Before starting up a new enterprise, it’s wise to hire a small business lawyer. An attorney who specializes in small business services will ensure everything is legal and aboveboard before you begin — preventing costly future fixes. A small business lawyer will help you legally establish your business entity, establish ownership and equity rights, advise you on the most advantageous tax filing, and much more.
It’s helpful to have your business plan outlined, suggests James Kannard of Law Office of James Kannard in New Port Richey, Florida. Know what it is you want to produce or provide, how you want to do it, and what your staffing needs will be so the attorney can understand your vision and best advise you. But you don’t have to know everything before you contact a lawyer, says David Simon of Simon Law Group in Chicago, Illinois. It’s better to start working with an attorney earlier rather than later. Simon has seen new companies have their organization dissolved by the secretary of state due to improper filings. This costs businesses additional fees to have a lawyer resolve the issues — so it’s best to start off right.
Lawyers may work on a flat fee for one service or a bundle of services, or they may charge an hourly rate. Lawyers’ rates and fees will always vary based on regional cost factors as well as the lawyer’s experience, so be sure to research the right fit for you. If you’re ready to build a solid foundation for your new business, here are the cost factors for a small business lawyer.
Lawyers may charge a flat fee for services associated with starting a small business when they can confidently estimate how long the project will take.
For his simplest one-person business client in Illinois who doesn’t need much legal footwork or frequent consultations, the flat fee might be $500, says Simon of Simon Law Group. This might include discussing what the business will entail, telling the client what steps to follow, filing forms on the client’s behalf, drafting an operating agreement that governs the business entity, answering client questions and more. This flat fee does not include filing fees charged by the state, which might range from $175 to $750 in Illinois. Filing fees vary by state.
At the other end of the spectrum, a larger startup’s lawyer might charge $10,000, says Simon of Simon Law Group. This fee would cover complicated business dealings such as a private equity offering, which requires disclosure documents and other government filings. The lawyer must set up a corporation owned by multiple investors with different classes of stock, and draft the bylaws and other corporate documents. The startup process for this type of organization could require several months of working in partnership with the client, explains Simon of Simon Law Group.
Level of Service
Legal fees for startup services will vary based on the level of service you need and how complicated your new business model will be, says Simon with Simon Law Group. Generally speaking, the more money being invested into the new business and the more partners there are, the more complicated the legal work — and the higher the legal fee. Here are two examples of small business legal costs:
Coffee shop in Chicago
Total cost to client: $3,500 from Simon Law Group.
Legal services included: Assistance forming an entity, advice on how entity should be structured, filing of paperwork, filing of articles of organization for an LLC, drafting the operating agreement in conjunction with clients and their accountant, advising on and registering their trademark, advising on best tax filing, and help with negotiating a commercial lease.
Development of investment product in Chicago
Total cost to client: $7,500 from Simon Law Group.
Legal services included: Structuring and developing a business entity for a $250 million equity offering, structuring the business, drafting all documents and bylaws, and developing an agreement — including preparing all operating agreements and filings, and necessary paperwork to account for multiple investors.
LLCs, sole proprietorships and partnerships
Most small businesses are LLCs, sole proprietorships or partnerships. It’s important to consult with an attorney about what you file as and what your liabilities will be, says Kannard with Law Office of James Kannard. Owners of sole proprietorships and partnerships are 100 percent liable for damages that result from the company’s business. A person who sues the sole proprietorship or partnership can come after the owner’s car, home and personal assets, explains Kannard at the Law Office of James Kannard. A lawyer can best protect you and your assets. A limited liability corporation (LLC) provides many of the same protections as a corporation (S-corp), says Kannard, although there are still some circumstances where a person could sue the owner directly. One reason to choose an LLC over an S-corp is that all profits pass straight through to the the owner, says Kannard, so there is no double taxation. Always consult with a lawyer and accountant first to determine the best tax and business model for your new enterprise.
Many lawyers will act as the registered agent for their client once that business is registered with the Department of State, says Kannard of Law Office of James Kannard. In Florida, companies are required to submit an annual report, which the registered agent can do on your behalf. The registered agent also receives any papers served against the business, so a lawyer in that role is well prepared to deal with that paperwork for you. Kannard of Law Office of James Kannard adds that a registered business is better positioned to file suit against others if necessary.
Employment contracts usually require legal help, says Kannard of Law Office of James Kannard. If you don’t write noncompete agreements correctly, you can end up without any legal foundation to stand on once the work contract is terminated. If you hire employees, you need to deal with unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicaid, health insurance, payroll and more, says Kannard with Law Office of James Kannard. A startup lawyer can help you determine what your legal obligations are and how best to meet them.