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Business Development

“Advising Small Business Clients” Playbook aims to support legal practitioners across practice areas

Small businesses make up 99 percent of all US businesses and employ 48 percent of all US employees. They also make up the lion’s share of billings for small and mid-size law firms. 

“A very successful family business needs real estate, litigation and dispute resolution, employee handbooks, advice on access to capital and more,” says David von Ebers, a senior legal editor with Thomson Reuters Practical Law. “Plus, the owner will often need help with personal matters and exit planning. It’s a lot of expertise to hold in one firm or solo practice. But client relationships are about trust, and small business owners prefer to work with attorneys they know, who understand them and their business, rather than hunting for specialists each time something new comes up.” 

After nearly 30 years in private practice, von Ebers joined Thomson Reuters to help other attorneys get farther faster when it comes to taking on new areas of law and serving their clients better. He led the creation of “Advising Your Small Business Clients: From startup to maturity to succession.” He says this new guide is something he would have wanted when he was getting his feet wet in all the practice areas a small firm touches.  

“I was a litigator to my core,” he says. “But when I was an associate, I was working on a wide variety of matters and needed to be proficient at all of them. When I was a partner in a firm, I also needed to help expand our footprint with our existing clients – outside of litigation.” He had to understand the business problems he encountered around a litigation to determine whether and how to refer those matters to others in his firm. “When you’re a partner, you really have to take the blinders off and see the opportunities to help the firm overall grow. A resource like this guide can help substantially.”   

The need for a broad understanding of business law didn’t end when von Ebers started his own solo practice. “As a solo attorney, I couldn’t rely on litigation to keep me busy,” he says. “I needed to be able to advise and represent clients in more ways than litigating to keep the work steady and to maintain those client relationships.” 

The playbook covers 11 types of problems businesses need to solve and provides rich resources for attorneys to help advise them on solutions. These categories include:  

The engagement: Make sure you understand the challenges of representing both the business owner and the business itself when you structure your engagement 

Business formation: Consider all factors- client needs, financial situation, and industry – when deciding between a corporation, partnership, or LLC. 

Investment and borrowing: Help your client choose the most effective way to access capital 

Corporate governance and maintaining corporate formalities: Advise and support clients as they maintain their business structures 

Transacting business: Provide actionable advice on operational issues from advertising to supply chain to product labeling 

Employment issues: Employment law is tricky for even the most seasoned attorney. Imagine how business owners feel going it alone. Help them avoid discriminatory practices, write handbooks, and protect their trade secrets.

Commercial real estate issues: Real estate is a major commercial expense. Your clients need your help to secure the most favorable terms possible, whether they are buying, selling, or leasing. 

Intellectual property rights: Compromising or losing intellectual property protections can devastate a small business. Your clients look to you to secure their most valuable assets – trade secrets, trademarks, copyrights, patents, and more. 

Litigation and dispute resolution: Help your clients avoid and manage commercial disputes. Be prepared for E-Discovery and Federal Court dynamics when your client does end up in litigation.  

Personal planning for business owners: The business and the business owner? They’re two separate entities. The business owner will probably look to you for support with personal legal matters, though, including estate planning and succession planning.  

Selling the business: Your client likely has a vision of what a successful exit looks like. Whether that’s handing the business to heirs or an employee successor or selling to outside buyers, the way the deal is structured can make a big difference. Effective representation can make a real difference in the well-being of the owner and the business. 

“These resources are an important primer for anyone looking to represent a client in an area of law that’s unfamiliar to them, or to understand the issue well enough to refer to the right colleague in the firm,” von Ebers says. 

They serve another important function, as well: They help you work as efficiently as possible. “These aren’t large companies with deep pockets,” von Ebers says. And legal matters are expensive. “The more efficiently an attorney can work a matter, the better off the client is. The money they spend on legal representation might be coming directly out of their own retirement savings, or might reduce the amount they have to put toward employee benefits or product investment. Working on one matter efficiently will help the attorney build trust with the client and improve the client’s business overall. That, to me, is a recipe for a long-term attorney-client relationship.” 

Download the playbook, “Advising your small business clients from startup to maturity to succession” and gain insights from our expert attorney-editors of Practical Law. 

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