Going Legal – How to Find & Work With an Attorney For Your Small Business

Deciding Whether to Go Legal

As a former full-time practicing attorney and now a small business owner, I have been on both sides of the fence when it comes to the legal issues a business owner may face. This provides me with the distinct advantage of knowing when to call in an attorney for assistance, as opposed to using another professional, such as an accountant, financial planner, insurance agent, or business coach — or perhaps handling the matter myself. In addition, my background helps me to select an attorney that is the best fit for the business matter at hand. Many entrepreneurs have had limited experience deciding whether a matter needs legal attention and, if so, what type of attorney to retain, how to find the best match, and how to maximize the attorney-client relationship. As an entrepreneur, it is imperative that you understand when to “go legal,” and if you do, how to find and work with an attorney that is the best fit for your issue.

If you are confused about whether your matter needs legal attention or whether you can handle it yourself, try researching the matter on the American Bar Association’s Self-Help online center. Go to Public Resources, then Legal Help, and then Self-Help. The section is organized by state and is a user-friendly resource for determining whether a matter is complex and needs a legal expert, or whether it is something you can handle yourself.

In addition, a good business coach, especially one with a legal background, is a great sounding board to assist you in determining whether an issue is truly legal in nature, and if so, which type of attorney to retain. You would be surprised how many issues appear legal in nature, but turn out to be business decisions instead. So don’t be hasty when deciding whether to go legal!

Not All Attorneys Are Created Equal

So, assuming you have decided to “go legal” and retain an attorney, which one are you going to call? If you broke your arm, would you make an appointment with an allergist? If you had an ear infection, would you seek the advice of a surgeon? Of course not! Yet, everyday, many entrepreneurs contact and use attorneys to handle matters for their businesses that are completely outside the realm of what that attorney specializes in. Yes, attorneys specialize.

First, there is the main issue of whether your matter is civil or criminal in nature. Generally (and, thankfully!), the average legal matter an entrepreneur will face is a civil matter. Thus, you will be dealing with a civil attorney (hopefully in more ways than one). However, civil law is a huge umbrella. Typical small business matters may include incorporation, intellectual property (trademark, copyright, and patent), contract drafting and enforcement, employment or labor law issues, etc. Thus, look for an attorney that specializes in the area you need help with. Don’t be tempted to use your cousin, who is a residential real estate attorney, to assist you with a complex trademark issue. While this may be tempting in terms of saving money, it may (and often does) cost you more money in the long run if the matter is not handled properly. So match the attorney to the problem, and you are on the right track.

If you are unsure what type of legal issue you are even facing, speak up! Talk to a friend or business colleague that is an attorney, and ask his or her advice on the type of issue you are dealing with. You can also call the local bar association, or do some basic internet research to find out the area of law you are dealing with There are several sites that provide basic legal information for non-attorneys, such as Nola, FindLaw and at the Legal Zoom websites. This background research will arm you with enough terminology and basic knowledge to make the best match with an attorney whose legal practice covers the area of your business issue.

Finding an Attorney

So, now that you know the area of law, how do you find a good lawyer that practices in that area? The same way you find any other professional to assist you with your business. Referrals from friends, family and colleagues are a fantastic way to find a reputable attorney. You can also ask your local chamber of commerce, local law school, and local and state bar associations. Still can’t find an attorney that is a great match? Try Martindale-Hubbell’s Lawyer Locator online at http://www.martindale.com

Money Matters

If you’ve never worked with an attorney before, here are some basics of the legal profession with regard to money matters. Most attorneys charge by the hour, so ask what the hourly rate is, and an estimate of how many hours the matter may take. If the matter is small, or a typical one that the attorney handles often, there may be a flat fee for the entire transaction instead of an hourly rate. Be prepared to pay a fee for the initial consultation, which is standard, but not a hard and fast rule. In some cases, the attorney may require a retainer, which is money that you provide upfront that the attorney works off of as the matter progresses.

