When the DOL Proposes Changes to the Overtime Rules, Employers Must Take Note

WHEN THE DOL PROPOSES CHANGES TO THE OVERTIME RULES, EMPLOYERS MUST TAKE NOTE.  In 2014, 8,086 lawsuits were filed in federal courts for violations of pay practices under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  Of these, 1,837 lawsuits, or approximately of 23% of all FLSA lawsuits in the United States, were filed in Florida.  In March 2011, a Florida-based company paid more than $754,000 in overtime back wages following a finding by U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) that its temporary supervisors were misclassified as exempt employeesSimply, improper time and pay practices are costly mistakes.

Earlier this month, the DOL proposed changes to the rules governing the white-collar exemptions (executive, professional, administrative, highly compensated, and computer related employees) to the overtime requirements under the FLSA.  The DOL estimates that the proposed rule changes will extend overtime protections to an additional 5 million employees.  Any business with at least 1 employee, should:

  • Understand the existing rules and proposed changes
  • Assess the impact of how the proposed changes will affect employee classification, timekeeping and pay practices, and payroll
  • Consider submitting comments to the DOL concerning how the proposed changes will affect your business. You may do so at: regulations.gov  on or before September 4, 2015.

THE EXISTING RULES AND THE PROPOSED CHANGES

Currently, under the FLSA, all employees covered by the Act, unless they specifically exempted, must receive overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek at a rate not less than time and one-half their regular rates of pay. Employees who fall within the white collar exemptions are not entitled to receive overtime pay — regardless of the number of hours they work within a workweek.  To fall within one of these exemptions, employees must (1) be paid on a salary basis, (2) be paid at least a fixed minimum salary per week of at least $455.00 per week ($23,660.00), and (3) meet certain requirements as to their primary job duties that are specific to each exemption.

For more detailed discussions on the FLSA, 
please see the videos on the FLSA previously made by our new Of Counsel 
Attorney Kerry Raleigh at:
·         Introduction to FLSA
·         Employee Overtime:  Common Mistakes & Perceptions
·         Employee Overtime: Employers Need to Get It Right

THE PROPOSED CHANGES:

The DOL proposes three key changes to:

  • Set the standard salary requirement for the white collar exemptions from $455.00 per week to the 40th percentile of weekly earnings of full-time salaried workers, which is currently $921.00* per week ($47,892.00* annually);
  • Increase the total annual compensation requirement for the highly compensated employee exemption to the annualized value of the 90th percentile of weekly earnings of full-time salaried workers, which is currently $122,148.00* annually; and
  • Establish a mechanism for automatically updating the salary and compensation levels going forward to ensure that they will continue to provide a useful and effective test for exemption.

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Florida Annual Report for LLC’s, Corporations and Partnerships due by May 1

Many of you have corporations and limited liability companies domiciled in Florida and other states. As you know, to keep those companies active, it is necessary in most states to file some variety of an annual report or franchise report. You will likely receive emails or mail to your principal address listed in the state records, but often it looks like junk mail that can be ignored, or is sometimes set aside and just simply forgotten. There are also companies that send very official looking letters offering to update your records for a fee. These updates are advertisements and may or may not include filing your state annual report. You can tell if they are advertisements by looking carefully at the fine print.

For those of you doing business in Florida, the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations requires each organized business doing business in the state, whether a corporation, limited liability company, or partnership, whether domiciled or just licensed to do business in the state, to file an annual report between January 1st and May 1st of each year in order to maintain an active status in Florida. The annual report is used to confirm or update the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporation’s records, including information related to the managers, members, officers and directors, the registered agent or registered office, the principal address or mailing address, and the federal employer identification number. For other states, similar reports and fees will also be required. The timing varies and it is important to check the dates so that you do not miss important deadlines.

If the annual report is timely filed between January 1st and May 1st, the reporting fee is as follows: $150 for a profit corporation; $61.25 for a not for profit corporation; $138.75 for a limited liability company; and $500 for a limited partnership or limited liability limited partnership. A $400 late fee will be assessed for any report filed after May 1st for profit corporations, limited liability companies, limited partnerships and limited liability limited partnerships. Failure to file an annual report by the third (3rd) Friday of September will result in the administrative dissolution or revocation of the business entity on the records of the Florida Department of State.

