm or attorney can spend helping a client. For while seeking help through one of these companies does make the process faster, several details can slip through the cracks without a dedicated attorney giving full attention to the case. Granted, an attorney's time is extremely valuable, but in order to compete with the attention to detail of full-service law firm or dedicated attorney, online legal service companies will need to find a way to grant clients with fuller attorney access without hiking the subscription price. As the landscape for online legal services continues to develop, BestCompany.com will likewise evolve in its ability to accurately review and rate online legal service companies. Those in need of fast legal help, or who can't afford an attorney, can rely on BestCompany.com to provide them with up-to-date information on which online legal services provider can best meet their unique circumstances.
Online legal services are increasingly becoming more popular, as consumers are able to get professional legal advice for an affordable price. There are several services available for personal needs and for small businesses. These unique services are offered by a broad range of companies at all different prices, depending on what services are needed. In an effort to find out which service features are most important to consumers, BestCompany.com experts conducted a survey to find out what subscribers actually care about. Over 1,000 subscribers were asked what the most important feature was when choosing an online legal services company. The results showed that over 35% felt that a user-friendly website was most important when choosing an online legal services company, followed by client resources and service options at 24.7%. It is understandable that a user-friendly website would be of high importance since this industry is online legal services. Some companies provide customers a great user experience with an online portal and easy navigation throughout the entire website. Phone numbers, education information, legal definitions, etc are all found easily and can be accessed 24/7 by customers, providing customers will the service they most desire. Following client resources and service options, personal and business options (19.5%) and on-call attorneys (17.4%) also played a role in a consumer's decision.