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Business Law Issues and Trends

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Are employees owed overtime for checking and answering email after hours?


Technology is a double-edged sword. It allows us to work remotely and to have greater flexibility as to where and when we work, but the freedom it affords can also be a burden. All the work that is being done outside of work hours is creating a compliance problem for many businesses.


Read more . . .


Monday, March 13, 2017

Hiring The Right Person The First Time -


With the improving economy has come a tightening in the job market. Good employees are becoming harder to find. While no one can guarantee that you will always make a sound hiring decision, here are several tips to improve the odds that you will find and hire the best person available for your open position.


Read more . . .


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Oral Contracts - Are They Binding? -

There is quote attributed to Samuel Goldwyn, a famous film producer in the early years of Hollywood, that goes "A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on". While this is actually a misquote of what was really said, nevertheless it conveys a widespread misconception that verbal contracts are unenforceable.  However, a contract made orally with another party, without embodying the particular terms in a signed writing, can still be valid and binding. Even so, any disagreement concerning the deal may pose multiple problems for both parties. 

In order for the court to give a verbal contract legal effect, the terms of the deal will have to be demonstrated.


Read more . . .


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Opening a new restaurant? -


Some key legal considerations for restaurateurs

Each year, approximately 30,000 new restaurants are opened in the United States. Most restaurateurs understand the great risk that comes with these ventures; in fact, some sources estimate as many as 18,000 of the 30,000 restaurants opened this year will fail within the first three years in business. Despite the risk, many chefs and hospitality professionals dive right in. If you’re a hopeful restaurateur, legal planning is an absolute necessity to ensure you don’t fall victim to many of the common mistakes that cause these businesses to fail. Consider the following:

Business Entity
All restaurant owners must carefully consider the best corporate structure for their businesses.


Read more . . .


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Can Non-Compete Agreements Be Enforced?

Hiring a new employee or training an existing staff member in new skills is a costly endeavor. Employers want to make sure that the money is well spent and the employee will not use the skills or knowledge of the employer's business to compete. Employers try to restrict employees from going to competitor and employees, of course, do not want to be limited to working for only one company especially if a better offer comes along or things do not work out with the employer. Employees also make an investment in their skills and capabilities, and may bring to the employer decades of knowledge of their industry, their profession, or customers. Each side has valuable rights and interests that need to be balanced. What often results is that the employer requires employees to sign a document that restricts who the employee can work for if he/she leaves the current employer.

While permitted in most states (California being a notable exception) Courts typically disfavor “covenants not to compete” or “non-compete agreements.”  Therefore, the terms and provisions of these contracts must not be overly restrictive of the employee.  In order for a non-compete to be upheld, the document must “be reasonable in scope, geography, and time.”  It cannot last for years on end, or prevent the employee from working anywhere in the entire state or states. Likewise, an employer cannot prohibit an employee from working in a large variety of industries, especially if the restriction includes industries wholly unrelated to the employer’s line of work. 

Two other elements are analyzed by a court to determine the validity of a non-compete agreement:  (1) there must be mutual consideration between both the employer and employee at the moment the contract is signed and (2) the non-competition agreement must protect “a legitimate business interest of the employer.”  Preventing a former employee from working for an employer’s business rival, or preventing disclosure of trade secrets or personally identifiable information of important clientele, are typically considered justifiable business interests.

Non-compete agreements are generally implemented to protect a company’s most important assets:  its reputation and its confidential information.  However, the terms protecting these assets cannot be overly broad or vague.  Thus, in evaluating the “reasonableness” of a non-competition agreement, the court will conduct a “balancing test.”  This is a comparison of the employer’s need to protect its “business interests” with the “burden that enforcement of the agreement would place on the employee.” 

The validity of non-compete agreements is decided on a case-by-case basis. The court will consider circumstances such as the length of time certain information will be kept confidential, and the company’s reasons for limiting the employee's job search to a geographical area. If the court finds that the agreement serves a valid interest and does not exceed the range necessary to protect that interest, the entire agreement may be upheld. The agreement cannot prohibit the employee from earning a living or be against the public's interest (for example, it is in the public's interest to permit people to hire any attorney they wish to, so non-compete agreements are generally prohibited in law firms).

The court also has the option of doing away with overly intrusive terms in a non-compete, rather than invalidating the agreement entirely. In cases in which a non-compete is perceived by the court as punitive, unduly restricting an employee from obtaining employment, the agreement will not be upheld.  A licensed attorney who specializes in employment law will be able to gauge the likelihood that a particular non-compete agreement will be enforceable.

