How to Avoid Business Contract Disputes with Customers

September 18, 2012,

A large portion of Sacramento small businesses are able to sell goods and offer services without the need of a contractual agreement with their customers. After all, a contract is a set of mutual promises between the customer and the business - usually that the customer will promise to pay a defined amount in exchange for the business's promise that it will deliver a product or provide a service. In most small business models, a contract is impractical for the type of transaction to be conducted. For instance, you would not ask your customer to sign a contract in order to purchase lunch, nor would they sign a contract before a haircut.Contract2.jpg

In other business models, however, properly structured business contracts are essential. For example, a home remodeling company would want to have a work contract explaining exactly what work would be performed, what materials are to be used, and what the company can expect in compensation for its services. Similarly, a small business that manufactures large-quantity orders or small quantity orders of a specialty product would want to have a document that outlines exactly what is expected of all parties involved in the transaction. This is where a Sacramento business attorney can be a valuable asset. Only an attorney can evaluate your business model and tailor a sales or services contract that protects the interests of all parties involved.

When drafting your sales or service contract, your Sacramento business lawyer will ask a host of questions of you. Your lawyer will want to know every conceivable detail about the typical transaction for which the form contract will be used. The most common details included in these types of contracts are the task to be performed or the product to be delivered, the specific timeframe for completion or delivery, an itemization of all costs to be involved in the completion of the service or production of the good, and any guarantees or warranties that will govern the transaction. Where appropriate, the contract should leave blank lines for any portion of the agreement that is negotiable, or where there is room for customization.

Although specificity is the number one priority in a goods or services contract, a good Sacramento business contract attorney will make sure the document is both readable and economical with words. Unreasonably complicated contracts tend to confuse both parties as to their rights and responsibilities, while unreasonably wordy contracts tend to burden the business process. After all, if your customer has to hire his or her own attorney to interpret your business contract, you aren't likely to win many customers.

Sometimes, all the care and preparation in the world cannot prevent a business contract dispute. If this is the case, the same Sacramento attorney may be your best bet for winning the litigation battle. After all, your attorney should already be familiar with your business's model and goals, and the specifics of the contract at issue. In short, your attorney's number should be close at hand during all contract stages.

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New Bill to Help Green Industries in California

September 11, 2012,

California prides itself on being at the forefront of green and sustainable industry practices. Its residents also pride themselves on being at the forefront of new and revolutionary business practices. If some members of the State Assembly have their hopes come to fruition, a new bill would bring these two realities into a single lucrative and green concept that would pave the way for thousands of new jobs and tremendous economic growth in California's Imperial Valley. Sacramento business attorneys suspect that it will also create tremendous demand for regulatory compliance advice as new companies get involved in the industry.green-earth.png

According to a recent article in the Sacramento Bee, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 2205 into law on Friday. Assembly Member V. Manuel PĂ©rez (D-Coachella) and Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), who co-authored the bill, say that the bill brings several state regulatory schemes into the 21st Century, allowing for a new technology to be applied to the extraction of precious minerals from the geothermal brines in California's Imperial Valley.

Some of the byproducts of geothermal energy production in this area are actually quite valuable and applicable in a number of green industries. The production of geothermal energy produces high concentrations of lithium, manganese, and several other precious minerals. Among the most prevalent uses of these materials is in the production of electric vehicle batteries.

Californians are purchasing electric cars at a higher rate than in any other state in the union. It seems only fitting that the raw materials used in the production of electric car batteries could come primarily from local and sustainable sources. One estimate suggests that the byproduct materials from a single geothermal plant could be used to produce in excess of one and a half million electric car batteries. Such production could also inject as much as $25 billion into the state economy and provide countless high paying jobs. Lawmakers say that this industry will "accelerate the green economy in California" and will be "vital to...other clean energy technologies needed to meet the state's climate targets."

By all accounts, this new technology and the regulatory scheme to go with it should make California the world's largest producer of lithium, a raw material that could gain in importance into the next several decades as electric cars begin to replace gas cars. Newcomers to this industry, however, should be wary of the strict regulatory measures that have been signed into law. Assembly Bill 2205 requires compliance with a number of notice and reporting standards as well as several pollution and emissions controls.

