Posts under: Business planning

Essential Tax & Legal Tips for the NEW Business Owner

August 28, 2017 Business planning, Law, Tax Planning Comments Off on Essential Tax & Legal Tips for the NEW Business Owner

Starting a business is a process.  It is MUCH more than filing the one or two page articles/certificate of formation with the state.  At the same time, it doesn’t have to be so complicated and overwhelming that you never start.   Further, not only is starting a business a process, it’s a process that is unique to YOU.  It is not a cookie-cutter one size fits all proposition.  What your business and YOUR situation require may be completely different than anyone else you might know who is self-employed.  Having said that, here are 8 tips that apply to all businesses, but how to USE these tips will be different for each business owner:

  1. Operate out of and properly maintain the appropriate entity formation for YOUR situation. While it is true you can operate your business as a sole proprietorship, I think it’s generally better to operate your business out of an entity such as an LLC or corporation.  First, I think it has a positive impact on your mindset as a business owner in that it makes you feel more “legit”and others will see you the same. More importantly, it is always better to operate your business out of an entity such as an LLC or corporation as those companies prevent liability of the business from extending to the owners.  Lastly, operating out of an entity can in certain situations produce tax savings such as when operating out of an S-corporation to save self-employment taxes. This is generally recommended for operating businesses who have $30-$40k net annual income.
  2. Make sure you have a partnership/ownership agreement if there are other owners. If you have somebody that you trust to own and run your business WITH YOU, that’s a great thing, and hopefully you continue to have a great business relationship with that person(s).  But don’t let that be a reason to NOT get your relationship in writing through a written agreement that you both/all would sign to memorialize the rights and obligations of each other.  If the business fails or one of the owners wants out or isn’t “pulling their weight” and you didn’t address this in writing BEFORE the crisis/event has occurred, that friendly business partner could wind up AGAINST YOU.
  3. Embrace bookkeeping. Embrace the fact that bookkeeping is one of the keys to maximizing tax write-offs and commit to either obtain the right training to do it yourself OR see the value in outsourcing it to someone who knows what they’re doing.  Maybe your strength as an entrepreneur is the marketing/sales side of business, or you have the relationships to be successful, but when it comes to taxes, you must keep good records, and for all your strengths, if you’re not organized, you’re going to get killed in an IRS audit.  So either learn to be organized with your records in terms of tracking expenses and use a good bookkeeping software (Mark Kohler offers a great set of videos that train on how to use Quickbooks), or outsource it to someone else who is good at it so you can focus on what you do best. The clients who embrace bookkeeping usually have more write-offs and deductions come tax-time as they rarely miss an opportunity to expense something.
  4. Have periodic tax and legal consults with your attorney and CPA. Unfortunately, many small business owners don’t use a business attorney ever, and maybe only meet with their CPA once a year, assuming they even use a CPA.  I think the cost of meeting with a good business attorney and CPA at least twice a year is worth the cost.  Prevention is much less expensive than the cost of getting “sick”, whether “sick” is an unnecessary amount or risk exposure that leads to a lawsuit, or whether “sick” is failure to maximize tax write-offs and you’re paying more than necessary to Uncle Sam, OR, maybe without a good CPA you’re TOO aggressive on your taxes or even worse, you don’t file a return at all and the IRS comes knocking.  Not to mention meeting with your attorney and/or CPA is a tax write-off!  On the legal side, it is good to get periodic “checkups” on how your business is structured, what has changed, what’s coming up that is new in your business, etc., so that your business attorney can guide you on mitigating your risks and protecting against liabilities.  On the tax side, it’s good to also get periodic “checkups” to talk about tax strategies and which ones you aren’t maximizing or implementing, or which ones you’re doing wrong that is going to be a problem in an audit, i.e. health care, paying kids, auto, home office, dining, entertainment, travel, tax deductible contributions to retirement plans, owning real estate, etc.
  5. Be sure to have adequate insurance for your business. This legal tip is not new or cutting edge by any means, but the failure to follow it could be catastrophic to your business.  A good insurance broker can help a great deal to match up the appropriate amount of insurance (in terms of amount and policy types) for YOUR business.   You don’t want to spend TOO much of your business income on insurance premiums but if you don’t have any insurance, if/when a liability comes up in your business, and you don’t have an appropriate insurance policy to divert that financial responsibility for that claim/liability to an insurance company, it puts the full force of that claim or liability on potentially ALL of the assets and income of your business.
  6. Make sure to use contracts in your business and don’t rely on verbal conversations or handshake deals. You may have heard that under the law in most situations verbal contracts are enforceable.  That doesn’t mean you should RELY on them, especially with the core aspects of your business i.e. your clients, your vendors, your business partners, etc., you want to properly memorialize the agreement IN WRITING.  This will make it SO much easier to prove your case in court if the other party violates/breaches the written contract versus trying to prove they breached/violated a contract that is not in writing and signed by all parties.  You should have a good service contract or something applicable that is provided to your customers.  This not only helps with enforcing any liabilities or claims you have against them (non-payment for example), but it also is REALLY helpful to clarify the SCOPE of what your business WILL do for them and what your business will NOT do for them.  If you don’t clarify that in writing, you have no idea what your customer assumes or expects, so even it doesn’t result in a lawsuit, it can create a rift between your business and that client and result in bad press about your business on social media, etc.
  7. Make sure you are properly characterizing your workers (independent contractor v. employee). There is a temptation for the small business owner to view/consider ALL of their workers as independent contractors.  The small business owner loves to do that because there’s no payroll tax, no added costs for worker’s compensation, unemployment, employee benefits, etc.  Unfortunately, the federal and state taxing authorities do not take YOUR word alone that your workers are actually independent contractors.  IF you improperly classify workers as independent contractors and the government (state or federal) determines they are employees, you will have fines and penalties.  Don’t misunderstand, you can have workers that ARE independent contractors, so long as they are TREATED as independent contractors, and the key word there is “independent”.  If you’re going to micro-manage what they wear, when they work, how they work, where they work, etc., that doesn’t sound very “independent” and it sounds at lot like an employee, which it is sometimes necessary to have that much control of your workers, but you can’t have it both ways, if you treat them like employees, you have to accept that it comes with things like payroll taxes, unemployment, worker’s comp, etc.
  8. Have an exit strategy (including an estate plan). Understandably your primary concern is getting the business STARTED, so you might think it would be unproductive to think about an exit strategy so early in the “game”, but it is so important to have that in your mind.  Do you want to grow the business and sell it soon as possible or hold onto it and pass it loved ones, or maybe you want to buy out your partner’s ownership (or vice versa).  There are many unknowns that make it difficult to have any certainty about what WILL happen, but it’s very productive to consider the ways in which it COULD happen and form an opinion on what seems most appealing to you.  But REGARDLESS of what your exit strategy is, you should make sure your business ownership and estate plan is coordinated.  Even if you plan to sell the business as soon as possible, and you have no plans of owning the business for the long-term, the spontaneity of death requires that even in that situation, your business ownership be coordinated with your estate plan.  Don’t forget about incapacity either.  This could mean you have power of attorney documents in your estate plan that contemplates ownership/operation of your business if you become incapacitated.

