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Business Law

Monday, November 9, 2015

Mediation: Is It Right For You?

Mediation is one form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that allows parties to seek a remedy for their conflict without court intervention or a trial. Parties work with a mediator, who is a neutral third party. In addition to formalized training in mediation, usually, mediators also have received some training in negotiation or their professional background provides that practical experience.

Unlike a judge, a mediator does not decide the outcome of a matter or who wins; rather, a mediator facilitates communication between the parties and helps the parties identify issues and possible solutions to their conflict. The goal is for parties to compromise and reach an acceptable agreement.

Mediation can be an appealing option because it is much less adversarial. This might be important when the relationship between the parties has to continue in the future, such as between a divorcing couple with children. The process is also less formal than court proceedings.

Mediation often costs significantly less than litigation, which is another benefit. Another advantage to using mediation is that it generally takes much less time than a traditional lawsuit. Litigation can drag on for years, but mediation can typically be completed in a much shorter time frame. Court systems are embracing mediation and other forms of ADR in an effort to clear their clogged dockets. There are some programs that are voluntary, but in some jurisdictions, pursuing mediation is a mandatory step before a lawsuit can proceed to trial.

Mediation can be used in a variety of cases, and it is sometimes required by a contract between the parties. Mediators can be found through referrals from attorneys, courts or bar associations, and there are companies that specifically provide ADR services. Ideally, a mediator will have some training or background in the area of law related to your dispute.

Mediation is often a successful way to reach a settlement.

Contact our law firm today to help determine if mediation would be a valuable tool to resolve your dispute.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Family Businesses: Simple Steps to Avoid Common Pitfalls

If you have a family business or are thinking about starting one, kudos to you! There are few better ways to create tradition, meaning and bonds within a family, and a family business can be a gratifying way by which to build wealth.

Family enterprises, however, can bring conflict, legal challenges and financial distress when simple preventative steps are not taken. An experienced attorney can assist you with the following issues commonly faced by family businesses:

  • The absence of a succession plan. If the leader of a business dies, sells or becomes incapacitated, the business he or she leaves behind will appoint a leader, somehow, by necessity. The succession process at that point, however, will likely be complicated, and the result may not be optimal for the business or your family. An attorney can assist in identifying all of your options, and help you select one that works best for you and your business. For instance, if the business belongs exclusively to you, you can simply leave it to the person you feel should own and run it. If the business is professional in nature, such as a medical or legal practice, you can identify an outside buyer/successor and prepare him or her using a process agreeable to both of you. If the business belongs to two or more family members or other individuals, a contractual succession plan can be devised, lessening stress both now and at the time the succession occurs.

  • The lack of employment agreements. It’s rare that families who start businesses together are initially comfortable discussing the particulars of vacation and sick days, wages, raises and absenteeism. Yet these issues affect every business and will affect yours. The time for all parties to discuss expectations and rules is now, before issues arise, not later, when issues have already led to resentment and confusion.

  • The failure to acquire a business license. Often, small business start-ups skip the step of acquiring a business license that may be required in a particular industry, perhaps choosing instead to wait and see whether the business will succeed. It’s important, though, not to avoid this step. By not acquiring a business license and necessary zoning permits and by not meeting other legal requirements, you expose your business not only to penalties but also the possibility of being shut down with financial and reputational consequences that accompany an unexpected closing.

  • Mixing personal and business funds. The separation of personal and business funds isn’t just good business; it can save you money. When personal money “disappears” into a business owned by you and others, you’ve lost at least part of those funds regardless of how successfully they’re put to use by the business. An issue related to separating personal and business funds is that of separating personal liability from that of the business. By housing the business in a legal entity, such as a corporation or limited liability company, you can shield yourself from liabilities faced by the business.

Drafting contracts, obtaining needed licenses, negotiating with municipal entities and selecting and creating a business entity can involve complex legal issues. To ensure success and to protect your interests, contact a qualified attorney.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

No Longer Spouses, But Still Partners

Workplace romances are never advisable, but sometimes co-workers and business partners fall in love and get married. Unfortunately, they also sometimes fall out of love and get divorced. What happens next?

For some couples, the end of the marriage parallels the end of their working relationship—and possibly the end of the business itself. There are a number of options in such cases. The couple can sell the business and split the proceeds as part of the divorce settlement, or one partner can buy out the interest of the ex-spouse. Or they can try to split the business, with each taking half. Speak with an experienced business lawyer about the pros and cons of these options for your situation.

However, some former spouses do figure out a way to maintain their business partnership after the divorce. The personal relationship may have hit a dead-end, but the investment involved in building and growing a successful company can make it hard to walk away—and unless the business is wildly successful, with plenty of prospective buyers waiting in the wings, it is feasible that neither party can afford to walk away.

Overcoming the Challenges

There are challenges in every business partnership, and ex-spouses can adopt some basic business strategies to cultivate and maintain a healthy working relationship:

  • Sign a partnership agreement. Be clear about your separate and joint responsibilities, and matters of liability. Make a contingency plan outlining how assets will be divided in case either partner decides to leave.
  • If necessary, divide up responsibilities or tasks you once did together so you each have more autonomy.
  • Establish a board of directors. Trustworthy business people may have valuable perspectives about the direction and goals of your company.
  • Keep the company finances transparent. Money is often one of the most difficult issues in a divorce. Get help if necessary to streamline your accounting processes.
  • Be professional around other staff members and employees. It is not fair to put employees in a position where they feel pressured to take sides or respond to inappropriate complaints about their other boss. A toxic work environment is never good for business.

Thinking Outside the Box

Even with the best intentions, a divorced couple may keep falling back into their old patterns at the workplace. If you still think that the business is viable and worth the effort to make a go of it, get professional help. A good marriage therapist is trained to help couples understand the point of view of the other person and gain insight into their dynamics, and this can be valuable information post-divorce, as well.

Most entrepreneurs have a knack for thinking outside the box. Maybe you and your ex- can alternate day and night shifts for a few months. Build a partition between your desks. It might take a while before you move from being unhappy exes to friendly partners - but it just might be worth it.

 


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