The Law Office of Randall P. Brett assists employers and employees in navigating this important but difficult area of the law. Give us a call if you have questions about non-compete agreements or any other matter.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Protect Your New Business with Preventative Legal Planning -

Most Legal Issues Can Be Resolved Before They Even Arise. Here’s How.

Most people are familiar with the idea of “preventative medicine". But business owners, especially those who are just beginning a business, should also know about "preventative legal strategies".

The term refers to anticipating legal issues and conflicts and working to prevent them, rather than solving them or “winning” them once they occur. Companies can benefit from implementing preventative legal strategies as this approach is often less expensive than litigation, mediation, arbitration, and local, state and federal fines.

By working with an attorney early on in the creation of your new business, you can build a sound foundation for your company while likely saving money down the road. The following steps can serve as a great starting point for sound legal planning:

  1. Establish a relationship with an attorney who can assist you with the legal issues your new business will face early on in the start-up process. When an attorney is familiar with your firm from the onset, he or she can more effectively anticipate and address legal challenges and provide solutions. Also, many business law attorneys will allow for a flat-fee relationship that enables you to address legal issues as they arise without incurring any additional expenses.

  2. Determine what you want, negotiate it and memorialize it in proper legal documents. Businesses encounter disagreements with vendors, landlords, employees, partners and others. To minimize the number of conflicts, it’s important to establish written contracts for all important agreements, arrangements and accommodations.

    A business law attorney can help you identify all key concerns regarding employee compensation and benefits, property usage and maintenance, relationships with suppliers and responsibility and profit sharing with partners. An attorney can ensure that, when a question, disagreement or conflict arises, your interests are written down, clearly stated and legally protected by a mutual agreement with the party in question.

  3. There are many exciting steps in starting a new business venture; selecting the type of legal entity the business will be is rarely one of them. Yet, it’s important to select a business structure early. Corporations offer numerous advantages but also require officers, boards, articles of incorporation and other formalities. Partnerships and sole proprietorships are simpler than most other business structures but open owners to potentially costly liability. Limited liability companies offer a middle ground for many, providing a liability shield and comparative simplicity. A business attorney can help you determine which business structure will work best for you by taking into account tax planning, location and other key considerations.

Even with preventative legal planning, a lawsuit may arise. If it does, it’s important to approach it from a business, not a personal standpoint. This strategy can help you make decisions that are best for your company’s future, keep your focus on the day-to-day needs of your business and avoid unnecessarily disclosing information.

The Law Office of Randall P. Brett can provide legal advice and hands-on assistance during the formation and continued operation of your business.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Buying Out a Partner When There Is No Shareholders’ Agreement in Place -

Like most relationships, business partnerships frequently experience highs and lows, with periods of both prosperity and turmoil. When ongoing disagreements cannot be resolved, or one partner decides to leave the business, the remaining partner(s) often seeks to buy out the shares of the departing party. If there is no shareholders’ agreement in place, and the partners are in agreement, the dissolution of the partnership can usually be accomplished with the help of a qualified business law attorney and a CPA.

If the business is a corporation, the purchase would likely be structured as a stock sale. In essence, one party would purchase the exiting partner’s shares of stock in the corporation, in exchange for the purchase price. The purchase price could either be paid up front at the closing, or some, or even all, could be paid to him over a period of time. If any of the purchase price is to be paid over a period of time there normally would be a promissory note that the remaining partner(s) would sign documenting that the departing partner is owed the money, and providing for payment terms. These payment terms would include the interest rate, number of payments, and frequency of payments. Typically the remaining partner(s) stock in the company would be pledged as security for the repayment on the note. If the business is not a corporation the steps would be similar but slightly different.

Prior to the dissolution of the partnership, all parties must consider whether the business has any debt. If it does, all partners will need to carefully review the loan documents to make certain that the partner’s departure from the business does not trigger some type of acceleration of the debt. In a small business it is normal for a lender to require the business owners to personally guarantee the debt. So, if this is the case, the business may need to negotiate with the lenders to get the exiting partner released from the debt.

Another item to consider, which should be explored with the guidance of a qualified tax advisor, is whether the partner’s sale of the business to the remaining partner(s) will trigger any taxes. This may be more so from the departing partner’s standpoint but there may be some capital gains taxes that will have to be paid and all parties should get appropriate advice.

Finally, if there is real estate involved that is used by the business, there may be steps that have to be taken to address that. Perhaps the business leases office space from someone else. The business will need to make certain that the change in ownership does not somehow violate the lease and if it does, the partners should seek the landlord’s consent. If the departing partner has personally guaranteed the lease, the remaining partner(s) may need to negotiate with the landlord to release the exiting party.

