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Selecting an attorney is one of the most critical decisions of every small business owner, including those that own and operate a photography business. He or she is one of the invaluable strategic partners you need to operate a successful enterprise. Legal counsel is often like insurance: it protects you everyday, but, most of the times, it isn’t foremost in your mind.
Your attorney’s most important role is to help you avoid problems before they occur or keep them to a minimum. This is a lesson too many businesses and individuals have learned the hard way, after they are facing significant legal issues. Paying an attorney a small fee to make sure your contracts are legally correct, for example, is generally much less costly than asking him or her to represent you in a lawsuit about a contractual disagreement.
An Examination of Your Legal Health
One of your attorney’s most critical purposes is to review regularly the current legal health of your photography business, just as you would receive a medical check-up from your physician. Whether you operate an established photography business or are opening a new business, listed below are just a few of the possible photography business scenarios when you will want the advice of an attorney.
Your business strategy as it relates to major, and even minor, changes to how you do business, the services you offer, to whom, etc.
New legal issues that may arise because of changes to and/or growth of your business.
Important documents, such as company structure, partnership agreements, contracts, and employment manuals and policies.
Records you’re required to keep of board and financial decisions; real estate assets, deeds and property and equipment leases; franchising and license agreements; insurance (business interruption, personnel, D&O, etc.); intellectual property (creation, protection, avoiding misuse); etc.
Reviewing your insurance policies to be sure they cover all liability issues.
Choosing the wrong attorney or a bad attorney for your business can be just as harmful as having no legal representation. A relative who is an attorney may offer his or her services at no cost or a reduced cost. A customer may be an attorney and is eager to assist you. Another business owner or mentor may recommend someone. Those may be good sources, but it is more important to select the right attorney, instead of any attorney that may be available and convenient.
Remember, that similar to the medical profession, attorneys can be generalists or specialists. For example, as a small business owner, you don’t need a high-powered corporate attorney. Plus, you probably couldn’t afford the fees. An attorney that specializes in a particular industry (transportation, for example) or a type of law (health insurance) doesn’t necessarily qualify him or her to advise you.
Take Control of Costs
An important part of choosing an attorney and working with him or her is to make sure you control the relationship, especially costs. Establish the “ground rules” for your relationship at the beginning and be prepared before you call your attorney about a specific issue.
Even if your attorney will not charge you for every phone call (but certainly if he or she will), document your talking points and share them with your attorney before the clock starts ticking during a phone call or meeting.
Designate whether others in your business have permission to contact the attorney, if necessary (you’re on vacation, etc.), and then provide their names to your attorney, so he or she knows they are authorized to speak for you.
Prepare a letter and/or document that specifically describe the scope of work you expect from your attorney, including the fees, an itemization of chargeable expenses and the reasons you may sever your relationship.
Read Part 2 of this PhotographyTalk.com article to learn how to interview potential attorneys before you choose one for our photography business.