In sum, your business needs you as the business owner to make sure your business is healthy from both a tax and legal perspective.  These tips are a great starting point to make sure that happens.  Our office is available to assist and would love to help you and your business with implementing these and other tips specifically to you and your business.

Legal Tips for Wholesaling Real Estate

July 18, 2017 Business planning, Real Estate Comments Off on Legal Tips for Wholesaling Real Estate


Many real estate investors regard wholesaling as a way to learn how to evaluate deals and develop your real estate network.  It is also a method to profit from investing in real estate without requiring significant up front capital.  Wholesaling is a strategy whereby the wholesaler enters into a purchase contract with a seller of real estate and then assigns the purchase contract to another third party who will typically rehab the property and flip it for a profit (at least that is the goal).

Although most investors regard wholesaling as involving less risk than, for example, the flipper who is rehabbing and selling the property, there are always risks in any transaction, and so the purpose of this article is to identify some of the common legal issues to look out for in your wholesale deals.  This article is not designed to teach you the strategies for being a successful wholesaler, such as how to find properties, how to approaching homeowners, etc., but instead, focuses on some of the legal aspects of wholesaling that investors should be aware.

Licensing Issues:  Be aware of potential licensing requirements for your state:  Different states define the scope of activities that require a license differently and so you should be aware of what activities are regulated by your particular state and act accordingly.  For example, California generally defines a real estate broker as someone who sells, buys or negotiates for another with the expectation of compensation.  If your activities in California meet these elements, then be advised that you may need to be licensed as real estate agent.   Any questions regarding state licensing requirements should be directed to an attorney with knowledge of the requirements of that state.

LICENSING ISSUES

Understand the Rules & Procedures Governing Real Estate Transactions in your State:  Many states have unique laws, forms or disclosure requirements for real estate purchase transactions.  For example, in California, a seller is required to provide a transfer disclosure statement and if the property is in foreclosure, there are additional required disclosure requirements.  Failure to abide by the rules that are required in your state could cause legal issues down the line in your transaction.  You don’t want to have a seller or your end buyer come back later raising an issue with the transaction that could have been avoided had you followed the proper procedures for real estate transactions in your state.

DISCLOSURE & TRANSPARENCY

Be Transparent as to your Role in the Deal:  If your intent is to wholesale the property during escrow, the homeowner should be well aware in writing that your intent is to assign the deal to a third party for profit, and the contract language should give you a unilateral right to assign without requiring the consent of the homeowner.  Most standard form purchase agreements you get from realtors do not have this language and so an amendment or specially prepared form may be necessary.   On the buyer’s side, you should be very clear in your written agreement with the end buyer as to what you will be responsible for and what will be the responsibility of the end buyer.  For example, are you going to do an analysis of after repair value (e.g. running comps and estimating repair costs)? Run title?  Do an inspection?  What happens to your earnest money deposit once you assign the contract to the end buyer?   Your agreement should clearly specify in detail what your specific obligations are in the deal, where your obligations in the deal ends, and what the end buyer is expected to do to close the deal.  It is better to have these details on who does what expressed clearly in writing rather than rely on assumption.    Most importantly, you should include language that fully releases you from any further obligations or liabilities in the deal to ALL parties once you complete the assignment to end buyer.

CONTINGENCY CLAUSES 

Make Sure Your Contingencies are Clear.  This should go without saying, but depending on the specifics of the particular deal, it is important to properly set the expectations early for all the parties involved.   I typically advise clients who wholesale properties to have a good understanding of what their potential end buyers want in a deal in terms of location, spread, contract language, due diligence items, etc.  I also encourage individuals wanting to pursue wholesaling to develop relationships with rehabbers as early as possible, preferably before getting a property under contract, so that they have a good idea of whether they will be able to successfully complete the assignment as intended.    It is highly recommended to have your team of professionals such as realtors, contractors, appraisers, etc. in place to provide accurate feedback as you analyze the merits of your deal.  Finally, have an attorney’s fees clause in your agreements so if you have to pursue legal action to enforce the agreement or your contingency clause, you preserve the right to seek your attorney’s fees.

Of course, making sure you are covering yourself legally is just one detail for successful wholesaling.  Finding the right properties, learning to negotiate with homeowners, and developing a network of professionals to assist you during the wholesaling process are all necessary aspects for successful wholesaling, but making sure that you are covering your bases legally will help ensure that your wholesale deals proceed smoothly with minimal possibility for conflict.