The bottom line is there are many factors that come into play when dissolving a business partnership. An attorney should be contacted before any decisions are made to ensure all of the necessary details and consequences are considered in the preparation of a purchase agreement.

The Law Office of Randall P. Brett has assisted many business owners to restructure their business arrangements, purchase other member's shares, and ensure that the organization remains on-going. Give us a call to see if we can help you, too.

 


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Terminating a Franchise Agreement -


Buying a franchise can be a great opportunity for an entrepreneur to start a business using a successful operational structure of a proven model. Despite all the resources that a franchise provides, not all are successful. Unfortunately, with most franchises, you can’t just shut your doors and cut your losses; getting out of a franchise agreement can be difficult, leaving a once hopeful entrepreneur stuck in a business that may not be profitable or enjoyable to operate.

If you are looking for a way out of a franchise agreement, it’s absolutely imperative that you contact an attorney who has experience with franchise law and understands the many complexities of the franchisor-franchisee relationship. In determining whether you can terminate the agreement, you will need to carefully review the contract which should clearly outline the circumstances which must be met for either party to terminate it.
Read more . . .


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What Does "Goodwill" Mean When Buying or Selling a Business? -

Goodwill is an asset that is an intangible part of a business being purchased. In spite of its intangibility, goodwill may be worth more than concrete assets, such as property, buildings, machinery or inventory. Goodwill is the essence of the company's value to its customers, clients, and employees and, as such, is invaluable to any buyer. It is easier, as many people intending to purchase a business will tell you, to maintain goodwill than to establish it, since, among other things, goodwill takes time to build. Purchasing a business that already has established goodwill in the community can give the new owner a strong competitive edge. 

What Intangible Assets Compose Goodwill? 

Prospective buyers and sellers should be aware of the various aspects of goodwill. Not all will apply to every business, but aspects of goodwill include:

  • Brand name
  • Solid customer base
  • Good customer relations
  • Good employee relations
  • Patents or proprietary technology
  • General reputation
  • Future sales projection

Goodwill is a saleable asset, presumed to generate sales revenue and customer continuity. Having been established over years of honest and efficient behavior by the previous owner, it is transferable to the buyer, assuming the buyer maintains the pre-established excellent business practices.

How Is Goodwill Established?

As mentioned, goodwill can only be established over a period of years during which it is nourished and maintained. In business, it is assumed that expenditures have been involved in creating and preserving goodwill. Steps taken to do this include: 

  • Healthy and continuous investment in promotion
  • Maintenance of necessary quantity of high quality customer supplies
  • Support of excellent relationships with both customers and suppliers
  • Maintenance of efficient and respectful management and employees relationships
  • Establishment and maintenance of corporate identity and image
  • Keeping up an appropriate location

How Is Goodwill Evaluated?

There is no set price for goodwill, though it very definitely features in sales negotiations. Generally speaking, goodwill is reflected in the amount in excess of the firm's total value of assets and liabilities. In well-established businesses, goodwill may be reflected in a price several times higher than the firm's physical assets alone would be reasonably worth.

There are several complex methods by which business goodwill can be calculated so it is essential to have a highly competent business attorney involved in the negotiation process.  The Law Office of Randall P. Brett can assist you in determining the best value to place on goodwill, whether you are the seller or the buyer.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

11 Important Issues Business Partners Should Consider -

Many people decide to start their own businesses because they’re intrigued by the idea of being their own boss.  All decisions, risks, and rewards are yours and yours alone.  This equation changes, however, when you decide to start and run a business in partnership with another person.  Many of the freedoms, risks and rewards are similar – but there are unique questions that business partners should ask each other to help ensure the relationship starts and continues smoothly.

Before and during the process of developing a business partnership, it is crucial to ask and answer the questions below.  

  1. What goals do I have for this business?  What goals does my partner have?  What if one partner wants to create a business that will provide income for his family for several years or decades and the other partner wants to build a company that will grow quickly and sell well?  These are not necessarily incompatible goals, but it is important to get these goals onto the table to discuss how to start and run a business that might meet both partners’ goals.
     
  2. What is each partner’s level of commitment in terms of time?  You can prevent a major source of partner conflict by being explicit about how much time each of you expects to spend working on running and developing the business.  Will either of you work full-time for your business at the beginning?  Will either of you have other work commitments?  If so, are there any situations in which that partner will close out other work or business commitments to focus more energy on this endeavor?
     
  3. How will cash invested by partners be treated?  Will cash investment be treated as debt to be repaid?  Will cash investment buy a higher level of company shares?  Will the debt be convertible?  These questions and answers also have tax implications, so it may be wise to consult a certified public accountant along with a qualified business law attorney during your start-up phase.
     