One thing to consider is that law firms are typically broken down into partners and associates. Partners are essentially co-owners of the firm, while associates are employees, albeit high level professional ones. Who demands the highest rates? Usually, the partners. Thus, ask yourself if you truly need a partner, or can an experienced associate handle the matter. Do you need the best litigator in the firm? Often times, the best litigator may be an associate that is still active in the courtroom, as opposed to a partner that may be more of a rainmaker bringing in business for the firm.

In some cases, for very small matters or legal research, even a law clerk or paralegal may do. Ask who is the best match, and don’t assume it is always the person whose last name is on the door.

Maximizing the Attorney-Client Relationship

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of accurate, concrete, and timely record keeping and documentation when preparing to work with an attorney, and during the relationship. An attorney will need to go on a fact-finding mission in order to best represent you and your business. Help your attorney do his or her job better by coming to the table with all of your ducks in a row. Be prompt in providing requested information, as often legal timelines are at play. Honesty is also vital when working with an attorney. The best attorney-client relationships are built on mutual trust and, thus, withholding information can make or break your case. An attorney needs all of the facts in order to make tough decisions with you about the best course of action for your business matter.

Americans Leaving the Country and Living Overseas For Economic Reasons

Packing the Bags

Being American and having lived overseas for a number of years, my point of view tends to be different than many Americans. People that are living overseas now or who have recently returned from faraway lands will speak of noticeable differences in this country, the people and the general happiness and joy in the faces of people.

When I last noticed the joy was about 5 years ago. People were doing well in general and the economy seemed to be strong. I went away to Ecuador, South America, where I started a family and got into business.

In my business, I had the unique opportunity to get to know a lot of people that were leaving their home countries: the US, Canada, Europe and other places. Most of the people immigrating there were from the US and Canada. While most of those people that moved out of the country and were living there 5 years ago are no longer there statistically, many more have since moved in.

The new people moving in to foreign countries are coming with the same explanation: they can no longer afford to live in their home countries. Their Social Security or pensions are not enough to survive or live comfortably on. The truth is, the majority of those people are correct: their monthly retirement incomes are not enough to live the American dream in many of the larger cities in the US. A few had more than enough income but were looking to shake things up and live their dream of going overseas.

Going overseas is not for everyone. It takes a special type of person to be able to pack up and leave behind their roots. Many people literally sell their homes, their belongings and show up with not much more than is on their backs at the time. Some maintain their homes here in the US just in case they decide to come back. What is the average age of these daring individuals? Most are over 70. Usually they are married. A few widows or single people may move overseas.

These people who average 70 or better generally adjust pretty well. They quickly meet people, get involved in community projects and become volunteers. Some start businesses because they simply cannot imagine doing nothing all day at home. Many take advantage of the opportunity to explore their new country and maybe even other neighboring countries. But what types of challenges do these people face once they get there?

New Challenges

Although not all people moving overseas are retirees, many are. The majority of younger people do not have the means or opportunity to simply leave their careers behind. For those select few that do, they generally adjust very well. For those older retirees, the challenges can be quite different.

Challenges for retirees can include trying to arrange for medical and dental care, making sure their pension or Social Security payments will reach them overseas and at a minimal cost, decisions with what to do with their lifetime of memories, houses, etc. How do they explain their move to their family members who think they suddenly have become crazy and irresponsible? They also have to try to navigate the often times complicated world of immigration law in a foreign country.

Medical and Dental Care

One of the priorities of senior citizens is to find medical coverage and facilities for their unique personal situations. While finding excellent medical care overseas is not generally a problem, it could be depending on where you go. Remember that many people are moving overseas to avoid the high costs back home which include medical care. In many countries in Central and South America, for example, a medical checkup may only be $10-$20 on average. Major medical coverage may be the sticking point. A lot of effort should be put into making sure the plans chosen are sufficient and will pay out should the need arise. You should also consider how long you may have to wait for emergency surgery including dental care.

Dental care generally is very cheap in Central and South America as well as parts of Asia. Many countries are famous dental vacation destinations. People can fly to various countries, receive major dental care and save money. Sometimes, you can get your dental work and take a vacation for the same price as just dental work back home.