Those who wish to profit from this new and exciting opportunity should be mindful that they will need the aid of a California business lawyer to help interpret the new law and identify how to meet the rigorous compliance standards. Failing to meet the requirements of these regulatory measures can mean the suspension of your license to operate or could result in crippling fines. Be sure that your operation is meeting these requirements.

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Buying a Business in Sacramento

September 4, 2012,

Earlier this year, I posted a blog entry about the legal issues faced by Sacramento small business lawyers and their clients when the client wants to sell their business. It seems only natural to write a companion piece explaining the legal issues faced by a client who wants to purchase a business. Although some of the issues are somewhat similar, buyers and sellers in a business sale can have vastly different goals and perspectives in the process. As such, the best business lawyers are able to wear both hats based on their client's end of the transaction.

When a Sacramento small business attorney wears the business purchaser hat for her client, there are some particular pieces of advice to impart. The first and most important thing to consider is the particular structure of the purchase deal. There are two main types of purchase structures: an entity purchase and an asset purchase. iStock_severance.jpg

An entity purchase is the more complex and extensive of the two purchase structures. In order to understand the mechanics of an entity purchase, a client must be able to distinguish the difference between a business itself and the legal entity that operates the business. Both of those must also be distinguished from the existing business owner. The business owner owns and operates the business entity, and the business entity operates the business. By way of example, a business owner named Mario may own a legal entity known as Mario's Pizza, LLC. His limited liability company may operate two pizza joints that do business as Mario's Pizza Parlor and Mario's Pizza Palace.

In an entity purchase agreement in this situation, the purchaser acquires the rights and interests in more than may be readily apparent. Not only does the purchaser acquire the rights to the Pizza Parlor and the Pizza Palace (and everything related to business operations therein), but also the rights to Mario's Pizza, LLC as a legal entity. The purchaser is now required to pay taxes and obtain licenses in the entity's name, as well as submit the proper state filings.

By contrast, the purchaser has the option to enter into an asset purchase agreement. This type of purchase offers less extensive rights to the purchaser, but may be cheaper and easier on a number of levels. In purchasing only the assets of a business entity, the purchaser essentially purchases only the right to conduct business operations for a profit. The ownership interests remain with the legal entity, whether it be with the shareholders of a corporation or the managing members of a limited liability company. Assets purchases are popular with purchasers who do not want to absorb the liabilities of the owner company.

Only a Sacramento business lawyer can evaluate your purchase proposal and determine which type of purchase structure will accomplish your business goals in your particular market. Your attorney knows the proper legal language, negotiation tactics, and tricks of the trade to turn your proposal into a functional business purchase agreement so that you can spend less time worrying and more time profiting.

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Managing Immigrant Workers in Sacramento

August 28, 2012,


It is no secret that California is a primary destination for aliens of both the documented and undocumented varieties. Each year, hundreds of thousands of immigrants, primarily Mexicans, flock to California's major cities for work opportunities. Sacramento is no exception to this trend.

In 1986, Congress passed what is commonly known as the Immigration Reform and Control Act. Through this legislation, the federal government sets regulations as to the manner in which aliens may immigrate legally. The same legislation sets out penalties for non-compliance, including penalties for the illegal employment of undocumented workers. Given the rate of immigration and the federal guidelines in place, California business owners must be extra vigilant in making sure their employees are legally able to work. Consequently, California business lawyers must be just as vigilant in ensuring compliance by their client businesses.Trabajo.jpg

Penalties for non-compliance can be quite harsh, especially if a business exhibits a wanton disregard for maintaining a fully documented labor force. According to the Code of Federal Regulations, the civil penalties for employing undocumented workers can range from $275 to $16,000 per undocumented worker. Those business owners who engage in a pattern of illegal hiring behavior may also be subject to criminal fines up to $3,000 per violation and/or the possibility of six months imprisonment. Suffice to say that any Sacramento business law firm will advise a business owner that it does not pay to gamble against the federal government for the prospect of cheap labor.