  4. How comfortable are we with change?  Change is the only constant in any business environment, and the most successful businesses are those that are highly adaptable to change – in the market, in the economy, in the personnel, etc.  That said, business partners should have a conversation about their “sticking points” – those aspects of the business that one or another partner does not want to change.  One partner may be fully committed to the specific product being produced, whereas another partner may be unwaveringly dedicated to a certain market segment.  Learn each other’s “sticking points” now to minimize conflict during the inevitable periods of change and adjustment as the business ages and grows.
     
  5. How much will we pay ourselves?  Who has the authority to change compensation amounts in the future?  This issue is related to the question of who is investing how much cash into the business during the start-up phase.  Compensation can be a volatile issue.  Regardless of how difficult the conversation may be, partners must thoroughly discuss pay structure at the very beginning of a business relationship to minimize conflict down the road.
     
  6. Who will own what percentage of the company?  In other words, how will we divide the shares?  The answer to this question often depends on whether one or both partners provided cash for start-up costs, as well as the time commitment each partner plans to make.
     
  7. Who has what kinds of decision-making authority?  The answer to this question often is related to the division of shares between the partners, but this is not a requirement.  You can designate shares as voting shares or non-voting shares, and you can also choose to set up a board of directors.  The partners will have to decide which areas, if any, they each have individual authority over, which areas they must agree on, and which areas the board of directors will control.  Common areas of decision making authority include human resources (hiring and firing), capitalization, issuance of shares, and mergers and acquisitions.
     
  8. Will we sign contractual terms with the company in addition to the shareholder agreement and partnership agreement?  Two common examples of additional contractual terms are the non-compete agreement and the confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement.  If founding partners are going to sign such contracts, what will the terms of each agreement be?
     
  9. What if one or both of us wants to leave the company?  It is better to define exit procedures in the early stages of the business start-up.  If no guidelines are in place, one partner’s desire to depart can cause high conflict as formerly aligned partners try to come to agreements about ending their relationship.
     
  10. Can either of us be fired?  If so, what are the grounds for termination and who has the authority to make that decision?  What is the procedure?  Discuss and commit to writing your strategy for terminating the operational role of a co-founder if necessary.
     
  11. What is our business succession plan?  While it is not necessary to have a fully developed and executed business succession plan before starting a business endeavor, it should at least be a topic for discussion in the early stages.  Partners may have different ideas about how control over the business will pass to others in the future, and a conversation about succession planning can reveal these differences and give each partner food for thought as a plan is developed.

Have several conversations about these topics, and you will find yourself well prepared when it comes time to put your partnership agreement into writing. As always, an attorney knowledgeable in business law can be an invaluable advisor and resource to your company.
 


Monday, November 16, 2015

Legal Tips from the Shark Tank --

Lawyers (even me) are often mocked in pop culture as “sharks,” but a quick flip through the TV guide tells you the real sharks out there are in the business world. The ABC reality show “Shark Tank” has become a cultural phenomenon, inspiring tons of people to start their own businesses and invent new products.

If you are part of the wave of Shark Tank inspired entrepreneurs, here are some legal tips for you.

Don’t go into the Shark Tank, or into business, without a plan. On the show, the entrepreneurs that do the best are the ones that are the best prepared to answer all of the sharks’ questions. In the everyday business world the same is true. It’s just that it’s not sharks asking the questions - it’s investors, employees, and the other companies you are doing business with. 

Be prepared to take risks, but preferably not legal ones. Starting a business is a gamble, but it can be downright dangerous if you don’t fully comprehend the legal risks you are taking on. Several entrepreneurs have had their dreams crushed by the sharks because their business is just too big of a legal risk to invest in. In order to be successful in business you need to know what risks you face so you can plan around them.

Be prepared to negotiate. The sharks rarely buy into a business on the first terms offered to them by the entrepreneurs. In and outside the tank, the successful business owners and inventors are the ones prepared to negotiate to get a deal that is good for both parties. This often means giving up more equity than originally planned or revaluing assets to reflect market realities.

Patents are shark bait. The old saying “you’ve got to spend money to make money” is absolutely true in the innovation world. The sharks’ eyes light up when an inventor mentions that they have a patent on the idea or product they are pitching. That’s because patents are hard assets that you can buy, sell, license or build a business around. If you have a great idea, spend the money to patent it. 

Going head to head with the sharks is something only a few businesses do. But feeling like you have been thrown to the sharks is something all business owners and inventors can identify with. If you are looking for someone to help you navigate the legal issues your business is facing - from starting up, to scaling up, to selling out - consider contacting an experienced business law attorney today.


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