Ask Your Attorney if a “Covfefe” Trademark Is Right for You

July 11, 2017 Business planning, Corporations, Law, Litigation Comments Off on Ask Your Attorney if a “Covfefe” Trademark Is Right for You

On May 31st, 2017, at 12:06 a.m. Eastern Time, President Donald Trump unleashed the following tweet: “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.” No one has been able to definitively crack the code (if there is one) as to what “covfefe” actually means. The President took down the tweet six hours later and replaced it with a tweet saying: “Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe’??? Enjoy!”

Predictably, the word “covfefe” immediately went viral on social media, with several twitter users encouraging their followers to “ask your doctor if Covfefe is right for you” and others thinking it’s what you’re supposed to say when someone sneezes. In the following days and weeks, covfefe has taken on a life of its own and become a bit of a cultural phenomenon. Late night hosts have debated whether President Trump had some sort of minor stroke or simply fell asleep when he typed covfefe, and Hillary Clinton was asked about what she thought it meant in a recent public appearance.

However, it’s not only comedians and 24-hour news channels that are making hay with covfefe. A Google search of “covfefe” reveals dozens of businesses ready to sell you apparel with hundreds of variations on the covfefe theme. To date, my personal favorites are “Make America Covfefe Again” and “What Part of Covfefe Don’t You Understand?”

A check of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) databases shows that in the forty days since the covfefe phenomenon began, 34 trademark applications have been filed using the term. The products and services being tied to covfefe run the gamut from “advice relating to investments” to fragrances, toys, coloring books, and even sandwiches. As you might expect, four different companies have filed applications to use covfefe for beer.

However, easily the most popular application (there are about twenty of them) is to get protection for using covfefe on t-shirts, hats, and other apparel. One applicant for a covfefe apparel trademark even appears to have access to the inner circle of Trump advisors and confidants who know what covfefe really means – after all, its application is for: “COVFEFE – Carry On Vigilantly Fighting Evil For Ever.”

So, the question becomes: which of these applicants will win the coveted “covfefe” trademark for t-shirts? The answer from this trademark attorney is: very possibly none of them! Why? Because the USPTO will generally refuse an application as “ornamental” if what is submitted to the USPTO shows that the use of the mark is only decorative or ornamental. That is, if the use of the mark does not clearly identify the source of the goods and distinguish them from the goods of others – which is required for proper trademark use.

The USPTO’s number one example of “ornamental” use is when a quote is prominently displayed across the front of a t-shirt, such as “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword.” The USPTO’s position is that most purchasers would perceive the quote as a decoration, and would not think that it identifies the manufacturer of the t-shirts (the source of the t-shirts could be Hanes® or Champion®, for example, as shown by the neck-tag).

Other examples of “ornamental use” put out by the USPTO are:

  1. A logo on the front of a hat. When the logo is associated with an organization, like a sports team, which did not manufacture the hat.
  2. Stitching designs on the back pocket of a pair of jeans. Purchasers are accustomed to seeing embellishments on jean pockets and would not think this embroidery design identifies the source of the jeans.
  3. A floral pattern on tableware or silverware. A purchaser would likely see this pattern as merely decorative and would not think it identifies the source of the tableware or silverware.
  4. The phrase “Have a Nice Day” or a smiley face logo. Everyday expressions and symbols that commonly adorn products are normally not perceived as identifying the source of the goods.

While there is no definitive place to affix a mark to goods to avoid an ornamental refusal, the location, size and dominance of a mark have a big impact on how the public perceives it. The USPTO has offered the following examples of proper non-ornamental trademark use:

  1. Discrete wording or design on the pocket or breast portion of a shirt. A purchaser would typically associate the small logo on a shirt pocket or breast area with the manufacturer or the source of the shirt.
  2. A tag on the inside of a hat or garment. A purchaser would associate a logo on the tag with the maker of the garment.
  3. Logo on a tag above the back pocket of a pair of jeans. A purchaser would typically associate this mark with the manufacturer of the jeans.
  4. A small logo stamped on the back of a dinner plate or bottom of a coffee mug. Purchasers are accustomed to seeing a mark used in this location to identify the source of the tableware.

Another way to get around an “ornamental use” refusal from the USPTO is to show that the mark has “acquired distinctiveness.” Long-term use in commerce, advertising and sales figures, dealer and consumer statements, and other evidence can be used to show that consumers directly associate a mark with the source of those goods. While this probably won’t work for the covfefe applicants (since the term has only existed for about six weeks), it could be an option in your situation.

The final option for the covfefe trademark applicants would be to move their applications to the “Supplemental Register.” Registration on the Supplemental Register doesn’t provide all the same legal advantages as registration on the Principal Register, but it does provide protection if and when someone applies for a conflicting mark later. Also, after five years of continual use, you can apply for (and in most cases will be awarded) registration on the Principal Register.

If you feel like you have captured “covfefe-like” lightning in a bottle, and want to talk about how to protect your name and/or logo, please give me a call at 435-596-9366 or shoot me an email at jarom@kkoslawyers.com.

Bitcoin Basics: What is Cryptocurrency?

July 3, 2017 Business planning, Law, Tax Planning Comments Off on Bitcoin Basics: What is Cryptocurrency?


Questions about Bitcoin have increased dramatically as investors have seen the price of Bitcoin rise from 30 cents per Bitcoin in 2011 to $2,550 per Bitcoin in July 2017. This article answers basic questions about Bitcoin and we’ll have two follow-up articles addressing IRA ownership of Bitcoin and about accepting Bitcoin in your business. Needless to say, there’s a “bit” of uncertainty when it comes to whether or not one should invest in Bitcoin (sorry –bad pun) but here’s a breakdown of the basics.

What Is Bitcoin And How Does it Work?