However, the same law firm will also advise you that compliance with these regulations is not as simple as asking your employees to fill out a questionnaire. As a small business owner, you must maintain an I-9 form for each and every employee you retain, unless the employee is an independent contractor or a "casual worker." Be aware that "casual worker" does not equate to part time laborer. A casual worker is someone like a babysitter, who is not affiliated with any business enterprise.

The purpose of the I-9 form is to help verify the worker's identity. It contains information like the worker's social security number, driver's license, and other sensitive information. Although you are required by law to keep these documents, there are very stringent rules as to the record-keeping procedures. The information contained in these documents is susceptible to identity theft, so you must be judicious as to whom you entrust with access to the documents. These persons must have a genuine business need to review such documents, and must also be authorized to provide copies if a regulatory body requests them.

If you are a California small business owner and you are concerned about the immigration status of your employees, consider contacting a Sacramento business attorney for an evaluation of your employment compliance procedures. Businesses circumvent these rules all the time, and most of them are eventually caught. Most likely, your business's profit margin cannot withstand a hefty fine or the potential imprisonment of you, the owner. Be sure you are in compliance before the wrong agency discovers that you are not.

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Naming Your California Business

August 21, 2012,

Entrepreneurs who consult a California small business attorney for business formation advice sometimes neglect to ask about what may seem to be the most elementary consideration for a fledgling business: what to name it. In today's modern age, and in the incredibly complex business environment of California, naming your start-up business may not be as easy as tacking on "Inc." or "LLC" to your word or phrase of choice.sticker,375x360.png

According to the United States Census Bureau, there are more unique business entities in existence in California than in any other state in the union. In fact, more than 12 percent of all unique business entities across the country call California home. The lesson in these statistics is that an entrepreneur in California is far more likely than anyone else in the country to share an idea for a business name with another existing business. Sharing a business name with another business entity is not only illegal, but also detrimental to your efforts to distinguish your business's products or services from those of other businesses in your market.

With this in mind, experts suggest that the owner of a California start-up business should come up with several different words or phrases and view them merely as candidates for the business's name. Once the business owner is convinced that he or she would be satisfied with any of those several names, he or she should contact a California business lawyer for a consultation. A business lawyer will know the proper State databases to search in order to determine whether your prospective business names have been taken. Your lawyer can also help apply specific State rules about what constitutes a substantially similar business name. For instance, you may not be permitted to incorporate at "Haircuts, LLC" if "Haircuts, Inc." or "Haircuts Co." already exists. In a similar vein, something like "Haircutz" may be viewed as too similar to an existing name.

In deciding on a business name, the modern California business owner should also be mindful of whether the prospective business name is available as a domain name on the internet. Sometimes, a business owner may choose to incorporate under a perfectly valid and unique name in the eyes of California, but may fail to realize that the same business name is being utilized in another state, and that the internet domain name is already taken.

An additional consideration in choosing a business entity name is the likelihood that your business name will conflict with existing trademarks. For example, you may wish to start a company that sells accessories for Apple, Inc. products. Before you set your heart on a business entity name that features the word "Apple" or its products like "iPod" or "iPad," you may want your attorney to investigate whether such use would infringe on another company's trademarks, or whether you may be able to purchase a license for such use.

Suffice to say, it is prudent for your California business law firm to have just as much input in the naming of your business as you do.

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What to Include in a Sacramento Employment Contract

August 14, 2012,

When clients come into a Sacramento business law office for advice on how to start and maintain a new business venture, a significant portion of the conversation often turns to how to manage employees. In most cases, small businesses tend to hire employees "at-will." At-will employment is the most flexible form of employment for both the employer and employee, as either party can terminate the employment relationship at any time. Further, the employee can terminate the relationship for any reason, while the employer can terminate the relationship for almost any reason, as long as the reason is not discriminatory or otherwise illegal.

In some limited cases, however, small businesses may benefit from creating more formal employment relationships with their employees. This type of employment is called "contract employment," and it can help both the employer and employee understand precisely what each other's rights are when it comes to the employment. An employment contract can include whatever provisions the employer and employee want to include, but below are some provisions typically found in most employment contracts.

contract.jpgFirst and foremost, employment contracts must include the start date and duration of the employment. The duration may be unknown to either party at the time the contract is made, which is fine. In place of a known end date, the parties may agree to such language as "indefinitely" or something similar. Some other mandatory things to include are salary and benefits. The salary clause must specify whether the employee's compensation is hourly, weekly, monthly, or yearly. The agreement may also need to include alternate forms of earnings, such as profit sharing or stock options. The benefits portion should include the methods of calculating how benefits are to be paid, including future adjustments to account for inflation or cost of living.

