Can You Really Replace Your Lawyer with Artificial Intelligence and Internet Forms ?

Some months ago, I sat in a monthly CEO round table discussion regarding artificial intelligence (AI) and how it does and may, in the future, impact each of our businesses. One of the CEO’s astutely said he imagines in the not so distant future he won’t be needing me for much. He thinks he will be able to get all of his business deals done through Siri, Google or Alexa. After we all chuckled for a minute, I thought about whether that is true. If not, why not? If so, what do we need to do to differentiate ourselves from AI lawyers and law firms.

In considering the options, I came to the conclusion that he is partially right, and at the same time, very wrong.

He is right because so much information is available on the internet and finding forms that look pretty good or on point is not too hard today. With AI, finding the right form and information should be even easier. On the very wrong side of the equation, there is actually some art to what we do. Some of the clients who need us the most have tried to save money by drafting for themselves only to find themselves in a messy situation. Often, the drafts are inconsistent, lack key provisions, have language that is hard to interpret and create unintended consequences. Form agreements do not reflect orally agreed terms.

AI will get better.

With AI, it’s conceivable that some of the problems described above will dissipate. I still believe, the best business lawyers will continue to distinguish themselves from other lawyers with practical counsel based on experience.

AI will not compete with great legal minds.

When we hire young lawyers, I look for great minds with personalities that can communicate. Law school does not teach you to perform the tasks of a lawyer, but rather how to think like a lawyer. How to assess risk and pursue results. As business lawyers, we need to do even more. By learning from our clients about their business, we anticipate the future of business dealings and changes to law. Then, we design business structures that can grow with the business itself. So for our business clients, AI will need to be more than a system that pumps out forms to effectively compete with us.

Practical business advice will be difficult to convey.

We look at each client situation both from the practical business situation as well as the legal and risk management side. Our clients are small to mid-size businesses that are accelerating. We respond quickly, effectively and with an eye on the budget. We offer practical advice that is supported by quality legal work. Often, our clients’ businesses will need cash infusions or loans. We endeavor to ensure the business is being run and documented in a way that enables investors to invest without adding undue burden to the business owner. We need to be good at business – not just good lawyers.

Culling the information is an art.

As good as AI may be, the quantity of information will be daunting. Clients will be challenged to discern the practical solution. Culling forms and knowing what various types of investors need, what the IRS requires and balancing have to have, with nice to have, with not really needed, is an art form. It is learned from the number of deals we have done and from the experience of listening to the voice and tone of the client and other parties. The work changes with outside factors as emotions and desires of all of the parties fluctuate.

So at least until proven otherwise, I would be willing to put up my team and experience at the Walk Law Firm, PA up against the advice of Siri, Google and Alexa as practical business lawyers for small to midsize and accelerating businesses. We may create less forms in the future, but I am confident we will still be needed for our practical business and legal counsel.

WALK LAW FIRM, PA Named a 2017 Law Firm 500 Honoree for Fastest Growing Law Firms in the United States

We are very proud of the growth our firm has experienced over the last 3-years, but our record only stands because of our tremendous clients, dedicated team and passion for providing practical and timely legal counsel for businesses and their owners.

“Although we have grown quickly, we have worked hard to be measured by  results for our clients, not growth for growth’s sake,” commented Rochelle Friedman Walk, Esq., President of the Walk Law Firm, PA. “Our team has been dedicated to providing excellence in customer service resulting in many happy clients. In doing so, our commitment and focus has taken us on a fabulous journey of growth – both personally and for our business,” she continued.

We are pleased to announce that our law firm has been named a 2017 Law Firm 500 Honoree awarded to the fastest growing law firms in the US. It began earlier this year when we were nominated for our growth, operational excellence and commitment to client service. To our surprise, we were ranked 74th, which was stunning for a firm of 3 lawyers.

A significant area of growth for us has been in advising buyers and sellers of e-commerce businesses, especially Amazon.com, Jet.com, Ebay.com and other well known online retail. We strive to understand the current state of the art and the best methods for transferring, funding and managing the sale of these types of accounts and businesses.