In addition, the Florida LLC Act has been revised and restated in whole. Effective January 1, 2014, any new limited liability company formed will need to be formed pursuant to the new Act. Any existing entity will need to amend its operating agreement and articles to reflect the new Act no later than December 31, 2015. With that in mind, we are recommending to clients that the amendments be done now and that the Annual Report filing be made reflecting the new Act requirements, specifically, the elimination of the concept of Managing Member. We also recommend filing a Statement of authority recognizing those in your company authorized to act on behalf of the LLC. This may avoid the need to file additional amendments during the year.

We are ready and able to assist you in amending your operating agreements and answering questions regarding the new Act. We are also available to assist you in properly filing your annual report in Florida and assisting you with other states.

The annual for Florida report can be submitted electronically on Sunbiz.org. Annual reports filed using credit card, debit card or Sunbiz E-file Accounts through the E-Filing tab on Sunbiz.org are processed immediately and should be posted on Sunbiz.org within twenty-four (24) hours. Check and money order payments must be submitted by mail and are processed within twenty-one (21) days, so e-filing is the preferred method of filing. For Delaware companies, the annual reported can also be submitted by following this LINK.

The e-filing process is very simple and can be completed in minutes. An Overview and Step-by-step instructions for completing the annual report can be found HERE.

If you have any questions or concerns, please let us know and we would be happy to assist you with completing the annual report.

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Sweat Equity v. Money Investors: Who Makes the Rules? [The Golden Rule of Business]

Many years ago, while working as the General Counsel to a large public company going through a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, I learned that the Golden Rule as we all learned it in kindergarten [do unto others as you would have other do unto you] is not the only Golden Rule when it comes to business. I certainly support and believe in the Golden Rule we learned in kindergarten and try my best to adhere to it, but when it comes to money and business, I have learned that the Golden Rule really is: the person with the gold makes the rules.

In business large and small, there is often reward and equity for those who have a great idea or are the work horses driving success (the “Sweat Equity Owner”). Typically, however, the greatest percentage of equity and, hence, the greatest return in pure dollars, goes to the person who put up the money in the first place (the “Cash Equity Owner”). Once the business gets going, this often leads to resentment of the Sweat Equity Owner and frustration of the Cash Equity Owner.

Not surprisingly, the Sweat Equity Owner often feels like he has worked harder and should be compensated for the hard work and ideas. In addition, the family of the Sweat Equity Owner has started to feel the pain of long hours and missed meals and events, resenting the Cash Equity Owner whose life and lifestyle has not changed at all.

The Cash Equity Owner is frustrated because the project is taking longer than expected to show a return and the Sweat Equity Owner continues to ask for cash, primarily to meet living expenses in the form of  salaries for business personnel. The Cash Equity Owner usually has other investments or businesses and more business experience and wants the Sweat Equity Owner to work differently and take his advice on how to get the work done more quickly so that product can get to market faster. His family (or fund investors) wants to know when they will see a return on investment.

Not to sound like a broken record on the reasons for Business Divorce, but there are some things that can be done at the onset of a relationship to avoid these dilemmas. Too often, when the relationship is formed, there is no substantive discussion of duties, timing for deliverables and exit strategy for the Cash Equity Owner. The conversations are very high level and never transcribed into a detailed agreement. One party calls cash loans while the other considers it equity.

In the last 12 months, I have encountered among other missteps: companies in which the equity was never issued despite cash being infused; standard Bylaws from companies like Legal Zoom were used, but no one ever read or understood what they meant; Articles were filed on www.Sunbiz.org indicating the names of managers, managing members, officers, owners … who were not in fact in the positions indicated and who had no authority to act on behalf of the business; domain names and other intellectual property placed in the name of one owner instead of the business …. This list is hardly exhaustive, but all have led to expensive legal battles between business partners on break-up.

When I get the call, whether as an attorney or mediator, that business partners are seeking to terminate their business relationship, the first step in my analysis is to look at the agreements between the partners.  These documents become the guide on how to proceed. If they have been carefully crafted and reflect the partners intent, often the cost to the business as well as the individuals for navigating the business divorce is emotionally and financially insignificant —- Owners typically know what to expect and time is spent implementing already agreed plans. Without these written agreements or mutual acknowledgment of intent of unwritten agreements by the Owners, the cost in the first days of efforts to separate can be thousands, and at times, tens of thousands, of dollars.