Many employers prefer to list specific duties of the employee in the employment contract. While in most cases, employees are tasked with whatever duties arise in the course of business, some businesses prefer to have one employee's duties segregated from another's duties. This may be for reasons of business efficiency, accounting, or other internal controls. Whatever the reason, if the employee's authorities or duties should be limited, it should be spelled out in the contract.

Employment contracts often contain more complex terms. These include confidentiality agreements and non-competition clauses. Confidentiality agreements are designed so that the employee does not leak business secrets to competitors or the public. Non-compete clauses are designed to prevent the employee from seeking employment at a competing company, or from starting a substantially similar company. A Sacramento small business lawyer can be an invaluable ally in drafting these clauses.

Federal and state laws sometimes prohibit confidentiality agreements and non-compete clauses that are excessive in scope or duration. Your lawyer can help interpret these laws so that you can craft an employment agreement that fully advances your business model without unreasonably burdening the rights of your employees. If you think your business would benefit from creating employment contracts with your employees, consider contacting a Sacramento business attorney for a consultation.

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Incorporating as a Non-Profit in Sacramento

August 7, 2012,

When clients come to a Sacramento small business lawyer for advice in business entity formation, there is an implied presumption that the business's creator wishes to organize the business as a for-profit entity. For-profit entities are the classic business model: the business offers products or services and tries to realize as much profit as possible. In the for-profit model, any surplus revenue that is not reinvested in the business or use to cover overhead costs such as wages or rent is retained by the business owner. The goal of a for-profit entity is simple: to generate as much profit as possible and enrich the owner.nonprofit.jpg

But what if someone is trying to start an organization in which profit is not the primary motivation? Suppose the business model is to deliver meals to elderly residents as opposed to selling coffee and pastries at a corner shop. If the business model you envision is primarily concerned with philanthropy or compassion, or your motivation is drawn from a strong belief in a particular cause other than profit, you may want to consider incorporating your entity as a non-profit corporation.

Non-profit corporations enjoy many of the same benefits of their for-profit cousins. For one, incorporating as a non-profit confers legal personhood on the entity, meaning that the non-profit can sue and be sued in a court of law. As we have discussed in previous posts, the entity's legal personhood tends to absolve the personal liability of any individuals who serve the entity as long as their actions were performed in the scope of their work for the entity.

Another tremendous advantage of incorporating as a non-profit entity is that non-profit entities are almost always exempt from paying federal income taxes. However, in order to achieve this tax exemption, non-profit entities must petition the IRS for tax exemption under 26 U.S.C. 501(c)(3). This must be done in addition to any California state charter documents, sometimes called articles of organization. Due to this complexity, a Sacramento business attorney is your best bet at understanding what filings are required of your organization, what must be included in the filings, and how best to organize the paperwork so that the state and federal governments are more likely to grant non-profit entity status.

A word of caution when starting a non-profit entity: any surplus funds generated by the entity must be recycled into the community and must not find their way into the pockets of the entity's officers. Officers of a non-profit entity are entitled to compensation at the fair market value for their professional services in their geographic area, but may not receive bonuses when revenues exceed expenditures.

If you are considering starting a business model in which profit is not the main goal, you should consider contacting a Sacramento small business attorney, who can bring you up to speed on your options when it comes to entity formation and the incorporation process. Non-profit corporations are wonderful ways to advance a particular cause or to bring a valuable service to the community without the tax burdens of typical corporations.

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Sacramento Single-Member LLCs

August 3, 2012,

Most Sacramento small business attorneys are surprised by how infrequently single-person small businesses take advantage of the limited liability company structure for their small business. Some people are shocked to learn that a single person can do business under the protection of a limited liability company. After all, a limited liability company is very "official-sounding" and seems to elicit images of multiple business partners or large corporate status.