We believe our focus on what we do best has enabled clients and referral sources to stick with us and rely on us. We exclusively represent businesses and their owners with a passion for quality, practical counsel. Whether the project is an acquisition of a new business, the sale of equipment, company agreements, partnership and shareholder agreements or simply practical counsel on how to handle a sticky situation, employment matter or intellectual property license, we are ready and willing to jump in and help.

The Law Firm 500 Award is an honor for our firm to receive and a tribute to our team. We are proud to serve our clients and delighted to be including in this list of growing and dedicated law firms.

As we continue to grow we encourage you to follow our progress, and stay in touch! You can view the full list of Law Firm 500 Honoree firms here: https://lawfirm500.com/award-honorees/

 

Understanding Limited Liability Company (LLC) Taxation

Once you’ve decided to form a limited liability company (LLC), your next decision is most likely going to be “how am I going to be taxed?” An LLC is not a tax entity. Instead, the IRS considers the LLC “disregarded” and applies tax laws that apply to sole proprietorships, corporations, and partnerships to the LLC. But, to avoid an esoteric discussion of tax law, I hope I can give you enough information in this article to help you in determining which tax entity is best for you.

If your LLC has one owner, it may elect to be a C corporation or S corporation, otherwise it will be a Disregarded Entity.  “Disregarded Entity” means the IRS ignores there is a legal entity between you and the income, losses, assets, etc. for tax purposes. A single owner disregarded entity will be treated as a sole proprietorship. If your LLC has multiple owners, it may elect to be a C corporation or S corporation, otherwise it will be a Disregarded Entity. A multi-owner disregarded entity will be taxed as a partnership.

To be or not to be… Disregarded

          Sole Proprietorships

The single member LLC, when disregarded, is analogous to a sole proprietorship. That is to say, you are your business and your business is you. Per the IRS, as a consequence of not making an election you will report your income and deductions, from your LLC, on a Schedule C, on your Form 1040. This is the simplest form of taxation and provides for single-level taxation. “Single” or “Double” taxation, as you’ll read later, refers to how many times the federal government gets to tax your “income.” With a sole proprietorship the only income tax that applies would be your individual income tax. But, the drawback of the sole proprietorships is that you have to pay Self-Employment Tax on all the income you make from the business. So keeping that in mind, you are going to pay income and self-employment tax on the profit you’ve made.

How much is self-employment tax? Generally it’s 15.3% on the first $117,000. Anything above $117,000 is subject to a 2.9% Medicare tax. There is an Additional Medicare Tax 0.9% tax for income over a threshold amount. The threshold amounts vary by filing status, but if you’re married filing jointly it is $250,000.

So in addition to your self-employment tax of 15.3%, you’re going to pay personal income tax. Assuming a 20% effective personal income tax rate, that’s a whopping 35.3%. Keep in mind that personal tax rates range from 0% to 39.6%, and possibly higher with the investment tax. As my good friend George says, the IRS is not my business partner, and luckily for him and for you there is a tax planning opportunity here.

C and S Corporations

The IRS allows for single members LLCs to elect, according to the check the box rules, to be taxed as a corporation. When you elect to be taxed as a corporation you are electing to be taxed under subchapter C of the internal revenue code, hence the nomenclature “C Corporation.” C corporations pay income tax on their income, though at preferential graduate tax rates. That means the overall tax brackets are lower than individual brackets. The profits stay in the company until there is a distribution. Typically, you’re going to distribute money from the corporation in the form of a dividend. Dividends are taxed at different rates than your income is taxed, typically much lower, at “capital gain” rates of 15-20%. But, you’re paying tax twice. Which is why this generally isn’t used as a tax structure, but the C Corporation’s brother, the S corporation is much more useful in reducing federal taxes.

