Announcing New Bundle Packages!

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Starting today I am offering four NEW services that make it easier for small organizations to get the legal peace of mind they need. I am introducing four all-inclusive bundles: The Non-Profit Start-up Bundle; the Non-Profit Annual Check-up; the Business Start-up Bundle and the Business Annual Check-up.  I am excited to share the details with you!
After a free consultation, each bundle is custom-designed for the individual organization.  Hiring a lawyer to handle each of these services on an ad-hoc basis can often bring legal bills to of upwards of $15,000.  By bundling these services together I build a strong knowledge of your individual organization and form a great relationship with the staff. Think of me as an in-house counsel you don’t pay a salary!
An added benefit is that the fee is fixed upfront, so you know exactly what to expect. Because I am tackling many of your issues at once I am able to offer the bundle at a reduced rate. Some of the bundles start as low as $4,500 and payment plans are available. Highlighted services in some bundles include:
  • Drafting and Filing or Review of Initial Documents
  • Four, hour-long consultations over the span of 4 months
  • Drafting or Review of contracts
  • 501c3 Drafting Assistance and filing with the IRS (for not-for-profit clients)
  • Board Consultation, Development and Training (for not-for-profit clients)
Click here for more detailed information about the packages.
Email me this week to set up a consultation.  I would love to talk with you more about my new offerings.  I am looking forward to helping your organization start and run more effectively.

What You Should Know about Small Claims Court

Decorative Scales of Justice in the CourtroomPeople don’t always deliver on their word.  Even though you were sure to get a rock-solid contract, people disappear or a business may just plain refuse to pay. This bad behavior leads many people straight to the courtroom.  If the contract wasn’t worth a large sum to begin with, however, you may wonder, is it really worth the hassle to pursue legal action?

You may think that if you were only scammed out of a small amount of money, then pursuing legal action isn’t worth the work of initiating and following through with a lawsuit.  After all, there will be papers to file and courtroom appearances to make.  But before you make this decision, you should know what to expect in small claims court.

Here are five truths to consider before deciding whether or not it is worth the hassle to pursue a case in small claims court.

1)   In New York City, the maximum you can sue for in small claims is $5,000.  If you want to collect more than $5,000 the ease that Small Claims can often provide is not an option.

2)  You don’t need a lawyer.  New York City’s Small Claims Court is surprisingly easy to navigate without legal assistance.  The majority of claimants and defendants in small claims court don’t have attorneys. The judge and the court staff are used to dealing with people without legal backgrounds.  The judge makes an effort to speak in plain language.  You can initiate an action simply by filling out a form with the clerk.  These efforts can make a small claims case much easier to manage while going about your daily business.

3)   You can choose between a daytime or evening court time. Many people choose the evening time because they don’t want to miss work.  This can be a good call, but on the evening you are set to appear be prepared to sit in the courtroom until 10 or 11 at night, it can often take some time for the court to dispose of your case.

4)   You should be willing and prepared to settle.  Small claims courts encourage settlement.  After you serve the other party he or she may suggest a settlement.  This can be a very good thing because if you settle, you don’t have to worry about chasing the money down later, which can be the most difficult part of the process (see number 5 below).

5)  You should have a plan to collect the money.  Unfortunately, many people refuse to pay even after a judge has ordered that they must.  For a small claims case to be worth your time, you need to know how you will get the money if the other party still refuses to pay after a court order.  This can be as simple as knowing where the delinquent party banks, but it can sometimes be more complicated.  Small claims is probably not worth the hassle if you don’t have at least some idea of how you might get paid in the end.  If you are going to pursue the action, make sure you have a payment plan in mind.

Have you ever brought a case to small claims court?  Did you find the process hard to navigate?  What do you wish you had known before jumping in? I would love to hear from you!

Clarify Contracts by Losing the “Legal-ese”

bill of rights scrollI have been reviewing a number of contracts and releases lately.  Although the subject matters of each of them have varied, I have noticed they all share the common denominator of using confusing language.  I want to use this blog post to make a plea to businesses and lawyers alike to STOP with the long sentences and giant words.  Confusing terms and ambiguities don’t make your contract better or more important, they only serve to confuse readers and participants.  I always make an effort to simplify my contracts by following these rules whenever possible.