The reality is that a sole proprietor - one who operates a business without the actions or investments of others - can very easily enjoy the limited liability protection that an LLC affords, and they don't need anyone else's input to do it. The purpose of the limited liability company is to distinguish the individual human business owner from the business itself. This means that a person operating under an LLC cannot be sued personally for any acts or omissions committed by the person as long as he or she was acting within the course of business.

This concept is very important in that it distinguishes which funds would be available to a potential plaintiff in a lawsuit. If the business owner were to breach a business contract or cause a traffic accident while performing business functions, only those funds and assets that are tied to the business could be pursued. The owner's individual assets would be protected. business-social-networking.jpg

In order to maintain this protection, it is important that the LLC owner maintains separate and distinguishable bank accounts. The owner should have a personal bank account in which he or she keeps strictly personal funds, and also a separate business operating account from which the business makes purchases. Profits from the business should first appear in the business operating account. After that, the funds can be dispersed as wages to the owner's personal accounts.

The extent to which these accounts are kept separate can be a huge factor in determining which of your assets are available to a plaintiff in a lawsuit. If the funds from these separate accounts are frequently commingled, a court may be less likely to protect the individual owner's personal accounts from attack by a plaintiff. For example, if the business operates as a shoe store, all inventory purchases should be made from the LLC operating account rather than from the store owner's personal account.

Additionally, it may be in your best interest to separate other aspects of business operation. For example, you may want to purchase insurance policies in your business's name to protect yourself against events that may occur during the course of business. Similarly, you may want to access loans and lines of credit in the business's name rather than in your own name. Any behavior that tends to draw a clear and discernible line between your individual capacity and your business capacity is worthwhile.

A Sacramento business lawyer is best equipped to answer more specific questions about managing a single-member limited liability company. Consider speaking with an attorney if you think your sole proprietorship could benefit from the protections of limited liability status.

Record-Keeping Requirements for Sacramento LLCs

July 27, 2012,

Limited liability companies (or LLCs) are quickly becoming the organizational structure of choice for many Sacramento small businesses. Sacramento business attorneys are frequently contacted about how to form a limited liability company, but few business owners think that further consultation with an attorney is necessary once the business is organized and up-and-running.

What these business owners fail to realize is that, although a limited liability company offers a great deal of protection from liability suits, there are many more ways in which a business organized in this manner can be susceptible to harm. In particular, there are a host of government-mandated rules that have to be followed if the business is to be allowed to continue to operate. One such requirement is that the limited liability company maintain several categories of records.

The most important record-keeping requirement for a limited liability company is that it make its incorporation papers available for inspection. In most cases, the incorporation papers for an LLC are called 'articles of organization.' In some cases, it may be termed the 'certificate of formation.' Whatever it is called, this document essentially sets out the legal existence of the organization and the rights of the organization to operate in a particular manner. It is the same document the business owner would file with the appropriate state agency to obtain permission to operate. A copy of this document must be present and accessible at all times, in case a dispute were to arise as to the legal existence of the organization.

Limited liability companies must also maintain a complete and accurate record of any business permits and licenses it has obtained from the State of California and the individual city or town in which it operates. For example, most businesses are required to obtain a permit in order to conduct sales and services on behalf of the business. This type of permit ensures that the appropriate state agency is on notice that the business is lawfully collecting sales taxes from its customers. Another typical permit is one that differentiates the legal entity name from the name under which the entity does business. For example, "ABC, LLC" might do business as "ABC Furniture Store," and the proper permit must be on file so that this relationship can be explained.

Yet another record-keeping requirement for LLCs is an exhaustive list of all contributors to the LLC. This includes any managing members, regular members, investors, and other entities that have a stake in the business. The LLC must maintain everyone's names and contact information, past and present, in case there is a future legal dispute or an audit by the Internal Revenue Service.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the record-keeping requirements that are expected of owner-managers of limited liability companies. The extent of record-keeping that may be required is dependent on the specific operating location of your business. If you are the owner-operator of a Sacramento limited liability company, it would be in your best interest to contact a Sacramento small business lawyer for a full explanation of your business's record-keeping requirements.