At this point you are probably thinking that I am exaggerating, but in fact, if a lawsuit needs to be filed  in order to keep the business running and make it clear who has authority to act, the effort is significant and lawyer time and cost is high. We start by preparing a complaint seeking injunctive relief and serve it with requests for admissions, production of documents and interrogatories. At times, we demand a receiver be appointed if we are representing the Cash Equity Owner and our client is not ready or able to step in and run the business. We seek emergency hearings to ensure if our client in good faith believes irreparable harm to, or waste of, business assets will occur if action is not immediate.  We often need to include third parties such as the domain hosts or banks to require them to turn over account codes and keys or to freeze assets.

Courts do not like to get involved in daily business activities and if the situation  lacks clarity, the court may appoint a receiver on its own. Domains and intellectual property will need to be be place in escrow; bank accounts will need to be frozen or unfrozen; payroll companies, customers, vendors, employees will all need to be notified as to who has authority to direct activities just to keep the business operating  and attorneys will be stepping into conversations with domain hosts, bankers, customers, vendors and employees…. all while on the clock. By the way, the Receiver will hire an attorney as well and both the receiver and attorney will also be on the clock.

Back to the Golden Rule — needless to say, the Cash Equity Owner often has the gold necessary to stay afloat while the Sweat Equity Owner does not.

Although good friends and family members make great investors because they are trustworthy, life changes and needs change over time. By having a frank conversation up-front and documenting the deal, before money is invested, much of the financial and emotional cost can be minimized on business divorce and friendships and family relations can remain favorably intact. Like a good pre-nuptial, shareholder agreements, operating agreements, and buy-sell agreements, can minimize cost in the future and avoid undue emotional harm. To me, it is well worth spending a couple hours in frank discussion and a couple thousand dollars up-front when investing in a business to avoid a later fight at ten times that expense.

At the Walk Law Firm, we regularly advise clients on these matters and encourage open discussion between owners. We can work as company counsel or as counsel to a business owner in helping businesses sort through these issues.

Credibility Education for Tampa’s Small Businesses

Summary: Tampa Bay based company creates partnership with national and local businesses to provide credit and business growth strategies for qualified small businesses.

Tampa, FL – October 1, 2013 – Nationally recognized consumer and small business finance advocate, S.E. Day will host the For Small Business Only, LLC (FSBO) Business Education seminar.  Utilizing strategic alignments with corporate creditors and vendors, the FSBO seminar will provide qualified small businesses with credit building tools that assist in establishing their business credit profiles through credit reporting bureaus including Dun & Bradstreet’s PAYDEX® score.  The seminar is a one day event and will be held on October 22, 2013 at the Steinbrenner Pavilion (across from the Bucs stadium).

“The #1 challenge faced by every small business is successfully establishing business credit without using the owner’s personal credit,” states S.E. Day, founder of FSBO and host of The Legally Steal Show hosted by S.E. Day™.  “At FSBO, we work from the top down through innovation and strategy. We have aligned with major U.S. corporate creditors to provide credit tools and accounts that assist small businesses in building business credit and establishing their PAYDEX® Score.  We are also partnering with local small business owners and thought leaders like attorney Rochelle Walk to provide education and strategies to assist the participant in growing their businesses from sustainability to profitability.”

“Our firm represents and works with many small businesses and we strongly believe that success of small business is fundamental to the success of our economy ,” states Rochelle Walk, President and Owner of Walk Law Firm, PA.  “The FSBO Event will be an opportunity to provide the participants with education  regarding legal concerns and legal planning aspects of being properly prepared to grow their businesses to the next level.”

For further information and registration about the For Small Business Only Business Education seminar, please visit the website at www.ForSmallBusinessOnly.com or call 813-379-7248.  To determine if a business qualifies for credit products through FSBO, please email Info@ForSmallBusinessOnly; or, visit LinkedIn, click on groups, and join the For Small Business Only group today and get registered.

About For Small Business Only (FSBO)
FSBO is a Florida-based company providing qualified small business owners with practical knowledge and applications specifically designed to enhance their business presence and increase their bottom line.

