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Free Help With Developing Your Business @ Small Business Development Center

This past week I had a chance to learn about the South San Diego Small Business Development Center from one of their business advisors. As an attorney practicing in business law, I assist a number of clients with legal matters or legal disputes concerning their business. But often small business entrepreneurs need assistance with non-legal matters and do not know where to turn to. I recommend learning more about the Small Business Development Centers of San Diego. They offer assistance for FREE in the following topics:

  • Accounting / Quickbooks
  • Marketing / Public Relations
  • Business Plan Assistance
  • Growth & Expansion Strategies
  • Sales & Customer Service
  • Financial Analysis / Cash Flow Management
  • Business Structure / Formation
  • Merchandising
  • E-commerce & Online Sales

Learn more on the SBDC website.

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Mechanic’s Liens and How Business Owners Can Avoid Them

What is a Mechanic’s Lien

A mechanic’s lien is a security interest in the title to property for the benefit of those who have supplied labor or materials that improve the property. The lien exists for both real property and personal property.

A University Heights Story

A restaurant owner and client in the University Heights area of San Diego called me one evening concerned because he had just received a Notice of a Mechanic’s Lien. He thought this meant he was being sued in Superior Court. I alleviated his concerns right away by letting him know that this document is not a lawsuit but it essentially states that there is a problem with a potential upcoming legal dispute.

A mechanic’s lien is used mainly by contractors who are not paid for work performed in a property. The language on the notice looks intimidating. If you receive one, read it carefully and read it twice for comprehension.

A mechanic’s notice reads as follows, “Upon the recording of the enclosed MECHANICS LIEN with the county recorder’s office of the county where the property is located, your property is subject to the filing of a legal action seeking a court-ordered foreclosure sale of the real property on which the lien has been recorded. That legal action must be filed with the court no later than 90 days after the date the mechanics lien is recorded. The party identified in the enclosed mechanics lien may have provided labor or materials for improvements to your property and may not have been paid for these items. You are receiving this notice because it is a required step in filing a mechanics lien foreclosure action against your property. The foreclosure action will seek a sale of your property in order to pay for unpaid labor, materials, or improvements provided to your property. This may affect your ability to borrow against, refinance, or sell the property until the mechanics lien is released. BECAUSE THE LIEN AFFECTS YOUR PROPERTY, YOU MAY WISH TO SPEAK WITH YOUR CONTRACTOR IMMEDIATELY, OR CONTACT AN ATTORNEY, OR FOR MORE INFORMATION ON MECHANICS LIENS GO TO THE CONTRACTORS STATE LICENSE BOARD WEB SITE AT www.cslb.ca.gov.”

Procedural Requirements

Understand that as with other court actions, a mechanic’s liens has certain procedural requirements before a party such as a contractor can seek a lien against your property. Check out the Contractor’s State License Board to learn a bit more about the procedural requirements and changes made effective as of 2012.

Call to discuss a notice of mechanic’s lien as soon as you receive one as there are important deadlines involved in the process.  Resolution to your disputes may come quickly if immediate action is taken.

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Document Review: Have Your Contract Reviewed For Specific Terms

A client of mine in in the City and County of San Francisco California called in to my office because he had just landed a new independent contractor gig in a nationally recognized technology company in the Bay area. As part of the new position he was tasked with the job of creating manuals for several internal operations and procedures. As with all other employment arrangements, following the grueling multi-step interview process he was issued an independent contractor agreement. Familiar with independent contractor agreements and arrangement requirements, he asked me to decipher the document full of legalese into plain English.

Upon his initial review of the document, he wasn’t bothered by the terms described within the 10-page agreement. The terms were short and reflected the general understanding the two parties made over the phone. However, this client wanted clarity concerning certain provisions that appeared to limit his rights upon entering the agreement. Following my same-day review of the document, we had a lengthy conference call to discuss the details of the contract.

First, wage and payment arrangements needed clarity. For example, a certain compensation amount was identified, but what are the reporting requirements? When was pay delivered and via what method? Was a time limit required? When are payments deemed late and what happens then? And so on. These are all questions that should be answered within the contract or described within some separate written policy.

Then we moved on just about 2/3 of the way into the agreement. This is where terms start getting interesting in a contract review. Terms included  the following:

  • a strict non-competition policy
  • a loyalty provision
  • a non-solicitation requirement
  • a media communications restriction
  • a moonlighting restriction
  • representation and warranties
  • limitations of liability
  • governing law
  • mediation and alternative dispute resolution
  • severability clause
  • a unique confidentiality clause
  • and the terms continued on.