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Sacramento Merchants to Benefit from Credit Card Settlement

July 18, 2012,

Sacramento small business owners are set to join millions of other nationwide merchants in reaping the benefits of a class-action settlement. According to a recent article in the New York Times, the nation's major credit card companies have settled an antitrust claim filed by thousands of merchant plaintiffs. The good news for local Sacramento businesses is that they don't have to have been part of the lawsuit to benefit from it.

The gist of the lawsuit was the accusation that the major credit card companies were colluding with one another to prevent merchants from adding surcharges to business transactions where the customer used a credit card. In essence, merchants were having to pay fees to the credit card companies in order to be able to accept payment with those brands of credit cards, but the merchants themselves were unable to recoup the money from their customers.

On average, it costs a small business owner a few cents on the dollar to be able to accept payment in the form of a credit card transaction. Merchants sued on the theory that they should be able to pass those costs onto their customers, so as not to affect their profitability. The credit card companies argued that if the customers were forced to bear the cost of each credit card transaction, the customers would be less inclined to keep using credit cards altogether. After all, if cash or checks are free to use as payment for merchant products or services, why would customers even choose to own a credit card?

Area merchants argue that despite an initial surge in consumer prices, adding a surcharge would not permanently burden consumers. It would, instead, force the banks and the credit card companies to reduce their fees so that merchants would no longer have to place a surcharge on purchases. gavel.jpg

In short, small business attorneys view the settlement as a victory for small business owners, even if it is at the expense of consumers. Where once a small business owner had to offer a marginal discount for transactions paid in cash or check, now he or she can legitimately add a surcharge for transactions paid by credit card. The difference can be quite significant for business owners who already have slim profit margins, as it could add several cents on every dollar in business revenue.

If it is still unclear how this settlement will affect your business, consider speaking to a Sacramento small business lawyer. Your lawyer can help you determine what price adjustments you need to make to shift the costs back to the consumers and the credit card companies, while keeping your prices competitive in the market in which you operate.

Additionally, if you are a Sacramento business owner who believes you may be entitled to a share of the settlement proceeds, contact your attorney for a professional interpretation of the settlement language. In class action settlements, the methods of collecting your share can often be complicated, requiring you to jump through a number of hoops to collect what is already yours. A skilled Sacramento business attorney can take the guesswork out of the settlement distribution process.

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Sacramento Small Business ADA Compliance

July 11, 2012,

Sacramento small business attorneys routinely provide consulting services to help various enterprises comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a comprehensive federal law designed to prevent discrimination against people with physical or mental impairments. The Act is intended to ensure that these people have reasonable access to the same activities and opportunities that an unimpaired person would enjoy.

ADA (Keoni Cabral).jpgIn order to qualify as disabled under the ADA, a person's particular ailment must substantially limit one or more major life activities. These major life activities include, but may not be limited to, seeing, hearing, walking, working, learning, breathing, speaking, and others. This federal disability standard is not particularly stringent. As a result, a vast number of physical and mental impairments can qualify.

What this means for a small business owner is that, in a given day, someone with a federally-recognized disability will undoubtedly walk into your place of business. The customer may not need any special accommodation from your business in order to interact with your business. If this is the case, you as the business owner have been lucky, because the very next customer that walks in the door may need accommodation. Some accommodations are more difficult to provide than others. For instance, it may be relatively easy and inexpensive to provide a Braille menu at a restaurant, while it may be considerably harder and more expensive to install a wheelchair ramp.

The general standard for when an accommodation must be provided is as follows: Accommodations must be made: 1) if the accommodation would not create an undue burden on the business owner, and 2) if the change to business facilities is readily achievable. These phrases are interpreted on a case by case basis, but certain actions are typically viewed as readily achievable and not an undue burden on a business owner. One such action would include the removal of barriers in one's place of business so that a wheelchair or similar device could easily move about. Another might be the provision of a handicapped parking space near the primary entrance.

The law is deliberately vague to allow for a lot of latitude in what businesses should provide in terms of accommodation. The intent of the law is not to impose so many requirements that a typical business would lose its profitability in order to attain compliance. The intent of the law is to provide disabled people with enough accommodation that they are afforded reasonably similar opportunities. The trouble with ADA compliance is that doing too much can be costly, while not doing enough can be just as costly in terms of potential fines and lawsuits.