To qualify for credit products and trade accounts, participants with For Small Business Only, LLC must meet the following requirements: be in business for a period of one to two years; possess a current, legal business structure with their state’s Secretary of State; possess a complete business address and business telephone number (no P.O. Boxes allowed, home office addresses are acceptable); and, have an IRS issued tax ID number.

Contact

S.E. Day
The Legally Steal Show
813-379-7248 ph
FSBO@legallysteal.com
www.ForSmallBusinessOnly.com

IP Basics for Start-Ups and Business

When you start a businessintellectual property protection should be a primary part of your start-up business plan.  What intellectually property (IP) has your business developed?  Why should you protect it? And, more importantly, how do you go about protecting the various types of intellectual property that your business owns?  Every business is different and will have different intellectual property considerations, so it’s important to develop a strategy on how your business intends to protect its unique inventions, innovations, and information. It is important to remember that your trade name, ideas,  concepts and customer lists are important assets of your business — assets that need protection.

 

What is your intellectual property?

Intellectual property refers to creative and innovative inventions, marks, designs, or works of authorship that you or your business independently created.  Ask yourself this question, “If you gave this product, information, or design away, could it hinder or prevent you from competing in your industry’s market; would it prevent or impact your profitability?” If the answer is yes, then it is more than likely some form of intellectual property.

 

There are several different types of intellectual property that your business should consider when taking an inventory of its IP for business planning purposes, including: (i)patents, or new or improved inventions, including products and processes; (ii)trademarks, or logos, brands, and designs; (iii) copyrights, or unique works of authorship, including software, articles, books, brochures, artwork, music, etc.; and (iv)trade secrets, or formulas, patterns, compilations used in a business to gain an economic or commercial edge over competitors.

 

In the early stages of your business plan, you should take an inventory of what types of intellectual property that your company owns and which intellectual property is worth protecting.  In other words, examine your business to see what might be eligible for intellectual property protection, including patent, trademark, copyright or trade secret protection, and determine the value that these inventions, innovations, or information provide to your business.  The state and federal protections afforded to intellectual property owners are designed to reward your creativity and provide you with an economic or commercial benefit, so take advantage of these protections.

 

Why should you protect your intellectual property?

Your intellectual property is an asset of your company just like your office, or your bank account.  In fact, depending on the size of your company, and the importance or value of the intellectual property, you can easily include your IP as an asset value on your corporate balance sheet.  Your intellectual property distinguishes you and your product or services from those of your competitors and their products and services.  Just like any other corporate asset, you need to safeguard your intellectual property.  If you fail to adequately protect and police your intellectual property, your competitors, and even worse, your own employees or contractors, can study, steal, and improve upon your product or service and run you right out of the market.

 

Also, social media has exponentially increased the speed of informational posting and exchanges.   This is important for a number of reasons – one, the simplicity of these social media outlets allows you to quickly and easily put information out there that you may have failed to adequately protect that is accessible to consumers, clients, and competitors; and two, a competitor can just as easily steal, improve, and disseminate the information, which could seriously impact the economic benefit of the intellectual property to your business.

 

Additionally, registration is sometimes a requirement for pursuing a legal remedy (e.g., copyrights), so it is extremely important to register early.  And finally, another reason why you should invest now in your IP’s adequate protections is because a lawsuit later will be far more costly than the application and registration fees and the attorneys’ fees for consultation and filing.

 

How do you protect your intellectual property?

It is extremely important to consider and build intellectual property concerns into your business plan. You should educate yourself and your team on the basics of trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets, so at the very least, you know when something has been created that has the potential to be afforded protection.  Next, you will want to register your IP, either at the state or federal level, depending on the level of protection you desire.  Because of the unique nature of your business, and because the various types of intellectual property are protected in different ways through various registration processes, it is good idea to at least consult with an intellectual property attorney who is familiar with start-up businesses and familiar with your industry.  An attorney can help you file the appropriate state or federal registration, and often such tasks can be completed on flat or capped fees.  They can also help you protect your IP while registration is pending.

You should also establish corporate policies regulating ownership of your business’s new and existing intellectual property.  Often times, it’s not a competitor stealing a business’s IP; it’s a former employee, independent contractor, or partner who undermines the business. Have your employees and contractors execute adequate protection documentation, including well-drafted non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements, employment agreements, independent contractor agreements, etc.