Getting Access to Money

Obviously, making sure money will be available at all times is of paramount importance to everyone traveling overseas – retired or not. Some countries may allow tourists or residents to open bank accounts. Some countries may not. In those countries where they can, people have become very resourceful and found that if they simply deposit one of their personal checks in their foreign account up to about two weeks in advance, they can get their money without paying any special fees. They just need to plan a little bit in advance.

Of course, there are always money transfer services for emergencies but you would not want to use that type of service every month. The fees can get very steep, very fast.

Pulling cash out of ATM machines overseas can not only cost you money because of foreign exchange fees but also because the ATM machines often charge $5 or more regardless if you pull out $1 or $500. That gets terribly expensive especially when you need money for big ticket items such as apartment deposits, legal fees, etc. that may not be able to be paid by credit card.

Beyond the complications and expense of ATM withdrawals, the US government is also actively trying to limit the amount of money you can wire internationally on a monthly basis. Moving money in the future by wire transfer may continue to get more complicated and may require all sorts of paperwork to be filled out. Before leaving, make sure you leave instructions with your bank back home just in case you need to wire money.

When you speak with your bank, make sure you let them know you will be using any bank debit cards overseas. Also contact your credit card companies and inform them of the same thing. If you do not, you may find your cards frozen and you will have to call the bank or credit card company to get them working again. Not only can that be embarrassing but it can be really inconvenient.

People with assets still back home probably should consider leaving a power of attorney with a trusted relative. Many people moving overseas have already put their homes on the market but have not sold them yet. In today’s housing market, it can take a long time to sell a home so there may be no reason to put off your overseas move unless you cannot afford to go without the sale first. Bringing the minimum things possible with you is highly recommended. With all the airlines jacking up their fees on what seems like a daily basis, lugging along an extra 5-10 suitcases can not only be difficult but also expensive. You may have to make some tough decisions on what goes and what stays. Storing things with relatives might be an option. The other thing you can do is make an earlier exploratory trip to your destination country with the intention of checking out furniture stores, etc.

Exploratory Trips

If you do make exploratory trips, you have the opportunity to see what brands and qualities are available where you are going. Many American brands may be much more expensive overseas. Many imported Asian brands can be relatively cheap though depending on what it is. In Ecuador, for example, electronics are very expensive. You will pay twice the going US price for pretty much any appliance or electronic. Do your research however you can in advance and it will likely pay off in less moving expenses. Also, be sure you know the laws regarding the importation of your household goods in the foreign country should you decide to move your things anyways. The laws may limit your options until you have residency or nationality status. Even the quantity of electronics and other goods in your carry-on or checked luggage may be an issue so do your homework.

Your Family Back Home

It is not very uncommon for older retirees to need to explain why they have decided to leave their family behind and move overseas. Often times family members will try to discourage their parents or close relatives. The family members may be concerned about their relative’s safety or may be wondering if they are going off the deep end. These close connections are perhaps one of the main reasons why people only live on average just a few years away from their home country before returning. As someone who has known many retirees in exactly this same situation with their families, I can tell you that it is never easy for them. While people keep in close contact with their loved ones, they generally do not let these initial concerns by their family members stop them – and rightly so.

Keeping in Touch

With the internet and the generally low cost of making phone calls, keeping in touch with loved ones around the world has become fairly inexpensive and easy. Many retirees going overseas look for the most economical way to make phone calls. They sometimes will make them through internet phone programs such as Skype. Other times, they will buy something such as the MagicJack which allows you to make phone calls using regular phones but over the internet. Regardless of the means of making phone calls, the quality will generally be good and some of those solutions even allow for calls at 2 cents per minute or less.

Getting Legal, a Different Beast

These people, young and old, that want to move overseas never had to worry about staying legal in foreign countries for periods of time longer than a tourist would normally stay. The retirees will need to hire an attorney or legal consultant and get the process started as soon as possible in order to stay permanently. Ideally, they have already come prepared with required documents such as proof of income (Social Security, Pension, etc.), marriage and birth certificates, divorce decrees, etc. If they have not already obtained these documents and are already in the foreign country with the intention of staying as a resident or citizen, they have likely already made their first critical and expensive mistake.