Subchapter S corporations give the benefit single taxation at the individual level, while relieving some of the self-employment tax. Thus, instead of paying a corporate income tax, the S corporation pays nothing. In exchange, all of the income is deemed to have been distributed to the shareholders, unlike a C corporation, which only taxes its distributions when actually distributed. This is known as “phantom income.” The S corporation shareholders, whether or not they received the distributions, will pay taxes on that amount. One major benefit is that the shareholders do not pay self-employment tax on the income that is considered a distribution. This has the potential to greatly lower your tax bill. But, you have to approach this structure with caution. An S corp. does have to employ someone to do work. So if you’re doing all the work, you do have to pay yourself a “reasonable salary,” and you and the corporation will share the self-employment tax on your amount of compensation and file employment tax returns, Forms 941/944 and Form 940. Individuals get in trouble when they pay themselves too little and all the income as distribution. As in the case of Mr. Watson who found himself in court after paying himself $24,000 in wages and taking $203,651 in distribution.  While paying yourself a less than reasonable salary will lower your tax bill, it places you at risk. Nonetheless, any amount of money on which you do not have to pay employment tax, will reduce your taxes. Here’s an oversimplified example:

You’ve taxable income is $150,000 as an individual and you’re married. As a sole-proprietorship, you pay $39,528 in federal income tax plus $17,901 self-employment tax for a whopping $57,435. You keep $92,565.

If you were operating as an S corporation, let’s assume you pay yourself as a wage $75,000 and receive $75,000 in distributions. First, you’d pay self-employment tax on your wages of $75,000, which is $11,475. Reducing your distribution by that amount leaves you with $69,262 (75k for tax purposes) in compensation in your pocket and $69,262 available for distribution. Your income tax will be $35,928 plus 36% over 140,000. The product being $1,534 plus $35,928, totaling $37,426 in taxes. From $150,000 less self-employment taxes paid, take home $101,099 versus $92,565 as a sole proprietorship. A savings of $8,534 in taxes.

One caveat to keep in mind is that an S corporation generally cannot deduct health insurance and term life premiums while a C corporation can deduct up to $50,000 per employee. If you really wanted to make these amounts deductible, you could actually setup two separate entities and get the best of both worlds, primarily using a management contact.

S corporations also cannot make distributions unevenly, this is known as the “single class of stock” rule and have restrictions on ownership, unlike C corporations.

Partnerships

LLCs, with two or more members, who do not elect to be taxed as a corporation, will be taxed as a partnership. Partnerships, like S corporations, are a pass through tax entity. Meaning, the income is passed directly from the partnership to its Partners. Partnerships do not pay separate income taxes like C corporations. Partners of a partnership are not employees and should not receive a salary. There is a rich, legal history in understanding the employment status of partners in partnerships. Here is a detailed history. Otherwise, understand that a partner will pay self-employment tax on all of his income that flows from the partnership. A partnership can make “guaranteed payments,” which look like a salary to the partner. But, the partner will still need to pay self-employment tax on this income. There are several reasons to avoid the self-employment tax, but there are several reasons why you might choose to be taxed as a partnership.

Partnerships offer the most flexibility with a pass-through tax entity. A partnership will undoubtedly need a partnership agreement, or in the case of an LLC, an operating agreement. Both are contracts that govern the relationship between the entity and its members (LLC) or partners. With a partnership you can get creative in how cash will be distributed, who will be allocated income and losses, foreign or domestic, how debts are repaid, etc. For this reason, when there are multiple members who are not even partners, they often choose to be taxed as a partnership. But, to the extent that your entity doesn’t need a complicated structure of distributions or allocations, it is usually advisable not to be taxed as a partnership.

 A Note on Liability

As a general rule, LLC members are not liable for the debts of the LLC. But, in Florida, in accordance with the Olmstead case, the single member or a single member LLC, may become liable for the debts of the LLC, after the creditor secures a charging order. This is not the case for a multi-member LLC. If you are considering a single member LLC, you may consider a Florida Corporation with an S Corporation election, because you will get the limited liability you are searching for and the benefits of pass through taxation.

Need more help?
If you have more questions or need help establishing your entity please call our offices at (813) 999-0199, www.WalkLawFirm.com.

Frank Lago is an attorney at the Walk Law Firm, PA. HE is a graduate of Stetson University School of Law and holds an LLM in Taxation from Georegetown University.

Deadlock is Often the Ultimate Demise of Good Business

Consider this common scenario.