Finally, once you have registered your IP, you should actively police it.  Collaborate with your clients, vendors, merchants, and anybody else who helps you get your product or service into the stream of commerce and keep your eyes open for illegal duplication of your product and/or services.  It is the owner’s responsibility to police its own intellectual property and to insist on legal compliance of the respective laws, rules, and regulations when you find someone infringing upon your IP rights.

 

Florida Legislature Passes New Revised Limited Liability Company Act – Important Reading for Members and Managers of LLCs

Intro

On May 3, 2013, the Florida House of Representatives unanimously passed the new Florida Revised Limited Liability Company Act (the “New Florida LLC Act”).  The Florida Senate unanimously passed a companion bill a week earlier.  Governor Scott approved the bill without issue or opposition on June 14, 2013.  Since LLCs are the most common form of business in Florida, this article is important reading for all business owners, especially owners seeking to protect their LLC assets and personal assets as soon as 2014. The New LLC Act will be codified as Chapter 605 of the Florida Statutes and will govern limited liability companies (“LLCs”) within the state of Florida.  The New Florida LLC Act is materially different, in both form and substance, than the Existing Florida Revised Limited Liability Company Act (the “Existing Florida LLC Act”), which is codified in Chapter 608 of the Florida Statutes.  If you or your company is an existing Member or Manager of a Florida LLC, or if you plan to become one in the near future, it is extremely important to understand the New Florida LLC Act and how it may impact your existing and future operating agreements and other governance documents.   The summary below is not a comprehensive review of the new LLC Act and is not intended to replace the advice of an attorney, but rather is designed to help you assess your own LLCs and potential need to take action.

When will the New Florida LLC Act become effective?

 The New Florida LLC Act becomes effective on January 1, 2014 for all LLCs formed in Florida on or after January 1, 2014.  For all LLCs in existence prior to January 1, 2014, the New Florida LLC Act will not become effective until January 1, 2015; however, the members of an LLC may elect to have the New Florida LLC Act become effective as early as January 1, 2014. To do so, the governing documents of the LLC will need to be amended.

How will the New Florida LLC Act impact my LLC?

 The New Florida LLC Act, like the Existing Florida LLC Act, and like most business organization statutes, is a default statute, which means that it provides a set of standard rules governing LLCs and how they are organized, how they operate, and how they are governed.  These standard rules may be modified, with limited exceptions, through specific language contained in either the Articles of Organization or the LLC’s operating or management agreement.  Like all LLC statutes, the New Florida LLC Act specifically prohibits the LLC from including language that modifies or supersedes certain statutory provisions (these are often referred to as “non-waivable provisions”).  This is significant because the New Florida LLC Act expanded the number of provisions which are now,  non-waivable and may not be altered by agreement of the members.

What changes were made in the New Florida LLC Act?

Expanded Non-Waivable Provisions.  The New Florida LLC Act has clarified that an LLC’s operating agreement may not remove certain rights, obligations and authority granted by the Act. Some of the provisions which an operating agreement may not change include:

  1.  The ability of the LLC to sue and be sued in its own name
  2. The right of a member to maintain a direct cause of action against the LLC, another member, or a manager in order to enforce such member’s rights and otherwise protect such member’s interest
  3. The right of a member to maintain a derivative action
  4. The right of an LLC to refuse to relieve persons, including members and managers, from liability if such persons acted in bad faith or committed willful, or intentional misconduct or a knowing violation of the law
  5. A Member’s or Manager’s duty of care, duty of loyalty, or obligation of good faith and fair dealing The  power of a member to dissociate from the LLC
  6. Statutory requirements with respect to the  contents of a plan of merger, plan of interest exchange, plan of conversion, or plan of domestication, plan of dissolution, articles of organization, statutory agents and other similar provisions
  7. The applicable governing law of the Florida LLC

Managing Member Eliminated.  Under the Existing LLC Act, there are three potential management options:  (1) Member managed, (2) Manager managed, and (3) Managing Member managed.  The New Florida LLC Act has effectively eliminated the concept of Managing Member managed.  It is possible that your operating agreement may need to be amended in order to avoid confusion, unintended results, and unintended personal liabilities, and to make very clear which of the remaining options you intend to use for your LLC.  For example:  once the New Florida LLC Act becomes effective, for those LLCs that are Managing Member managed, the Managing Member may no longer be able to act alone and may require all authorized actions to be subject to a member vote in accordance with the operating agreement.  In order to avoid an unintended result, you should revise your operating agreement and governance documents to reflect the intent of the members.