Mistakes are not hard to make when moving overseas. Planning far in advance is very important. Just as someone would plan for their medical coverage or dealing with their assets still back home, a very high priority should be given to obtaining legal permanent status as quickly as possible. Many people travel to foreign countries every year and overstay their tourist visas. Some may not realize that they even need to be residents or obtain long term visas. Planning early may include obtaining those documents required to apply for permanent status.

Those required documents generally need to be legalized back home before going overseas. The exact process for that legalization of documents will depend on the type of document and even what country you are moving to. Each country will have established requirements for how you can prove to them that a document is genuine. The most common methods are the Apostille and the Certificate of Authentication.

Apostilles and Certificates of Authentication are issued by the Secretary of State in the US state where the original document was issued. For example, if it is a marriage certificate, the Secretary of State where you married would be in charge of legalizing that document. If it is a birth certificate, the state where the person was born would do the job. If there are documents from multiple states, each document must be sent to its respective state for legalization.

The process of legalization of documents may require additional steps such as notarization. You will only know the exact requirements for legalizing the documents and even what documents you need to obtain after research has been done on the foreign country’s requirements, the Secretary of State’s requirements and even the US Department of State’s requirements. In addition, some documents may need to be legalized by the respective consulate or embassy of the foreign country.

Once you have all of your documents properly legalized by the proper authorities, you are ready to present them to the overseas government. All of the research you have done will hopefully pay off with a smooth legal process for you.

Legal Outsourcing – Politically Correct? Or Politically Incorrect?

Several weeks ago I lectured at a continuing legal education seminar on the opportunities, pitfalls, advantages, disadvantages and benefits of selective legal outsourcing. It wasn’t a “hard sell” talk. Being a litigation attorney myself and having attended scores of legal seminars, I am personally offended by blatant salesmanship offered by some CLE speakers, a practice encouraged by an emerging trend to charge, rather than pay, supposedly qualified speakers to grace the podium. Nonetheless, during the question and answer session at the end of my talk, one younger lawyer was clearly upset at the notion of sending any U.S. jobs offshore. His questions reflected anger, even outrage, at the prospect of any U.S. legal work being sent offshore.

One question bubbles to the top: Is legal outsourcing, or any type of outsourcing, politically correct? A second question follows: What really is political correctness anyway, and why does it matter?

Wikipedia defines political correctness as “a term applied to language, ideas, policies, or behavior seen as seeking to minimize offense to gender, race, cultural, disabled, aged, or other identity groups.” Conversely, political incorrectness is “a term used to refer to language or ideas that may cause offense or are constrained in orthodoxy.” Political correctness has been traced back to Mao’s Little Red Book. The term was adopted in the 1960’s by the radical left as a self-criticism of dogmatic attitudes. In the 1990’s the characterization was used by the political right in the U.S. to discredit the Old and New Left. Almost always used pejoratively, “political correctness” is a label ascribed by one group to another with the purpose of controlling or manipulating thought and/or behavior.

One problem with political correctness is determining who, exactly, is “correct” in their thinking. Should Jesse Jackson or Rush Limbaugh define political thought and social ideas in America? Does it have to be one or the other? What about the slogan “Buy America?” On its face, a movement to buy American goods and products exclusively would seem to be so universally politically correct that no reasonable person could take an alternative position. Wouldn’t buying American-made cars ensure American jobs and help the overall American economy? Well, perhaps, but the Big Three U.S. Automakers are apparently on their way out, while foreign manufacturers such as Honda and Toyota are hanging tough. Why? The Big Three are saddled with union contracts requiring high wages and benefits, even for some retired or laid off “workers” who are not currently producing cars or parts at any GM plant. GM had its best sales year ever in 2007. It sold over 9 million cars all over the world—the same number as Toyota. But Toyota made $20 billion and GM lost $40 billion. One year later, GM is on the rocks. Would the picture have been different if free trade had been restricted and GM could not sell autos any place outside the U.S. and Toyota could not sell in America? Not likely. Businesses run on the bottom line. Do incoming revenues exceed expenses? If not, the remedy is fairly simple: either increase revenues or decrease expenses (or both).

So what does this have to do with U.S. law firms and companies selectively sending some legal work offshore to be produced at significantly lower cost? Assuming that quality offshore legal work can be reasonably obtained, isn’t it crazy to even entertain the idea? Won’t even more U.S. jobs be lost?

