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Archive for April, 2012

The Death of “The Customer is Always Right?”

April 30, 2012 4 comments

I was thinking of titling this post “In Defense of Lawyers,” but I think the above is more appropriate because I think it’s not just lawyers that need defending.

So, here’s the thing, I have this client…. And every attorney as a story about a bad/crazy client (some of us have more than one, a lot more), but that’s not what this post is about. The client I’m talking about isn’t happy with how I’m pursuing her case. She wants a drooling, rabid, vicious, all-out, what-ever-it-takes, willing-to-make-any-argument lawyer. That’s not me. It is never going to be me. So why is she my client?

When she first engaged me, I told her precisely how I would work her case. As time has gone on, she’s insisting more and more “can’t we sue them for *something*?!” or “what if we went to the media or picketed them?” I have counseled her (repeatedly) that neither of those options are likely to help resolve her situation, in fact they may make it considerably worse and cost her a significant amount of money, etc.

But, I’m conflicted. I grew up and learned my customer relations skills with the motto “the customer is always right.” Lawyers are, inherently, a service industry. We serve at the client’s pleasure. I should work diligently to gain and keep my clients’ business. Otherwise, they can go just down the road [I should really update that euphemism to me “just down the information superhighway.”] and hire someone else. With the internet making a lawyer at the other end of the state just as accessible to a client as those in their own neighborhood, this is probably more true than ever.

But, the opposite is also true. I can now reach clients hundreds or thousands of miles away just as easy as those two blocks away from my office. So, can I – almost as easily – “ go just down the information superhighway” and get a new client? Almost.

Are we really saying that – as service professionals – it’s more important than ever that we match our clients and vice versa, rather than alter who we are or what we do, just to keep the business? Your thoughts?

Categories: Business Tags: , , , ,

Why don’t small breweries get a lawyer?

April 20, 2012 2 comments

I just responded to an email about breweries and lawyers. Trying to develop a niche practice in serving the craft beer industry is tough and I thought about why that is. I believe craft beer (whether brewing, distributing, or serving) people often don’t consult an attorney because either

  1. “I can handle all this stuff myself. If I ever need to trademark something, then I’ll get a lawyer.” OR
  2. “All lawyers do is make things more complicated and cost money. Why should I pay for them to get in my way.” OR
  3. “I think I need some help here, but I can’t afford one, so I guess I’ll go it alone anyway.”

I’ve been working with the NC Brewers Guild to try and educate brewers and the support industries (who are also largely small or Mom & Pop shops) about how attorneys can actually make things easier and protect you from future issues.

I also spend a good deal of time counseling people on the concept that an attorney – a good attorney – is one that will work with you on your business. Someone that’s interested in seeing your business grow and helping to manage your risks before they become problems. I can only speak for myself, but I want to help you make things less complicated. Make things easier now *and* in the future. I really feel that’s a critical role for a lawyer.

Thinking that you “can handle” all the aspects of your business by yourself is just silly. You may know more about your body than anyone else, but that doesn’t mean that you should perform your own gall bladder surgery. The same applies with brewing equipment, accounting, and legal issues. If you don’t have special training or expertise in the area, get some help.

Also, thinking that you can’t afford an attorney is also not right. If you’re concerned about that, talk about it with your attorney. More than likely, they’ll work with you to come up with a plan that fits your needs and budget. No one wants to see you or your company struggle because of a legal issue or not get help when you need it.

What have been your experiences with this? If you’re a brewer/brewery/bar why don’t you get a lawyer involved?

Starting a business

April 10, 2012 1 comment

I gave a presentation yesterday to a group of folks looking to start a horticulture, landscaping, or plant nursery business. It was a great impetus to force me to write this post – that I’ve been meaning to write for a while.

So, let’s start with what you need to start and run a successful business in NC

  • A lawyer – a lawyer is going to be your best friend in the early stages. A lawyer will help you decide how to organize the business, what you need to do to be compliant, and how to protect yourself from future claims by creditors, potential liability, and other sources of risk. An attorney will also help you with whatever licenses you might need to operate in your state, county, or city (or all three!). Work with a lawyer to develop your overall business structure to protect your investment and yourself from future risks. Also, a good lawyer will work *with* you (not just *for* you), so you can help yourself and save money where possible.
  •  An accountant or bookkeeper – there is so much going on (especially early in developing your business) that it’s easy to make a mistake, forget something, or make a choice that will impact you later. When it comes to finances and taxes, you need to get an expert to help you understand the consequences of your choices: Do I start as a home based business? Is it cash-only? Can I claim mileage on my car for business? Even if you’re a professional accountant or bookkeeper, it’s probably a good idea to get an independent assessment in the beginning, if nothing else.
  • Business Plan – I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a business plan. Whether you’re trying to raise money from investors, trying to get credit, or just knowing what to do next for your own peace of mind, your business plan should be your road map. Your business plan may change over time (because your business may change over time!), but you should make every effort to follow you business plan. There are lots of resources (including the Small Business Administration) for putting together a solid business plan.