While some of these are rather normal, some of the terms were too restrictive and 1 of them was arguably unlawful.

In all, my client was happy to have his independent contractor agreement reviewed BEFORE signing it allowing him the opportunity to negotiate certain terms. After a few days of some back-and-forth between the two parties and a bit more legal counseling through the process, he was able to settle the terms he was comfortable with and completed the agreement with information so as to remove ambiguities in other areas.

With a completed agreement at the end, the client was off and running with his job. Having his contract reviewed saved him future headaches by seeking clarity with plenty of areas in his contract. Do the same for yourself if there are provisions of the agreement that you do not understand. Do the same even if you do understand the terms and greatly value the transaction. Attorneys are trained to review documents with a critical eye and recommend negotiations when needed.

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New Overtime Pay Laws for Salaried Workers Making Less Than $47,476

Under a new rule announced by the White House last month (May, 2016), effective December 1, 2016, anyone earning a salary of less than $47,476 ($913/week) will automatically qualify for overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours a week. Currently the threshold is at $23,660. The new rule is intended to expand access to overtime pay to salaried workers working long hours under exemption rules. The new threshold will be updated ever 3 years to keep the threshold at the 40th percentile of full-time salaries in the lowest income region of the country.

Highlights about the new rule include:

  1. Sets the standard salary level at the 40th percentile of earnings of full-time salaried workers in the lowest wage Census Region, currently the South, which is $913 per week or $47,476 annually for a full -year worker;
  2. Sets the total annual compensation requirement for highly compensated employees (HCE) subject to a minimal duties test to the annual equivalent of the 90th percentile of full -time salaried workers nationally, which is $134,004; and
  3. Establishes a mechanism for automatically updating the salary and compensation levels every three years to maintain the levels at the above percentiles and to ensure that they continue to provide useful and effective tests for exemption.

Learn more.

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5 Great Ways to Find the Best Business Attorneys in San Diego

When your San Diego-based business faces legal matters, finding immediate legal representation can become a daunting task. There are so many attorneys out there advertising both offline and online claiming experience in business law or business disputes. So how do you find qualified and experienced business attorneys in San Diego? Here are a few pointers to consider when you are searching for the best business attorneys in San Diego to take on your legal matter.

  1. Request Recommendations from Your Friends and Family – start off by inquiring within your network. Ask your friends and family members for recommendations. You’ll learn about how others have used a business attorney in the past and what to expect in involving a business attorney.  Friends and family will look out for you and will recommend only those that provide quality service.
  2. Read Available Reviews – After receiving recommendations, search their online profiles. Read available reviews to learn how other non-family members have been helped by these particular attorneys. Use local San Diego resources such as community-based sites or your local Chamber of Commerce, and national resources such as Avvo.com, Justia.com, Yelp.com, FindLaw.com. You can also simply perform a Google search for the attorney’s name to learn more about that person and/or law firm.
  3. Industry Recommendations – Use available resources such as the San Diego County Bar or the State Bar of California to learn more about your potential attorney. Search online and call around with inquiries as well.  Again, sites like Avvo.com (a legal database of attorney) will help shed more light on your search.  Here’s an example of an attorney’s profile on Avvo.com
  4. Referral Requests from Trusted Parties – Use trusted professionals to seek out recommendations.  For example, if you have worked with a Realtor in the past, that Realtor is typically part of a group of professionals and just may know a great attorney to refer you to. It also gives you a great opportunity to follow up with your group of trusted professionals.
  5. Consultations – When seeking legal consultations, attorneys in San Diego often offer free consultations depending on your particular legal problem and need. Take advantage of those free consultations and request more than 1, especially if you really want to obtain a second opinion.  In attending at least 2 consultations, you just may find that 1 attorney fully understands you or is simply a better fit for you than the other.

These recommendations are based on an accumulation of feedback from clients over time. Most expressed that taking their time to find a quality attorney is more cost-effective in the long-run than simply electing the first search result using an online search engine. I hope this helps you locate the best business attorneys in San Diego.  Feel free to reach out to this office to request a consultation after reviewing our client feedback.

Your business is important. Be sure to take the time to locate the representation that’s right for you, your team and the business.