New Statement of Authority.

The New Florida LLC Act allows an LLC to file a statement of authority with the Florida Department of State as a way of providing constructive notice to third parties regarding persons authorized to act on behalf of the LLC.  The Statement of Authority will be effective for five years from the last amended or filed Statement of Authority, unless terminated earlier in accordance with the New Florida LLC Act.  You should consult with an attorney to determine the implication of filing a Statement of Authority and whether such Statement of Authority would be beneficial for your LLC.

Other Changes.

  •  Non-US entities are now permitted to domesticate as a Florida LLC
  • Non-economic members (members that don’t or are not obligated to contribute) are now permitted
  • The new Act includes specific service of process rules for LLCs

What should I do with my existing operating agreement?  Moving forward, how will my operating agreements be different?

If you or your company are a member or manager of an existing LLC, or are planning to enter into a new LLC, you need to understand the New Florida LLC Act and all the changes that were recently made.  At minimum, you should review your operating agreement with a qualified business attorney. LLC Agreements need to reflect how the members desire to operate the business. An experienced and practical business attorney will help you navigate the new Florida LLC Act in a way to help you amend your operating agreement to be consistent with your intent and operations.

The Walk Law Firm is available to review your operating agreement and help you understand the impact the New Florida LLC Act will have on your Florida entity. Operating reviews can be handled on a Flat Fee or Fixed Fee basis.   As experienced Florida business and commercial law attorneys, we have studied the New Florida LLC Act and can work with you to revise, amend, restate and draft new provisions for your LLC management and operating agreements eliminating unintended confusion or results.

 

Five Questions to Ask When Hiring a Lawyer for Your Business

As a General Counsel, I spent a significant amount of time researching and interviewing attorneys and other professionals to represent my company’s interest in litigation and business negotiations. The selection of counsel is a significant investment for a business and is more than a cost. As a matter of fact, selecting the wrong counsel or failing to engage counsel may be the most costly decision a business may ever make.

Business lawyers are not a dime a dozen and all lawyers are not created equally. Experience in business and with specific transactions helps clients set strategy and successfully navigate the most difficult transactions from financing arrangements to large acquisitions of property and negotiations with key employees and contractors. Often, business lawyers are sounding boards to business owners contemplating  confidential business transactions.

With the advent of the internet, it is easy to find lawyers and there are plenty of bidding sites like Elance.com and Guru.com where you can get a flat fee or a cheap quote. As tempting as it is to hire the cheapest lawyer, I strongly suggest that business owners take the time to find the best lawyer for the situation, avoiding what might be a costly mistake. So here are 5* questions I always ask when I engage counsel for business matters:

1. Who at the law firm will handle my work?

  • If it is a team, who will be on the team?
  • Who will be the lead and my contact?
  • How was the team selected?

2. What is [each working attorney’s ] experience in handling matters like the one that I have described?

  • Has this attorney ever handled this type of matter before?
  • Has the lead attorney ever been the lead in a matter like this before?

3. What is the attorney’s and firm’s workload and ability to handle the work in my time-frame?

  • Any time off or vacations planned?
  • Is the lead attorney accessible?
  • How will communications work? Email or Telephone? In Person Meetings?
  • How often should I expect to receive a status report?

4. What does the attorney anticipate the process to be?

  • What outcomes might I expect or should I consider?
  • What are the issues are concerning?
  • Make sure you understand the terms the lawyer uses and do not be afraid to stop a lawyer and ask what something means!

5. Billing and Fees:

  • How does the firm/attorney charge?
  • Can the firm provide a detailed invoice no less often than monthly for my review?
  • How can the firm and I positively or negatively impact fees?

As you can see, fees and costs are last, but not forgotten. It is important to understand that an inexperienced attorney can consume excessive time researching a matter just like a disorganized client can consume excessive amounts of attorney time just to get information gathered — both situations can significantly increase legal cost.