That's where a Sacramento business lawyer can be a valuable asset. Your attorney can help you determine, in light of your particular business model, what reasonable ADA accommodations should be made so as to avoid fines and liability. Using your Sacramento small business attorney as an ADA compliance consultant is almost always cheaper than fighting a lawsuit in court or cutting a check to the authorities. Take preventative measures to protect your business and to make sure everyone can enjoy your products or services.

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Kristina M. Reed Honored By SUPER LAWYERS

July 6, 2012,

Kristina M. Reed Recognized As A 2012 Rising Star In Northern California By SUPER LAWYERS

Kristina Michelle Reed has been named to the Northern California Rising Stars list as one of the top up-and-coming attorneys in Northern California for 2012. Rising Stars are 40 years of age or younger or have been in practice for 10 years or less. Each year, no more than 2.5 percent of the lawyers in the state receive this honor.

The elite list of Northern California Rising Stars, which represents more than 70 practice areas, will be published in the August 2012 issues of the Sacramento Magazine and the San Francisco Magazine and in a special issue of Northern California Super Lawyers magazine.

"This is a tremendous honor" says Kristina Reed. "Receiving this unsolicited recognition highlights my success in doing quality real estate and business work in the Northern California community."
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Kristina focuses her practice on the areas of real estate and business transactions and related litigation. Kristina's practice spans a variety of industries in which she predominantly represents commercial property owners, commercial property management companies, agents/brokers, and business owners. Kristina is known for using unique and innovative solutions to handle her clients' legal needs. She has successfully negotiated complex business deals and large commercial leases and secured favorable results for her clients in court. Kristina routinely serves as a DRC Judge Pro Tem for the El Dorado County Superior Court. She earned her J.D. from McGeorge School of Law in 2000 and her B.S. from Christopher Newport University in 1995. Kristina is admitted to practice law in California and Virginia.

Attorneys selected for inclusion in the list of Super Lawyers and Rising Stars are nominated by their peers before undergoing "rigorous" evaluations in a number of areas of "peer recognition and professional achievement," according to Super Lawyers selection process. The objective, the magazine says, is to "create a credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of outstanding attorneys." Recognition is based on surveys of approximately 52,000 active lawyers in Northern California, independent research by Super Lawyers magazine, and review and recommendation by practice-area panels of top lawyers.

Small Business Premises Liability

July 5, 2012,

California small business owners should take note that premises liability claims are on the rise in recent years. This can mean one of two things: Either business customers have become clumsier, or the likelihood of recovering damages on a premises liability suit has increased. Either way, Sacramento small business attorneys encourage small business owners to take preventative measures to ensure that their premises are safe so that their exposure to lawsuits is kept at a minimum.

The general rule in most states, including California, is that when a member of the public lawfully sets foot on property used for business operations, the business can be liable to that person for injuries he or she sustains while on the business property. These people are called business invitees because the business essentially welcomes their presence on the property so that the business may conduct a sale or provide a service. As a business owner, it is important to note that a person need not purchase a good or service to be a business invitee. Merely browsing or inquiring about a business transaction is sufficient to confer that legal status on the person.slippery (loop oh).jpg

Once a business invitee enters the property, the business or its owner/operator owes several legal duties to the invitee. Generally speaking, a business owner must take "reasonable care" to protect invitees from hazards by keeping the premises in a safe condition. This means that invitees must be kept safe from open or known hazards on the property. By contrast, a business typically has no legal duty to keep invitees safe from obvious, hidden, or unknown hazards.

However, be aware that skilled personal injury lawyers can convince a jury that you, the business owner, should have known of a particular hidden or unknown hazard if you had undertaken a reasonable inspection of the property. These are the facts on which most premises liability suits are litigated. There is no bright line rule as to what constitutes a reasonable inspection for hazards, or what steps a business can take to convince a jury that the injury was a plain and simple accident.

This is where a skilled California small business lawyer can be an invaluable ally. Premises liability consulting services are available to educate the business owner as to the best practices and procedures that demonstrate reasonable care for your business invitees.