    business plan

    business plan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  •  Insurance – you will need insurance (in some form or other). Especially if you have anything to do with dealing with the general public, government contracting, or working with businesses (ok, so, pretty much if you do ANYTHING). Find a reputable insurance agent and let them work with you on what you need – you may not even know what or how much you need until you talk to your attorney or when you’re getting started. Whether you need liability insurance, premises insurance, malpractice insurance, or how much… don’t underestimate how important it is to protect your investment from accidents or potential claims.
  • Bank – the same way you need to find a good insurance agent, you also need to develop a relationship with a banker. Not only do you need a bank account, you may need things like merchant services (credit card processing), a lined of credit, a small business loan, or even just someone to call when you can’t figure out why your deposit is showing up in your account. Your banker should work with you to address your financial needs.
  • Policies, Procedures, and Systems – it doesn’t *really* matter if you’re using a fancy software system to manage your business or if you’re using good ‘ol paper and pencil. What does matter is that you can do it consistently and efficiently each and every time. You will spend a lot of your time, as a small business owner, on the administrative work that’s needed to keep the business running. Find forms, checklists, or whatever you need to streamline your routine processes and make them consistent. The less mental energy you have to spend on this aspect of the business, the more you can spend on…
  • Marketing – you have to go get the business. Most people start a business because the like doing the work. For example, if you’re a woodworker, you start a woodworking business because like woodworking. Here’s the bad news: you better be pretty good at selling woodworking too! As a small business owner a tremendous amount of your time will also be spent in actively searching for new business. You have to fill not only your workday, but tomorrow’s workday too. And the day after that, and the day after that, you get the idea. The more time you can spend here, the more – overall – successful the business can be or can grow to be.

This is really just a “getting started list.” My presentation included another bullet in this list: “about a billion other things.” As you develop your business, it can be overwhelming, complex, frustrating, and a bunch of other adjectives too. There are a lot of moving parts and it’s a stressful time. Get help from experts and remember – you get what you pay for! (beware of the free advice from cousin Earl).

And, when you forget something or make a mistake (and you WILL forget something or make a mistake), it’s OK. Small business is the backbone of the US economy. Millions of people own and run businesses everyday. You’ll get through it, there are people that can help – like lawyers. (sorry one last shameless plug)

This post is getting on the long side, I’ll expand on some of these themes in the coming days. In the meantime, let me know if you think was helpful in the comments and check out our website at www.jslawcenter.com

Next time: Business Structures in NC – what makes sense for you?

Related articles

A little diversion…

April 6, 2012 1 comment

John

Ok. So I said I’d talk about starting a business in NC, but I’m going to insert this brief post in between. In short, I’m excited because of the recent announcements involving one of my favorite subjects: North Carolina Beer!

You may have seen the recent story in the News & Observer talking about the announcement by New Belgium Brewing Company that they’ll be building a new East Coast brewery in Asheville, NC. This follows on the heels of a similar announcement from Sierra Nevada. Asheville, already a great beer town, is quickly becoming a beer destination!

The North Carolina beer industry is growing by leaps and bounds. Last I heard, there were AT LEAST 10 new breweries “in the works” in NC (but don’t quote me on that statistic as I really can’t verify it at this time). But, thanks to our friends over at Real Beer,  we’ve got a some really neat statistics about the beer industry in general. For example, this post,

highlighting data published by the Brewers Association, indicates that – even in this time of recession – the craft beer industry experienced an overall increase in sales by 13%. That’s respectable growth in the best of times!

Side note: I also stumbled across this post looking at the number of dry counties in the US. Interesting! Looks like some states still have some progress to make. But, I digress…

Another great resource for information about NC beer is the North Carolina Brewers Guild. The North Carolina Brewers Guild does a great job of advocating for brewers and breweries.

I’m continuing to try and increase my practice focus on the brewing and distilling industries and I’m just very proud to be involved in the beer industry in NC, even if it is tangentially. Thanks for dealing with my little diversion here.s in the state and is a great place to look for the latest news in NC beer.

Support your local brewery and tune in next time for more actual, legal… stuff. In the meantime, have a great weekend and Happy Easter!

points vs POINTS: What means more when.

April 5, 2012 1 comment

So, in North Carolina, whether you know it or not, we have TWO different sets of point systems.

The first system everyone is familiar with: Driver’ License points. This ins the one where speeding tickets counts as so many points depending on your speed, where it was, etc. Then, if you get too many points in a certain amount of time, you lose your license.

For example, in NC, conviction of speeding over 55 in a 55 mph zone is 3 DL points. Do that 4 times in 3 years, that’s 12 points, and the DMV can revoke your license (max of 12 points allowed per 3 year period).  OK, I get it. Each violation has a point value add up your points if it’s >12 in 3 years, you’ve got an issue. That’s pretty simple.

Oh, BTW – if you’re caught speeding over 55 in 55 mph zone 3 times within 1 year, that’s a suspension too, even though it’s less than 12 points. See! This is why you may want a lawyer to help you even it’s just a traffic ticket.

But then things get more complex. In NC there is such a thing as the North Carolina Safe Driver Incentive Plan. It sets up a point system for INSURANCE separate from the drivers license point system. So, this adds a level of complexity. It says “incentive plan,” but what it really does is selectively raise the rates for insurance distinct from the drivers license scheme. Let’s take an example: If you get a ticket for failing to stop for a siren, that’s 3 DL points (same as speeding over 55), but it’s also 1 insurance (SDIP) point. What that 1 SDIP point means is that the insurance company can/will raise your rate by 25% (ouch!). If you get hit with 3 SDIP points, that’s a 65% increase in your insurance rate.

Let’s go back to a previous example: the >55. If you’re ticketed going 70 mph in a 55 mph zone, that offense is worth 3 DL points AND 2 SDIP points (that’s a potential insurance increase of 45%). If you just pay the ticket and mail it in, congratulations! you’ve just plead guilty/responsible to the offense and those points have been recorded in your DMV file in NC.

An attorney will help you figure out the best solution to your particular problem. Will the District Attorney reduce the charge? Can I use a PJC? You know, I think that’s my new catchphrase: “No, you don’t *need* an attorney. But, you may want one!”

Let me know in the comments if this was helpful. In the meantime, check out our website at www.jslawcenter.com.

Next Topic: LLC or INC, starting a business in NC.

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