I have found that for some matters, an hour of a very experienced, albeit pricey, lawyer’s time is often more valuable than ten hours of the time of an attorney who is a newcomer to the topic. When I expect the transaction or litigation to have big rewards or expose my company to significant risk, I choose experience over hourly rate every time.

*By way of disclaimer, I usually ask more than 5 questions, I always do plenty of research,  and I also ask business friends and other professionals I trust for referrals to appropriate business lawyers. My five questions are in addition to references and research.

 

 

When is the Best Time to Call Your Business Lawyer — Before You Make a Costly Mistake

In this day and age of lean budgets and concerns about return on investment, I find that many clients tend to shy away from calling legal counsel until the issue at hand has escalated to an uncontrollable level. I actually understand that, because, like my clients, I am a small business owner, with a limited budget and limited resources. I find myself watching every dollar and carefully assessing the return on my investment before clicking on my PayPal or writing a check for clicks and views, plaques and, most recently, the expense of being listed as a Top-Rate Lawyer in Tampa.  I even assess the return on legal research systems and online databases.

So how does spending to be listed as a Top-Rated Lawyer in Tampa compare with spending money on lawyers you may ask? It all comes down to return on investment. I am asked to sponsor groups, which I often do. I am asked to speak and mentor, which I gladly do, primarily for free. Lexis, WestLaw, bar associations and mediator organizations have pay-to-use and pay-to-list publications and systems.  The return on investment is fairly easy to see since my business comes to me by referrals and word of mouth, a little from the internet and mostly from reputation. I also spend some money with marketing firms, accountants, insurance, training and education and other counseling-like resources to gain guidance and to make sure that I am staying on top of  my game. The mostly costly decision I make each day about my business is the one which costs me a client or causes me to have liability for failure to deliver top quality legal services.

So how does that equate to the best time to call a business lawyer? It is before you make a decision that could cost you a sale or client or would create an undue liability for failure to deliver, breach of contract or violations of laws. For my clients, that means thinking about protecting intellectual property, providing standard or customized contracts that customers and suppliers are willing to sign, but still protect business interests, having important agreements drafted or reviewed and compliance with the laws, especially as it relates to employees and the environment so that the business is not shut down. At the Walk Law Firm, we help clients develop strategies for financing and introduce them to concepts and ideas that may be less familiar but ultimately are needed to successfully run a business. Our goal is to provide the legal counsel clients need while making sure they receive a good return on investment.

In the last few weeks, we have helped clients mediate and settle a wrongful discharge claim, resolve preference actions, navigate loan modifications  and handle a variety of after-the-fact situations that might have been avoided if we had a short conversation before a decision was made. This month, I have also found financing for a client who did thought Bankruptcy was the only option because we talked early and developed a strategic plan. After the fact, the legal fees plus the cost of settlement are often far greater than what one might anticipate in an early resolution or for a short conversation to set strategy.

For me, the best time to to call a business lawyer, is when you need to make tough decisions or when you are considering future growth and divestment strategies.  Consider a small retainer relationship with your lawyers and ask to have it cover periodic phone calls and questions. We do it for our clients so that clients can call whenever they need a little bit of legal counsel or advice before making a decision which could lead to a costly mistake.

To learn more, please visit our website at WWW. WalkLawFirm.com

 

Attorney Rochelle Friedman Walk has Achieved the AV Preeminent® Rating – the Highest Possible Rating from Martindale-Hubbell®.

NEWS:    In the world of lawyers, there are many honors and opportunities to buy plaques and spend money to bolster one’s career, but in my book, only some honors worthy of sharing. I have recently learned that I was named a Top Lawyer in Tampa Bay for 2012 and again for 2013 by Law.com, the National Law Journal and some other related publications. This honor stems from my AV – Preeminent Rating, which I achieved and have maintained for more than 10 years. It truly is an honor to be rated by other attorneys in the top category for both ethical standards and legal ability. Some details of the honor:

Rochelle Friedman Walk, a lawyer and mediator based in Tampa, FL whose primary areas of practice are Business and Commercial Law and Alternative Dispute Resolution, has earned the AV Preeminent® rating from Martindale-Hubbell®

“Tampa, FL, March 4, 2013 – Martindale-Hubbell, a division of LexisNexis®, has confirmed that attorney Rochelle Friedman Walk still maintains the AV Preeminent Rating, Martindale-Hubbell’s highest possible rating for both ethical standards and legal ability, even after first achieving this rating in 2002,” according to the press release I received today.

The Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent® rating was started more than 130 years ago and is used by attorneys while searching for their own expert attorneys. With websites and social media, anyone can determine a lawyer’s rating by looking  it up on Lawyers.com or martindale.com. The Martindale-Hubbell® AV Preeminent® rating is the highest possible rating for an attorney for both ethical standards and legal ability. This rating represents the pinnacle of professional excellence. It is achieved only after an attorney has been reviewed and recommended by their peers – members of the bar and the judiciary.

The Walk Law Firm provides general counsel and mediation services to a diverse array of local, national and even international clients with particular focus on providing practical business counsel and alternative dispute resolution for businesses with small or nonexistent legal departments. I initially launched the firm to better serve business and mediation clients. Our focus is to assist businesses and entrepreneurs achieve their goals in a cost-effective and expedient manner. Our lean cost structure is designed to keep the burden of significant overhead costs low.

I am also a Florida Supreme Court certified Circuit Civil and Appellate Mediator, serve on the FINRA, Bankruptcy Court and Middle District mediation panels, handling business and financial meditations for parties wanting an experienced executive and lawyer mediate their matters.

To find out more or to contact Rochelle Friedman Walk of Tampa, FL, call 813-999-0199, or visit www.WalkLawFirm.com.

As a result of this honor, American Registry LLC, has added Rochelle Friedman Walk to The Registry™ of Business and Professional Excellence. For more information, search The Registry™ at http://www.americanregistry.com.

I am very proud that I have achieved the AV Preeminent® Rating – the highest possible rating from Martindale-Hubbell®.

Business Identity Theft: What is it? And how do I protect my business assets?

What is it?

Business identity theft is the fraudulent and unauthorized use of an entity’s identity.  It’s not just an information security breach. Rather, like consumer identity theft, business identity thieves impersonate the business or hijack the business’s identity in order to steal money or property, often by establishing lines of credit with banks and/or retailers. A corporate identity is an asset that needs protection!

Who is targeted?

The potential for more lucrative results has spawned an evolution of identity theft.  Rather than targeting a consumer, identity thieves are targeting unsuspecting businesses because businesses tend to have larger bank account balances, higher credit limits, and larger purchases made on behalf of a corporate entity generally don’t set off bells and whistles.  Small businesses are particularly vulnerable because they don’t have resources to constantly monitor accounts and records, and because they don’t have the structured security that large businesses have.

What is the result?

Generally, the damage that results from business identity theft is more severe than the results from consumer identity theft.  In consumer identity theft, the consequences tend to reach only the consumer targeted.  In business identity theft, the consequences affect the targeted business, but also the business’s employees and subcontractors, the business’s creditors, and the economy at large.

You might struggle obtaining a line of credit, which could impact operations. The cost of repairing or cleaning up the aftermath of a business identity theft can be costly with legal and accounting fees.

The terrible irony is that few businesses and business owners think about identity theft prevention as asset protection. But it actually is the most important asset protection plan a business can have.

How to prevent it?

At the Walk Law Firm, as Tampa small business attorneys, we advise our clients to take the same actions that public companies take:

  1. Protect your business information records – treat your EIN and Tax ID numbers like they are your social security number and limit access to all corporate records
  2. Monitor your corporate filings – many secretaries of state, including Florida, have email alert systems that notify you of any and all activity – enrolling in this service can provide early fraud detection
  3. Segregate Duties – accountants and auditors will tell you that no employee should be given access to all banking information as well as typical bank logins and passwords; segregate the duties relating to account access from those handling payroll and accounts payable
  4. Monitor your accounts and bills – frequent monitoring and reporting of suspicious transactions will limit your liability significantly
  5. Monitor the business’s credit report – routinely obtain a business credit report and review it for suspicious activity
  6. Train your employees to protect business information and to be aware of these crimes
  7. Be wary of phishing scams
  8. Install and utilize a firewall on your business computer and network
  9. Contact your creditors to ask about unusual activity