As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” As we continually emphasize to our clients, the best time to establish written agreements and procedures is before disputes arise. Given the fact that many business owners embark on new business ventures with family members, close friends, and other familiar business associates, it is not surprising that they frequently operate with the attitude of getting the business off the ground while “figuring everything else out later.”
Of course, we understand this perspective, and can appreciate that time and resources may be limited. Yet, succumbing to this trap often leads to significant unintended, negative consequences. The results frequently include loss of valuable time and money, and the uncertainty of unwanted litigation. The cost of cleaning up mistakes is exponentially higher than hiring a good transactional lawyer from the beginning. Sadly, we have seen the closest of friends and family members end up in court, something that could easily have been avoided through thoughtful, proactive planning.
The following are some common pitfalls that could cause issues or disputes later on: operating without written agreements among business owners; failing to document key business transactions; inadequate corporate governance; disorganized management structure; tardiness in state or federal filings resulting in fines and penalties; and commingling of business and personal funds. To be sure, these are just a sampling: there are an endless array of traps for the unwary, uninformed business owner.
Having appropriate agreements and business structure in place is crucial for many situations: the onset of catastrophic events; preparation for a business acquisition or merger; or the smooth transition of a business triggered by a founder’s disability, death or retirement.
As experienced business lawyers, we strategize with our clients on how to best resolve issues and disputes when they arise. However, we much prefer working closely with our clients to proactively plan and prevent these types of issues from ever arising. And frankly, it’s easier, less costly, and more effective. Our clients are grateful in either scenario – coming to us before or after a dispute – but the before has much less headache.
We look forward to speaking with any business owners who feel that they could benefit from this type of proactive approach.