Bitcoin is one type of digital currency also known as crypto currency. Users of Bitcoin pay each other directly without traditional intermediaries such as banks or even governments using what is known as blockchain technology to effectuate transactions. First, you would install a Bitcoin wallet on your device and it will generate a Bitcoin address. When you provide your Bitcoin address, the person paying you can transfer funds to your address and into your Bitcoin wallet. This transaction and all transactions on the Bitcoin network are done using this blockchain technology, which is a ledger that tracks balances. Cryptography i.e. mathematical proofs that provide high levels of security are used to strengthen the security of the Bitcoin network. By the way, cryptography is not some untested technology – it is through cryptography that online banking is currently done. As a Bitcoin user, you would authorize a transaction using a secret piece of data called a private key. A transaction isn’t finalized until it has been mined, which is a confirmation process to ensure the integrity of the transaction. You can learn more at www.bitcoin.org. I will write another article regarding whether a small business owner should consider accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment.

Where Did It Come From And Is It Risky?

Bitcoin was created in 2008 by an anonymous creator. Many executives in the financial sector are cautious or even skeptical, but others are optimistic and confident that it is not going anywhere. Fidelity CEO Abigail Johnson believes in the future of digital currency and has been a proponent of Bitcoin.. One of the biggest complaints against digital currency is the lack of security/protection from hackers. JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has been a notable critic citing its use by criminals looking to transact outside of the traditional financial system. In 2015, a notorious online drug sales scheme was orchestrated using Bitcoin. There was an incident in Japan in 2013 in which digital hackers stole about $450M worth of Bitcoin. A similar incident happened in Slovenia in 2013. Other controversies surrounding Bitcoin include the disappearance of notable Bitcoin start-up companies Neo and Bee in 2014. In 2015 there were arrests when it was learned that Bitcoin company MyCoin was running a Ponzi scheme in Hong Kong. There have been quite a few money laundering cases here in the U.S. involving Bitcoin.

Should I Invest In It And How Do I Invest In It?

Most people investing in Bitcoin are using a relatively small portion of their investment portfolio i.e. I don’t know anyone who is investing most or all their “eggs” in the digital currency. A lot of people are excited about it, but like any investment, if you don’t time it right and/or you don’t know what you’re doing you can and probably will lose money. The concept, however, in simplistic terms is that you buy the digital currency at a certain price and sell it for more than you paid for it. There is the famous story of Kristoffer Koch who paid $27 in 2009 for 5,000 Bitcoins which has now been valued at almost $1M. Currently, 1 Bitcoin equals approx. $2,550 U.S. Dollars, so it would cost you over $10,000 to buy 4 Bitcoins right now. Over the last three or four years, the value of Bitcoin has continued to increase and it is the dramatic increase in value that has caused the recent stir and attention around digital currency investing. Others are attracted to Bitcoin as a protection against government currency. These investors fear a failure in the financial markets, which will dilute and may cause value declines in the dollar or other government currencies. These investors prefer to hold their Bitcoin directly, rather than through a fund.

Assuming you’ve done your research and are comfortable with the process, in terms of actually investing, one option is to invest in the Bitcoin Investment Trust (GBTC). GBTC is a publicly traded security that solely invests in Bitcoin. This allows an investor to use a traditional investment vehicle to realize gains (or losses) as the price of Bitcoin fluctuates without actually possessing and storing bitcoins. However, investing in bitcoin through the GBTC provides only a fractional value of the actual price of bitcoin and so in terms of ease and convenience, the GBTC is a good option, but at least for now, it’s not the best option to capitalize on the full value of Bitcoin. Coinbase, Inc. is another option – it is essentially a digital exchange where you can invest in Bitcoin as well as other cryptocurrencies (see below). Another option is to invest in actual Bitcoin through a self-directed IRA, which I will write about in another article.

What Are Other Types of CryptoCurrency?

Bitcoin is not the only form of digital currency – others include Litecoin, Peercoin, Primecoin, Namecoin, Ripple, Quark, Mastercoin, and Ether(Ethereum).

In sum, like any investment, it requires due diligence and a correct timing of the market(s). As you can tell, there have been some crazy tales of Ponzi schemes and fraud but also stories of incredible returns. In any case, I don’t think digital currency is going away anytime soon – I guess you could say that the stories in this article have been “tales from the crypt”-o currency (it was a stretch but I decided to go for it).

The Realities of Litigation

June 27, 2017 Business planning, Law, Litigation Comments Off on The Realities of Litigation


For most people involved in a dispute, declaring the words “See you in Court!!” can seem like the perfect threat or even feel therapeutic at the least. Some even presume that by stating “I’m going to sue you” is like declaring nuclear war against the other side and the person or company that wronged you will certainly want to ‘settle’ because you have scared them with a lawsuit.

However, people who have actually been participants in litigation soon realize that there is no such thing as “inexpensive litigation,” and many individuals, fueled by the passion of a person scorned, proceed hastily to the courthouse seeking vindication or retribution without having a full understanding of the realities that they are getting themselves into.