You’ve entered into business with your spouse, friend, or relative. At the inception of your business, you agreed that both of you would serve as the directors or managers of the Company, and you would be equal partners, each allocated fifty percent (50%) of the shares or ownership interest in the Company. Your relationship with your partner is healthy; you trust them; you trust their judgment; you’re excited about your idea, about your business. And life is great until…….

….. You have your first real dispute. The one that does not solve itself nor does it resolve with a drink at the bar.

As the business develops, you’re faced with decisions about the future direction of the business, about major business activities. Eventually, there may be a decision on which you simply cannot agree. And because you have equal control of the Company, your conflicting views ultimately stalemate or deadlock the business until you come to some agreement or decision.

Unfortunately, more often than not, people in this common scenario do not properly plan for or consider the potential for corporate deadlock, and it can lead, not only to the deterioration of a personal relationship, but also a business relationship and a business.

 HOW TO RESOLVE CORPORATE DEADLOCK

Planning for the Future.

The best way to avoid corporate deadlock is to plan ahead.  This should be a major consideration when you enter into a business relationship with anyone.  Sit down with your partner and discuss setting up a procedure for what happens if a deadlock arises.  It may not be an easy conversation to have – it may be difficult to imagine disagreeing with your partner. But sit down with your partner early and really consider the following things: (i) the nature of the business; (ii) your business plan; (iii) you and your partner’s individual ideas of the direction of the business; (iv) what problems that could arise in the business, financial or otherwise; (v) each person’s individual skill set. All these things can play a role in your deadlock discussion and the most appropriate procedure for resolving a potential deadlock. These frank conversations are even more important when one party is providing the money and the other is providing sweat equity.

Shareholders’ Agreements and Operating Agreements.

We find a lot of times that people who enter into business with a family member or close friend don’t even have a Shareholders’ Agreement or an Operating Agreement. This might be for a variety of reasons – they didn’t plan for initial legal costs and fees; they feel that they will be able to run the business through oral agreements and understandings; or, they find it uncomfortable to discuss the issues found in corporate governance documents, like transfer upon death, disability, divorce, debt, dissolution, or simply the desire of one partner to monetize and be paid out etc.

We recommend to all our clients, regardless of relationship between partners, shareholders, or members (even husband and wife), that they have some form of Shareholders’ Agreement or Operating Agreement in place establishing the governance of the entity, the rights, duties and obligations of the parties, including, if necessary, provisions addressing potential deadlock scenarios in management or between members or shareholders.

Alternative Provisions.

There are a number of different ways that an entity can resolve deadlock, and, in fact, it may be beneficial to a Company to implement multiple or hybrid deadlock methods. These methods can easily be incorporated into a Company’s governance documentation. Here are a few ways to resolve deadlock:

  1. Create a third party advisory board – either with other Members or Shareholders of the Company, or even an outside third party knowledgeable in the business and/or decision subject to deadlock;
  1. Consider implementing automatic mediation or arbitration – this may not be feasible for all companies or for all deadlocked scenarios – it can be costly and time consuming – but it can be quite effective in preventing dissolution when there is a deadlock for a major decision;
  1. Consider splitting or designating certain decisions to each partner – for examples, this partner has the ultimate decision making authority on banking and property, and the other partner has the ultimate decision making on sales and marketing – this method requires the partners to determine strengths and weaknesses and delineate accordingly – this method is useful when doing some form of hybrid deadlock provision;
  1. Consider a buy-out provision – if the partners cannot agree, one partner can buy the other partner’s shares or membership interest – there are a number of ways to structure a buy-out provision;
  1. If nothing else works, provide for a definitive right to withdraw or force dissolution or liquidation without court intervention. In this instance, you may be left relying on the default solutions contained in the Florida Statutes [Sections 605 and 607] or the decision of a judge who is unfamiliar with your business.

Need help in putting in place a shareholders’ agreement or an operating agreement?

Need help revising your current agreement with some alternative deadlock provisions?

The Walk Law Firm is available to review your current Shareholders’ Agreement or Operating Agreement in order to help you determine if, in fact, it’s appropriate for you and your partner(s).  Document review and drafting can be handled on a Flat Fee or Fixed Fee basis. To learn more, please contact us at the Walk Law Firm.

 

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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