1) Keep sentences short and direct.  Instead of saying “NOW, THEREFORE, in consideration of the premises and mutual covenants contained herein and other good and valuable consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which are hereby acknowledged, the Parties hereby agree as follows:”  Say simply: “The Parties agree as follows:”  It saves ink, it saves time, it saves sanity.

2) Use the active voice, and not the passive voice, whenever possible.  This makes it very clear who is supposed to be doing something and who she is doing it for.

3) Definitions are your friends!  If a term can be construed in more than one way, and it is important to you  or the other party how that is defined, clearly state what that term means in a definition section.  This leads to clarity, something all contracts need more of.

If you have been asked to sign something you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to ask questions of the other party.  Contracts can easily be marked up on the spot with a simple cross out and margin notes.  It doesn’t have to go back and forth for a thousand revisions. Don’t be intimidated by the legal-ese that often shows up.  Instead, ask for clarification and make sure you know what you are agreeing to before signing on the bottom line.

How to Use Summer Slow Down to Your Advantage

256Summer months can mean down time for many individuals and businesses.  This slow down gives you a great opportunity to re-focus.   Take this time to pull out your company’s written materials to review and update them.  Here is a list of some documents you might want to review:

Articles of Organization/Articles of Incorporation

This is the document you file with the state.  It sets out things like your name, business address and purpose.  Has your company moved offices or begun using a different name?  If so, update this record and notify the state.

Operating Agreement/By-laws

In New York, this isn’t filed with the state, so people often tend to draft it and forget about it.  Forgetting it would be a mistake though because this document can prove incredibly valuable when issues arise.  Use your extra summer time to re-read your initial plans for the business and update the document accordingly.  Have you added more partners? Have you decided to invest your profits differently?  Look over the provisions in this document carefully and see if it still serves your current business model.

Service/Employee Contracts

Business owners can often get surprised when an employee approaches asking for a review of his or her contract.  Get ahead of the game and pull out contracts to see where an employee stands BEFORE she asks for something more.  Are you an employee with a contract now?  Take the time to review your contracts and see what you like and don’t like.  Reviewing annual contracts will highlight potential flaws and give you an opportunity to figure out where you can improve.  Do you have someone working closely with you that you never asked to sign a confidentiality agreement?  Has an employee with poor performance been working under an expired contract?  Looking at all of these documents when there is no pressure means you can re-negotiate with less pressure as well.

Use the summer down time to your advantage.  Take the time to locate and review often forgotten documents.  Give them a quick rundown and be sure you like where you stand.  Your productivity and sanity will be greatly improved in the more busy months ahead.

What to Ask Before You Partner-Up

partnerAll throughout grade school, teachers asked us to “partner-up.” If you were anything like me, unless your best friend was also in the class, you spent at least a little time contemplating who would make the best partner. In grade school my criteria usually revolved around who had the coolest color of glitter pen and which classmate’s mom made the best cookies.

Unfortunately, these criteria aren’t very helpful in the business world. If you are looking to “partner-up” you could take a lesson from those grade school days and write down your own list of criteria before committing to a business partnership with another person.

Forming a partnership is serious business and a partner shouldn’t be taken on lightly. In a recent blog post on Forbes.com, Amanda Neville posited that business partnerships are more difficult than marriage.  Think about the care you took (or plan to take) before entering into that partnership. A business partnership should be approached with the same amount of scrutiny and consideration.

While I send my clients home with a full page of questions before meeting with them about the details of any potential partnership agreements, I think there are three questions you absolutely MUST consider before filing any paperwork.

  1. What kind of business do you want to have in the long term? Here you get to think big picture, if everything works out perfectly, what do you and your partner see as being the ideal business? Each partner should develop her own ideas before discussing long term hopes together so you don’t influence each other during this discussion.
  2. How will you settle disputes? In the beginning, it is easy to think you will always agree about everything, but as anyone who has ever worked with a partner will tell you, this is never the case for long. You should talk in the beginning about how you will proceed when you don’t agree. Do all the partners need to agree to move forward? Will you see outside counsel when you disagree? From whom?
  3. What is each partner bringing to the table? Here it is important to talk about finances, expertise and work availability. The best partners are often people that have different skills and interests, because then your business doesn’t have to spend additional time and funds outsourcing critical tasks. Talk about what you see your role in the company being, how much you can contribute both financially and time-wise.

Discussing these points may seem uncomfortable at first, but they are necessary if you hope to build a partnership that won’t crumble at the first sign of trouble.