Certainly, one of the great hallmarks of our society, and what separates the American system from many others around the world is an independent judiciary. But again, the media frequently oversimplifies what is actually involved in the legal process with its sole focus on sensationalizing the outcome thereby conveying a misleading impression of the actual litigation process.   Here are a few misconceptions I frequently encounter with clients about the litigation process include the following:

  1. Are you ready for the PROCESS? Unless you are in small claims, you generally don’t just file a lawsuit and then get to see Judge Judy the very next day. Media usually focuses on “trials” only, but ignores the months (usually years) of pre-trial procedure needed to get to that point.    Litigation usually begins with a “Complaint” which begins the “pleading” phase where the parties set forth their allegations and responses in defense. Sometimes there could be challenges to the pleadings through the motion process, which add additional expense and delay. Once the pleadings are done, then the parties have the opportunity to require other parties to the lawsuit to answer questions, produce documents, or take testimony of witnesses (the “discovery” phase). It should come as no surprise that parties to litigation are not always so eager to provide information that may hurt their case, and so the discovery process can often take months or years with parties jockeying in court over who should get what.   Assuming the parties have completed discovery, that does not necessarily mean you go to trial.   Trials only occur when there are actual factual or legal issues in dispute which requires a judge or jury to determine, and the reality is that most lawsuits do not go to trial. Although the cost of litigation varies depending on the location and issues involved, what I usually tell clients is the cost to go through these procedures to litigate a normal civil matter from Complaint up to but not including trial, doing a minimal amount of work, can easily run between $50,000 to $100,000. Preparing for and conducting a trial can substantially increase these costs and so unless you’ve retained an attorney on contingency, the expense and delay litigation is definitely an important consideration for most litigants.
  2. Does the Opposing Party have Assets to Satisfy Your Claim?  Usually this is the first question I ask a client contemplating litigation, and many times it is question the client hasn’t considered. It makes no financial sense to pay tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars on a case if the defendant has no money.  Although I’ve had my share of clients walk into the office wishing to sue “on principle” or “just to make a point,” these moral considerations usually get thrown out the window very quickly once we begin to discuss the costs that will be incurred to get them to where they want to be.   So unless the opposing party has significant, identifiable assets that may be exposed in a lawsuit, or there is sufficient insurance to cover the claim, many potential litigants find themselves having no remedy for their claim because the opposing side is essentially “judgment proof.”
  3. Do you realize how unpredictable litigation can be? This should go without saying, but I spoken with plenty of people contemplating a lawsuit express confidence that a judge or jury would find them in the right. In litigation, it is less about who is wrong or right and more about what you can prove. Court decisions are ultimately made by people who come from all types of backgrounds and from all walks of life, and attorneys in high stake cases often employ professional “jury consultants” and perform “mock trials” to gauge how a jury will likely view their case. Despite all the money that is spent on attorneys, consultants, experts and the like, even the best attorneys with the greatest of resources lose cases, and most of us have probably followed cases in which we were surprised by the outcome. From a legal perspective, the reason there are trials is because there are issues of law or fact in which “reasonable people can differ.” If every issue in a case was a “slam dunk,” then there would be no need for a trial.

For these reasons and more, I consider litigation to be the option of last resort. Although the media likes to portray litigation and trials as dramatic and full of suspense (which it certainly can be), they leave out the cost and the time consuming process.

Consider interviewing several litigation firms before embarking on your lawsuit and make sure you weigh all the pros and cons of a long draw out lawsuit. It doesn’t mean litigation shouldn’t be a tool, threat or productive option in your dispute, but just go into the process with your eyes wide open.

Feds Make Change to Help Entrepreneurs Raise More Money

May 9, 2017 Business planning, Real Estate, Small Business Comments Off on Feds Make Change to Help Entrepreneurs Raise More Money

Your federal government has modified rules making it easier to raise more money from so-called “unaccredited investors”. Under the updated rule, known as Rule 504, you can raise up to $5 million from unaccredited investors in a 12-month period. Prior to the 2017 update, you could only raise $1 million from unaccredited investors. The updated $5 million cap is available under Rule 504 offerings and should only be used when the offering is a private placement memorandum offering (“PPM”), where you aren’t marketing the offering to the general public but privately to know persons and contacts. The new $5 million cap will make it easier to raise larger amounts of money from unaccredited persons and we expect to see an increase in persons using Rule 504 to raise money for operating businesses and real estate investments.

Background to Securities Offering Exemptions

At some point in its lifespan, just about every business needs an infusion of capital, whether to buy equipment or inventory, hire more employees, make additional investments or something else.  Obtaining that capital can be accomplished in several ways – maxing out credit cards, getting a business line of credit, tracking down private money loans, bringing on partners who invest money but also participate in the decision-making process of the business, or maybe even having a bake sale!

However, sometimes it makes sense to raise cash by bringing on investors – silent partners who have funds to contribute, but who would rather not (and maybe who you would rather not) participate in the business.  These are the type of folks who want to invest their money, step away, and then have you make the hard decisions and put in the blood, sweat and tears to produce a return on their investment.  When you bring on an investor of this type, whether you know it or not, you have sold that investor a “security” and you are now under the purview of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) – perhaps the only federal agency with a less developed sense of humor than the IRS.

Created by FDR and Congress while the country was in the throes of the Great Depression in 1934, the SEC exists to make sure the excesses and outright frauds that created the 1929 Stock Market Crash do not repeat themselves.  The intervening decades have seen the number and complexity of SEC regulations wax and wane, but in 2017 we are left with a multi-layered, multi-faceted system that those seeking to raise capital should not attempt to navigate without expert guidance.

Regulation D and the 2017 Federal Securities Exemption Options

One of the most popular tools for small businesses looking to raise money is something called “Regulation D.”  In a nutshell, under Regulation D, the SEC allows businesses to raise capital through the sale of securities without requiring those businesses to register said securities with the Commission (an extremely expensive and time-consuming process).  For the past 35 years or so, there have been three separate and distinct sets of hoops to jump through to comply with Regulation D, called Rule 504, Rule 505 and Rule 506.

Rule 506 has been the most popular of the three.  For all intents and purposes, Rule 506 only allows businesses to offer and sell securities to “Accredited Investors” – people with a net worth over $1 million, or whose annual income exceeds $200,000 (individually) or $300,000 (jointly with a spouse).  In exchange for only dealing with Accredited Investors, issuers of Rule 506 offerings get to raise an unlimited amount of money from an unlimited amount of investors over an unlimited amount of time.  In some situations, they may also be eligible to solicit their offerings to the general public (think email blasts and radio and TV ads).  Rule 506 offerings are also simple at the state level – where only the same short document filed with the SEC (the “Form D”) has to be filed (and a fee paid) in each state where Rule 506 securities are sold.