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Points to consider before and after registering a business name or domain name

When a person or set persons start a new business venture, it is an exciting time when you just want to get to work already. I call this the “honeymoon stage” of business. Everyone is collaborating well, ideas are flowing smoothly and depending on your personality, you either start the work immediately because you are motivated and eager, or you take a step back to analyze and consider what needs to get done first.  It is all a happy period of time where you can’t wait to move forward and grow. No one likes to consider the bad stuff that may come about later such as legal problems. Be wise, be that person that does consider such issues to prevent them.

If you have not yet started your business, take a peek at the following recommended points to brainstorm and consider before and after choosing a business name and registering a domain name. If you have started your business and are already growing it, take a moment and review some points that still require your consideration.  These points usually stir up legal problems between businesses at some point in their life cycles if not considered properly.

1. Business Plan. Business plans are roadmaps for a successful business. It generally outlines the route a company needs to take to grow its revenues and profits. If you have time, develop a business plan – even if it is simple – so that you have a living document to refer to.  As you carry on your business, the plans may change, but that is somewhat expected. These are helpful to keep you grounded and focused on your goals. It also serves as a great tool to measure performance per quarter or year.

2. Business Entity.  Consider whether you are going to operate as a sole proprietor or a corporation/LLC. Each one of these options offers different liability shelters and tax benefits that are worth exploring.  Besides performing general online searches about these topics, you best help yourself by seeking a consultation with a business attorney to really help you understand how each option would fit you. Sole proprietorship, corporations, and limited liability companies (LLC’s) are used for different business needs. Analyze your immediate and long-term needs under each business type.  Business entity planning is of even greater importance when dealing with 2 or more business partners. More often then not, partnership issues develop – even with family-owned businesses – where improper planning and document preparation was not in place. Review Buy-Sell Agreements, Shareholder Agreements, and other similar options available to adequately establish your 2+ person business relationships.

3. Business Names. Business names are fun to develop. A business can be named just about whatever it is you want and can be as creative or simple as you desire. However, note that you do not find two companies called “Coca-Cola” or “Pepsi Cola” for a reason. Trademark protections, copyright protections, domain name protections, and state laws exist to limit what you can name our business. As a basic example, if you want to be the next big App developer, you know your space is in the computer and information technology field. You won’t want to use a business name and slogan that is already in commercial use in that same technology field because if you do, it will be a matter of a trademark infringement lawsuit coming your way. Therefore, when doing something as simple as selecting a business name, be sure to perform your due diligence and determine whether anyone else is using that same name at a City, County, State, and Federal level.  Also determine whether they’re using the exact or similar name in your industry.

4. Domain Name Registrations. Before registering for a domain name, perform your due diligence in this step as well by looking for other domains and businesses (both domestically and internationally) already registered. Under business laws, trademark laws, and copyright laws, certain domain names may infringe on an existing business’s rights the minute the domain name becomes registered.  Avoid a trademark infringement claim when choosing a domain name. As a simplified explanation of the standard, if the new domain name causes confusion to the public between the new domain and an existing domain, it is likely an infringing domain. To avoid infringement issues, search the United States Patent & Trademark Office’s website for registered marks, potentially conflicting marks and marks which can cause general confusion.

5. Online Presence. Nowadays, a website acts like an interactive business card. A business website permits the business owner to share information about the business with the world. However, a business owner ought to be cautious with what they publish online and how. To continue with our previous example, if you are the next big App developer developing a gaming app to be marketed towards the public of ages 13+, be aware that there are state and federal laws that require businesses to disclose certain information. For example, a majority of the websites online (especially those for commercial purposes) publish a Privacy Policy, Terms of Service and Statement of Use. Each one is carefully drafted to include the necessary disclosures required of their industry. If you operate a business website and have reason to believe it is used and viewed by minors, you should know about certain regulations applicable to this group such as COPPA, or the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. There are a great number of other online regulations that exist. Your use and requirements to address these regulations all depend upon your industry, target market, business practices, state of business formation, and other variables.  Lack of knowledge about these regulations is not an excuse.

6. Online Agreements. Do you know the difference between “browser wrap” and “click wrap?” These are two ways in which an online website visitor agrees to an agreement on your website.

7. Monitoring and Enforcement. Once you register your business name and/or trademark name you then have to monitor for infringement. Unless you enforce your rights to your business name and domain, you may wind up diluting the value of your business and losing your rights.