On November 11, 2008 The New York Times headline declared: “Law Firms Feel Strain of Layoffs and Cutbacks.” The article noted that law firm personnel, including attorneys, were being laid off because the clients were no longer able to afford the legal fees charged. Indeed, the Financial Times reported a survey concluding that “corporate legal bills soared nearly 20% (in 2006) and could increase by a further 9% in 2007.”

The law firm of Heller Ehrman, founded in 1890, folded in September 2008. This was a firm specializing in big litigation cases, a supposedly recession-proof legal arena. As recently as 2004 Heller ranked second on the American Lawyer’s A-List. Nonetheless, financial challenges led to its demise. In December 2008 a similar fate befell Thelen LLP, an 84 year old law firm, which had 600 lawyers in 2006. At the end of December 2008 Thacher, Proffitt & Wood LLP, hired by the treasury department three weeks earlier to work the the government’s $700 billion bailout, announced it would dissolve. These jobs at these three law firms were not lost because of legal outsourcing, which, at present accounts for but a tiny fraction of U.S. legal service business. They were lost because of financial realities: law firm expenses (salaries being number one) exceeding revenues. Law firm clients are increasingly saying “we can’t pay these ever increasing rates any longer.” Clients question why they should be paying U.S. associate attorneys, for example, $200 or more hourly to perform large scale document review, when this task can be undertaken competently by offshore lawyers at a fraction of the cost. Further, recent ethical opinions by U.S. bar associations (San Diego, New York, and ABA) allow for a law firm sending work offshore to charge its clients a “reasonable supervisory fee” to oversee outsourced legal work. Wouldn’t Heller Ehrman, Thelen and Thacher have been wise to consider selective legal outsourcing as a means to survival, thereby preserving American jobs?

So, is outsourcing some legal work offshore “politically incorrect,” un-American, and likely to lead to a drastic loss of U.S. jobs that would otherwise not occur? Or, instead, is selective legal outsourcing but another tool (like computers, word processing software, voice recognition technology, email) to enhance efficiencies and improve the bottom line for law firms and their clients alike? The decision is best made by you, yourself ,and your firm or company rather than checking the wind and asking, “is it politically correct?”

Americans and Credit Card Debt – Everybody Has it – Learn How to Legally Eliminate It

In 2007 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association revealed the fact that money is a leading source of stress for Americans. More than 75% families in the country are in debt and the credit card debt is the most significant source of their financial stress. The percentage of individuals suffering from debt stress can be seen increasing every year.

Heath problems of Americans having credit card debt

An average individual, buried under the heavy burden of credit card debt is suffering from number of health physical and psychological health problems. The common debt stress related illness includes ulcers, back pain, migraines, anxiety, depression, and heart attacks.

Family problems

Credit card debt is not responsible for causing instability in ones financial situation. It is also indirectly affecting the family relationships. A loving couple, having tough time paying their debts has more chances of entering into arguments when they find difficult to manage their budgets. Small arguments often lead them to divorce and relationships break ups over very small issues.

Debt Stress Management

The debt stress is not only harmful for the individual but it is also harmful for the country. With lots of American human resource under debts stress the country can face dire consequences in future. It is therefore very essential to have proper financial stress management to save the individuals from the overwhelming effects of debt. Without healthy human resources it can be more difficult to handle the economic turbulence that prevails at present.

Legally eliminate your debt

Debt Elimination can solve lots of your problems saving you countless hours that you spend worrying about how to pay your credit card bills. Go for a settlement before the desperate efforts to avoid late payments, late penalties and massive interests either force you to run out of money of drive you crazy.

Negotiate for credit card debt settlement

Debt settlement is the legal and most effective way to eliminate your debt. Everybody has it you are not the only debtor who owes money to Credit Card Company. Don’t worry about how much debt you have and try to bring your finances back to track. Debt settlement can help you to wipe out 75% of your debt without the need to file bankruptcy. The process may seem tedious and you would be tempted to drop out lots of times. But patience is the key that gives you a very good chance of reaching a debt settlement agreement.