2017 Update

The recent SEC change that will help entrepreneurs raise money comes in Rule 504 of Regulation D.  The nice part about Rule 504 has always been that it allows the company raising the funds to accept money from both accredited and non-accredited investors – a huge advantage if you don’t have contact info for a bunch of super-rich folks in your phone.

The main problem with Rule 504 has always been that you can’t raise more than $1 million in any 12-month period, and $1 million doesn’t go quite as far today as it did in 1988 (which is when the $1 million cap was instituted).  Well, apparently late last year the powers that be at the SEC woke up one morning and realized that 1988 was almost 30 years ago, so they decided to increase the cap from $1 million to $5 million in any 12 month period.  This increase became effective January 20, 2017.  The increase is a potentially significant change, so let’s recap the parameters of the new Rule 504 Offering:

1)   You may offer up to $5 million in securities in any 12 month period.

2)   You may offer securities to an unlimited number of both accredited and non-accredited investors.

3)   Unless you jump through some pretty onerous hoops, you may not “generally solicit” your offering.  You will still need to rely on “word of mouth” marketing.

4)   You can’t play in the Rule 504 sandbox if you have run afoul of the SEC previously and have been branded a “Bad Actor” under their rules.

5)   You still have to comply with state-by-state “Blue Sky” laws.  This can be tricky.  Unlike with a Rule 506 offering, state law compliance is not always as simple as filing the SEC Form D and paying a fee.  In some blessed states (let’s give a shout out to Colorado and South Dakota) the process is exactly the same as a Rule 506 offering.  In others (I’m looking at you California and Texas) the rules are restrictive and complex, and you will be very limited on the number of folks you can accept money from (or even solicit) without “qualifying” the offering in that state.

The bottom line is that if you want to bring on investors and raise up to $5 million in capital, but you are worried about only being able to take money from “accredited investors” then the Rule 504 Offering absolutely needs to be on your radar.  It’s going to take a bit of heavy lifting on the state compliance side of the coin, but depending on the states involved, it could be a very attractive option.  Please speak with an experienced securities attorney to see if a Rule 504 Offering could make sense in your specific situation.

Owner’s Liability After Your LLC is Closed or Dissolved?

April 25, 2017 Asset Protection, Business planning Comments Off on Owner’s Liability After Your LLC is Closed or Dissolved?

Many business owners wonder whether their LLC will protect them from claims and liabilities after their LLC is closed. Does the limited liability protection of the LLC still apply? Does it only apply for claims when the LLC was active? What about after the LLC is closed or dissolved? What if the claim is about something that arose when the LLC was in good standing but was something you never knew and filed after the LLC is dissolved?

Here are a five tips that answer these questions and that will help you decide when to dissolve your LLC.

First, when you close an LLC, a process known as dissolution, you must pay known/present LLC creditors before distributing assets and profits to the owners of the LLC.  If you fail to pay known creditors of the LLC and if you instead distribute assets of the LLC to the owners, then the owners can be sued by those creditors to collect on the assets distributed from the company.  Part of the process of properly dissolving an entity includes sending notice to known creditors.  In other words, if the LLC has current debts/liabilities and/or known creditors, you can’t simply “shut down the doors”, take all of the assets personally, and refuse to pay the creditors.   If the LLC is insolvent (i.e. the debts exceed the assets) and if there are no assets distributed to the LLC owners, then their is no personal assets which a creditor can pursue against the LLC owners.

Second, dissolve the LLC once business operations have ceased and once known creditors have been paid or otherwise resolved. If you have known creditors in your business, you cannot close down an LLC for the sole purpose of evading those creditors and then re-open your business with another LLC if it’s essentially the same business. As a precautionary measure, if you are aware of a liability issue but you are unsure whether it is a legitimate claim, you should wait until the statute of limitations for that potential claim has passed until you dissolve the LLC.

Third, follow the LLC operating agreement and/or state statutes regarding the voting rights required for dissolution and for the order of events to dissolve an LLC. A common order of events is as follows; pay-off all known creditors, return contributed capital to the members, distribute profits/assets to the members.  Many states have a notice requirement to creditors of the LLC which can actually be helpful in some cases to shorten the time limit they may have to file a claim. If you have known creditors you will want to send them notice of the dissolution to shorten the period upon which they have to file a claim for the assets of the LLC.

Fourth, if you dissolve the LLC when no known/present LLC creditors exist, the owners of the LLC are still afforded the protection from creditors for any claims that arose when the LLC was in good standing.  For example, if you dissolved your company in 2015 and were later sued in 2017 for an act that occurred in 2014, then so long as the company was unaware of the incident giving rise to the claim then the members of the LLC would be personally protected from the liabilities of the business.

Fifth, if you are aware of a potential liability (no judgement or lawsuit exists) and dissolve the LLC, the members may be personally liable up to the amount distributed from the LLC upon dissolution. This situation was the 2014 case of CB Richard Ellis v. Terra NostraIn this case, an LLC failed to pay a commission to their broker pursuant to a listing agreement and then dissolved their LLC. The real estate broker eventually obtained a judgement against the dissolved LLC and was able to pursue the members of the LLC for the liability of the LLC up to the amounts distributed to the LLC owners.

In Sum, if the purpose of the LLC has legitimately come to an end, and there aren’t any known/present creditors, then depending on the laws in your state and your situation, you may decide either to (a) keep the LLC open until, for example, the statute of limitations runs out, or (b) shut down the LLC so long as it was in existence and in good standing during the time in which the business had operations. If you dissolve the LLC when there are known/present creditors, the members of the LLC will generally be liable for amounts distributed from the LLC to the owners.