The above summarizes some points to review before and after moving forward with a new business. However, there are many other points to consider both during and after these stages. A lot of points are purely based on the type of business you plan. Business attorneys experienced in helping sole proprietors and business partners in different industries can be beneficial to you. Consider a consultation for representation with these initial matters. Business attorneys can also help you in the long run with various business transactions. See more and request a consultation.

 

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Mediation and/or arbitration clauses in your contracts. Understand how each option works before signing your next contract.

When you enter into a contract you will often see that the initial terms are the most important ones describing the goods or services, prices, quantities and other matters that two parties have negotiated.  These are the material terms that contain the purpose of the contract. As you move towards the end of the contract, you will find miscellaneous boilerplate terms that a lot of people tend to glance over for a split second before signing the agreement. Miscellaneous terms tend to include provisions such as:

  • Jurisdiction. This paragraph describes which state laws will be used to interpret the terms of the contract.
  • Severability. This paragraph states that if any provision is determined invalid, the rest of the contract’s terms will be enforceable.
  • Assurances. This paragraph states that one party or the parties will take necessary actions necessary to carry out the terms of the contract.
  • Attorney’s Fees. This paragraph describes how and whether any attorney’s fees will be enforced if attorney’s are required in enforcing the terms of the contract.

The above are only a few examples and basic descriptions of the miscellaneous types of terms within a standard agreement. There are many others that should be reviewed thoroughly to understand the entirety of the transaction.

Well-written contracts also include a paragraph describing how any future disagreements related to the contract will be resolved. This paragraph is usually titled after your options – Mediation, Arbitration and/or Dispute Resolution. Understand that by signing the agreement, you are binding yourself to these resolution options in the event there is a problem in enforcing the contract in the future regardless of whether the enforcing party or not. It is a very important paragraph to review which will affect your future and should not be taken lightly.

  • Mediation is typically a 1 day negotiation facilitated by a neutral third party, usually a retired judge, with the goal of resolving the matter jointly between the parties.
  • Arbitration is a longer process similar to a lawsuit in court, except that it is managed outside of court using 1 arbitrator or a panel to make a decision. The process involves presenting evidence, arguments, calling witnesses and questioning by the parties, and so forth.

Both options are made available as more time- and cost efficient solutions towards resolving legal problems related to a contract rather than going to court for resolution.  The above descriptions are extremely basic and should be explored carefully. Well-written dispute resolution paragraphs describe in detail how the process will work.  Seek legal advice to interpret the paragraph if it is written in legal jargon.

BEFORE you sign an agreement, we recommend taking your contract to an attorney to discuss whether a dispute resolution option is best over the other option, Of course, this all depends on a few variables:

  • the type of transaction
  • the relationship between the parties
  • whether mediation is a practical option between the parties
  • your available funds towards resolving problems should they arise
  • whether you have a true option in negotiating the terms or simply have to adhere to the terms as written

KNOW that mediation, arbitration, and other alternative dispute resolution options apply to a wide variety of contracts. These include:

  • cable bill
  • internet bill
  • new car purchase and lease
  • mortgages
  • employer/employee contracts
  • furniture purchase contracts
  • car service agreements
  • rental car contracts

Practically, all well-drafted and complete contracts include this type of provision. If your contract does not include such provision, seek legal advice before signing the contract.

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See you at “Business Law Day” hosted by the San Diego Public Library

The San Diego Public Library is offering a “Business Law Day” on Tuesday, November 10, 2015 from 2:30pm-6:30pm.  At this special event, attorneys will be present to offer advice to prospective and current business owners in the areas of business law such as patents and intellectual property.

Speak one-on-one with an attorney in a 15-20 minute free consultation session. Attorney Ruth Ryan-Cruz has volunteered her time for this event and plans to offer advice at this event.

If you’re thinking about opening up a business  in San Diego County or perhaps you are in the process of doing so, we welcome you to attend this free event. This invitation is also extended to current business owners regardless of which stage your business is in. This event is open to the general public.

Event Information:
Date: Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Time: 2:30pm-6:30pm
Address: Central Library / Special Events – 9th Floor 330 Park Blvd., San Diego, CA 92101
More information: SDPL & Other events

Share this information with your friends and family. They may need a free 15-20 minute consultation about their business plans.