Note:  This article, like all of our articles, is to provide some general guidelines – always get specific advice for your situation.

What Being Dragged Off a United can Flight Teach Us about Contract Law?

April 18, 2017 Business planning, Law, Litigation, Small Business Comments Off on What Being Dragged Off a United can Flight Teach Us about Contract Law?

Unless you’ve been in a coma for the past week or so, you’ve probably seen the cell phone camera footage of airport police dragging a kicking and screaming Dr. David Dao off a United Airlines flight at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport last week.

At this point, the story is well known.  United needed to get four additional flight crew employees on Dr. Dao’s flight, so they asked paying customers to give up their seats voluntarily, for increasing levels of compensation.  When there were no takers, United selected four passengers “at random” for involuntary removal from the flight.  Dr. Dao was one of the “lucky” four selected.  However, when the time came to make the walk of shame down the aisle and off the plane, Dr. Dao refused to get up.  That’s when airport security was called in to physically remove him and cell phone cameras started to roll.

This fiasco, and the seemingly incessant media coverage thereof, has been a PR nightmare for United Airlines.  It has also brought an unprecedented amount of attention to the legal term “contract of carriage.”  Simply put, a contract of carriage is an agreement between a carrier of goods or passengers (such as an airline) and the consignor, consignee or passenger. These agreements define the rights, duties and liabilities of both the airline and the passenger.

You agree to your chosen airline’s contract of carriage when you buy your ticket.  The very broad framework for these agreements is established by federal law and the FAA (for domestic airlines), but the contracts can, and do, vary considerably from airline to airline.  Among other things, in your contract of carriage, you agree that you can be bumped from your seat due to overbooking, or because the airline needs to move employees.  You also agree (at least in the contracts of carriage for the four largest U.S. carriers) that you can be removed from or denied boarding to the plane for the following reasons (among many others):

  1. You decided shoes are overrated – boarding can be denied to those who are barefoot or not properly clothed.
  2. You decided showering is overrated – airlines can refuse to board individuals who have or cause a malodorous condition.
  3. You spent your entire long layover in the airport bar – airlines don’t have to board folks who appear to be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs to the degree that they could endanger other passengers or crew members.
  4. You spent your entire long layover in the airport’s all-you-can-eat buffet – if you are unable to sit in a single seat with the seat belt properly secured or are unable to put down armrests between seats for an entire flight, the airline isn’t obligated to give you a seat (or two).

What can we learn from all of this (other than to make sure to wear shoes to the airport)?  I think the takeaway is that even if we don’t know we’re doing so, most of us enter into legal agreements (i.e. contracts) multiple times each day, and it behooves us to know (and when we can do so, also to control) what is in those contracts.

This is especially important in your business.  Do you have a written contract with your vendors/suppliers/customers?  If not, then what happens if there is a dispute?  What is the basis of your agreement?  An email chain?  A phone call?  A face-to-face meeting that ended with a handshake?  If you do have a written contract, when was the last time you looked at it?  Do you understand the language in the contract and your rights and responsibilities under that language?  Have you had a trusted, experienced attorney review the contract to make sure it is in your best interest?

As Dr. Dao’s experience has taught us, the consequences of a contract can be serious, and can even put us in the national spotlight.  Taking the time to review and, if necessary, to change the contracts that you rely on to run your business is absolutely worth the time and effort.  The few hundred bucks you might spend could save you thousands in defending or pursuing a lawsuit regarding a poorly drafted or non-existent contract.

Business Succession: When Corporate Governance and Estate Planning Converge: Are You Setup Properly?

March 28, 2017 Business planning, Corporations, Estate Planning Comments Off on Business Succession: When Corporate Governance and Estate Planning Converge: Are You Setup Properly?

You may have heard in the news recently that there’s been some fighting among the ownership team of the Los Angeles Lakers. When Dr. Jerry Buss, the majority owner, died in 2012, his ownership passed to his six children via a trust, with each child receiving an equal vote/share.

His succession plan had his daughter Jeanie take over his position as the Lakers’ governor as well as its team representative at NBA Board of Governors meetings. This last month, there’s been a fight between her and certain of her brothers that has become a power struggle filled with plenty of contention and legal fees. They appear to have settled this particular dispute but there were a lot of moving parts to their particular situation especially because of NBA rules, etc., so in that sense, what happened with the Buss family is unique.

However, what is not unique is that every business owner faces the same dilemma that Dr. Buss faced before he died – how to pass their business to their loved ones properly and effectively through corporate documents and estate planning. We have many clients who are confronted with this. With that in mind, here are a few tips and items to consider:

  1. Make Sure You Have the Right Entity and the Right Trust. There are a number of different entity structures you might have for your business and there are just as many, if not more, different type of trusts. If you aren’t properly setup, it’s going to make your business succession plan very difficult. In the case of Dr. Buss, at least he had a trust, and what turned out to be a month long dispute might very well have turned into a much longer dispute but for the trust. However, just having a trust is not the end-all be-all, rather, you need to make sure it’s the right type of trust and also that it contains the appropriate provisions for your circumstances.
  1. Have Your Corporate Documents Reviewed and Amended if Necessary. This is critical especially when you have business partners. Hopefully you have something in place currently in terms of corporate governance documents, whether it’s an operating agreement, partnership agreement, bylaws, and/or a shareholder agreement. If so, don’t assume it covers this issue and/or that is covers this issue in the best way for you based on your circumstances. The provisions you’ll want reviewed include but are not limited decision-making, ownership rights, transfer of ownership, etc.
  1. Consider A Plan To Transfer Some or All of Your Business Ownership To Your Loved Ones During Your Lifetime. You can wait until you die to have your business ownership transfer to your loved ones, or during your lifetime, you can strategically phase the transfer of ownership in your business to your loved ones over time. There are pros and cons to both approaches. With the former approach, it could increase the likelihood of estate tax liability. With the latter approach, you can be directly involved in the transfer of ownership and if handled carefully, it can decrease the likelihood of estate tax liability. This is where meeting with a professional can help you make a good decision here.
  1. Don’t forget to plan for incapacity. If your estate plan and business documents properly transfer your ownership to your loved ones, then you’re ahead of the game, but that is only half the battle. You also need to plan for incapacity. Such an event, if not properly planned for, can have a devastating effect on your business. You may recall back in 2014 another NBA owner, Donald Sterling, of the Los Angeles Clippers was ruled mentally incompetent and it affected his rights as owner of that team.

In summary, don’t own an NBA team from Los Angeles, but if you do, or if you own any other business, make sure you have a coordinated set of documents in terms of the corporate documents that govern your business and your estate plan documents, and that you’ve addressed not only death in said documents, but disability as well.

You’ve worked hard to build your business and when your intent was for the business to provide peace and stability for your family, the last thing you want is fighting and instability. If you are a business owner, please call our office so we can assist with this critical topic.

Eight Spring Cleaning Ideas for Your Business

March 14, 2017 Asset Protection, Business planning Comments Off on Eight Spring Cleaning Ideas for Your Business

Don’t ask me why, but my seven year-old daughter is obsessed with the cheesy early 1990’s goodness that is Full House.  Nick at Nite has scheduled a two-hour block of Danny Tanner, Uncle Jesse, Joey and the Tanner girls from 7-9 p.m. most weeknights, and my daughter begs to watch at least one episode every night before she goes to bed.

Because there are much worse things she could be asking to watch, we typically oblige.  As such, over the past year or two I’ve endured more than my fair share of Full House catchphrases (think: “Have mercy!” “How rude!” and “You got it dude!”).  Let’s just say that when Nick at Nite (or my daughter) moves on from Full House I won’t exactly be sad.  Anyway, in a recent episode that I’m sure probably originally aired in March 1990, the notoriously tidy and meticulously organized Danny Tanner exclaims: “I love this time of year!  First, spring cleaning – and now tax season!”

This got me thinking, while most of us do participate in spring cleaning for our homes, garages, and backyards, the concept of spring cleaning, with the feeling of renewal that it brings, is probably also a good idea in our businesses.  With that thought in mind, here are eight spring cleaning ideas to give your business a bit of a fresh start:

1)         Revisit your Business Plan.  If you’re like most small business owners, you’ve probably changed and adapted your business plan over the years to adjust to unexpected challenges and market changes – maybe to the point that you don’t feel like your original plan is even all that useful.  Instead of discarding it, you should think about taking some time to revisit it – maybe each spring – to update it based on what’s changed, and to evaluate if some changes may not have been necessary.  Going back to the basic foundation you built your business on will always be beneficial.

2)         Clean-Up Your Company Records and Documents.  Have you been maintaining your entities (LLCs, S-corps, IRA/LLCs) by completing minutes annually? Have you had any changes to the entities? Make sure your company documents are up to date. Also, what about the state? Are your state renewals up to date? If the legal foundation of the company is a mess it only gets more difficult to clean-up and address later.

3)         Think about your Long-Term Goals.  While you’re taking a look at your business plan, think about your long-term goals, both for the company and for your own professional life. You might find that what you really want is different than what it once was.  Maybe your concept of how your business should look five years down the road has completely changed.  It’s absolutely fine for your goals to change – but you have to be aware of what has changed and what you will have to do differently to get there.  If you determine that your aspirations are the same, then check in on your progress towards achieving them.  What could you be doing more or less of?  Are you gearing as many parts of your day – and your business practices – into moving in that direction, into attaining those goals?

4)         Take a Look at Staffing.  Spring is a great time to do employee evaluations and reward those who deserve it for their hard work – and trim what doesn’t seem to fit.  It’s most effective to sit down with your management team first and discuss your employees’ objectives, strengths and weaknesses.  Then, take the time with each individual employee to go over their measurable results.  Always remember to ask for employee feedback about your management style, as well as those of your managers.

5)         Spruce up your Web Presence.  In most lines of business, an up-to-date and useful website is necessary for attracting and retaining customers.  Potential customers and clients expect a smooth user experience that incorporates the latest Internet trends and styles.  If your website looks like something cobbled together in the era when we were all waiting for the dial up to connect so the AOL voice could tell us “You’ve got mail!” then customers probably won’t stick around long enough to find out how great you are.  Consider including marketing content on your website such as blog articles, white papers and videos.  In addition, everyday it becomes more important for your business to be active and engaged on social media.  Your website should include links to your social media channels, and those channels should be updated frequently with useful and (if at all possible) entertaining information.  In many cases, your online presence is the only tool new customers and clients will use learn about you, and it’s important that you make a good first impression.

6)         Lock Down your Intellectual Property.  Has your business progressed to the point where the name of your business or of a particular product or service has enough value that you want to make sure no one else can use it?  If so, you should think seriously about filing for a registered trademark.  Similarly, if you want to keep copycats from stealing online, recorded or printed content, filing for registered copyright protection may also make sense.  Finally, you should examine your policies and procedures to make sure trade secrets (like customer lists, manuals, databases, etc.) remain, you know, secret.

7)         Actually Deep Clean the Office.  Seriously, when is the last time anyone vacuumed behind that filing cabinet?!

8)         Dissolve and Shut-Down Entities You No Longer Use.  Do you have entities that no longer have business activity or assets in them? Are you paying fees to keep them open? Consider shutting them down if you have no future plans for their use. Keep in mind, that the liability protection of an entity still protects you for acts that occurred when the entity was in existence and in good standing.

Hopefully, these ideas can serve as a jumping off point for how to renew and refresh your business and take it to the next level!