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Do I Need a Business Lawyer? Review how business attorneys act as legal counselors

I recently spoke with a gentlemen who is thinking about working for himself by opening up a local shop in the Hillcrest or North Park community. He was excited to share that he had just started formulating a plan on how and when to launch a discount shop and the resources required to do so. Little did he know he was talking to a business attorney until we got to talking more about his plan in depth and I mentioned, “I can help you with that.” As we continued the conversation, his face lit up with excitement in learning that he could turn to a business attorney to ask general counseling questions concerning his business.  Now he had a potential resources to turn to when it came time to move forward with his business. At the end of the conversation, he mentioned, “I had no idea a lawyer can help me with that. I usually think of lawyers when lawsuits are involved.”

With that in mind, I thought I’d share how a business attorney often acts as business legal counselor.  As a business attorney, I can help a new business in the following areas:

  • Incorporating a company: If you’re exploring starting up your own business, we can analyze your general circumstances and plans to determine how to best start and manage your business.  Risk, persons involved, financing arrangements along with other factors will determine which business entity is best for you.
  • Negotiating and drafting partnership agreements: If you’re considering opening a business with a family member, friend, or colleague, you’ll be interested in retaining a solid relationship should the business go south or experience hiccups along the way. Partnership agreements are crafted for you and your partners circumstances and sets you up for success from the start.
  • Negotiating a buy-sell agreement or shareholder agreement: If your business includes 2 or more owners, explore a buy-sell agreement. A buy-sell agreement outlines what happens to the business in the event 1 business owner declares bankruptcy, loses their job with the company, undergoes a divorce, dies or retires. Other circumstances are detailed and having one from the start is of great importance.
  • Advising shareholders: Majority shareholders and minority shareholders will each have different rights and interests in how a business operates. Know what your rights as an owner is in your business.
  • Advising executive officers and board members: Often I learn that persons take on business titles and do not know what their obligations are. Business is carried on as usual until a member becomes entangled in a business problem that develops into a legal problem. Avoid this early on by learning your obligations.
  • Facilitating the sale of an interest in a business: If you’re an existing business and you want to bring on a new owner (either shareholder or LLC member) or remove an owner, the business must perform some due diligence and prepare documents before adding/removing the new owner.  Simply buying them out may not do. Corresponding documentation is necessary.
  • Preparing meeting minutes: Shareholders and Board Members are required to keep business meeting minutes. Knowing what to include, who signs and who receives copies is important.  Most importantly, some points and not others are includes in these minutes. Learn what to include.

As a business legal counselor I have had the pleasure and honor to work with several local businesses in the San Diego area and its neighboring communities including Downtown, Mission Valley including locations in Oceanside and San Marcos.  Businesses include product-based and service-based startups, small business and medium-sized organizations. If you’re in need of assistance with resolving problems concerning your business, contact me.  Together we can analyze how to resolve your matters. Telephone and in-office consultations are available.

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Matters to Explore Before Signing A Shareholder Buy-Out Agreement

Issues Arising After a Shareholder-Employee Departure
 If you’re an employee in a company, you may be terminated as an employee where you’re an “at-will” employee or for other reasons when you’re in a contract. However, if you’re an employee and a shareholder of an organization, know that you cannot be terminated as a shareholder. Often in a business cycle, shareholders may reach a point where the shareholders can no longer work together. So what happens to the departing shareholder? Quite a bit. If you’re a shareholder and employee, become familiar with your shareholder agreements or buy-sell agreements in place. These documents may instruct what happens in the event a shareholder departs from the organization.  A departing shareholder-employee situation may become a bigger issue when there is no document addressing this need.
Various topics can become complicated
 This entry explores only a few items that must be explored and can become complicated after shareholder-employees separate.
  1. Employment contract – in addition to shareholder agreements and corporate documents in order, review your employment agreement to determine what your future holds with respect to benefits and/or restrictions.
  2. Unfair Competition and Trade Secrets – Unfair competition arises when a former business relationship uses deceit or insider information to gain a business advantage.
  3. Noncompete Clause – A noncompete clause may prohibit an employee from working in the same field or from working for a competitor. Various California regulations may deem these types of clauses as unenforceable.

If you find yourself in the position where you can no longer work with other shareholders in your organization, reach out to an attorney for a consultation as early as possible. Before signing a shareholder buy-out or shareholder withdrawal agreement or similar document, learn about your options that are particular to your circumstances. Published online recommendations are general in nature, therefore, know that your situation and the factors surrounding your situation.

Before signing a Shareholder Buy-Out Agreement

It is important to meet with an attorney to explore your matters. The difference between meeting with an attorney and not could mean hundreds of thousand of dollars in liabilities in the future.