In particular, your attorney can help you determine how best to prevent accidents in the first place. Some easy fixes include adequate lighting, warning signage, maintenance records. Additionally, your premises liability consultant can help draft employee training procedures so that your employees know the proper methods for reporting potential hazards, can find the right people to eliminate the hazard, and will document what preventative measures were taken. Finally, and most importantly, your attorney can help determine whether your insurance coverage is adequate to cover premises liability claims.

Though these procedures may be cumbersome and even expensive to implement, premises liability is an area in which an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure. Let a California business attorney help you craft a proactive approach to protecting your business from liability.

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Forming a Sacramento LLC

June 26, 2012,

For those who are just starting a business, one of the primary concerns should be the organizational structure of the business. We have discussed in a previous post the many benefits of incorporating a business. For many small businesses in the Sacramento area, the Limited Liability Company (LLC) has become the organizational structure of choice.

tax calculator (Dave Dugdale).jpgIn general, any Sacramento small business attorney will vouch that the LLC structure is favored by small business owners for its ease of formation, its flexibility, and its tax and liability features. Any drawbacks to the LLC structure are typically immaterial to the small business owner, as they apply only to specific business models and businesses of a certain size.

ADVANTAGES OF THE LLC

For one, the LLC can consist of as few as one member. As a result, a sole proprietor can very easily convert his or her business into an LLC without the need for a board of directors or shareholders. The LLC can also have an unlimited amount of members. In fact, its members do not have to be actual humans. Corporations and other LLCs can be "members" of an LLC.

The principal reason for forming an LLC is for the liability protection if offers its members. When a business owner forms an LLC, the LLC becomes a separate legal entity for the purposes of suing and being sued. This means that the LLC absorbs the liability of its members who are acting within the scope of the LLC's business operations. As a result, if a member of an LLC were to commit a tort upon or breach a contract with another person or business entity, the LLC's assets are the only assets that can be recovered in a court of law. The assets of the individual members are protected, absent extraordinary circumstances.

In many cases, the managing member of the LLC can choose how the LLC is to be taxed. In some jurisdictions, the LLC is treated like a sole proprietorship or a partnership, meaning that the managing member simply pays the LLC's taxes on his or her individual tax return.

DISADVANTAGES OF THE LLC

In California, a small business attorney should inform his or her prospective clients about the limitations of forming an LLC. For example, in California, banks, insurance companies, architects, and accountants are among the business models that are forbidden from forming an LLC.

Additionally, the LLC is generally not viewed as a permanent fixture in the same way a corporation may be. As a result, the members of an LLC may have more difficulty obtaining a loan or securing investors than their incorporated counterparts.

Finally, the state filing and reporting requirements are considerably more lax for an LLC than for a corporation. This may seem like an advantage on its face, but this leniency can tend to cause problems if the LLC does not draft a formal operating agreement.

If you are unsure whether your Sacramento business would benefit from its formation as a limited liability company, consult a Sacramento business lawyer to discuss your options. You may be surprised to learn how it could help your business moving forward.

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Business Licensing in Sacramento

June 20, 2012,

As we have detailed in previous posts, owning and operating a business in Sacramento is no small feat. There are a number of financial and administrative hurdles a Sacramento business owner must navigate before opening up shop. A proper business license is among the most important of these hurdles.

open for business.gifAny Sacramento small business attorney is sure to get a host of questions about the particular business licensing requirements for operating within city limits. As a threshold matter, nearly every type of Sacramento business is required to obtain a license. It is best to assume your business falls among those that need a city license than it is to assume your business will not need a license.

All license applications are made to the City Finance Department's Revenue Division. Technically speaking, the license your business will obtain does not so much function as the City of Sacramento's permission for you to conduct business, but rather as the City's acknowledgement of your legal standing as a taxable entity. The typical business license, in fact, is called a Business Operations Tax Certificate.

In exchange for your Business Operations Tax Certificate and the City's permission to operate, your business promises to pay the City's yearly Business Operations Tax, the amount of which is determined by the type, size, and nature of your business. The Business Operations Tax is a yearly filing that must be paid on time if you wish to maintain the City's permission to operate within city limits.

The initial application process is lengthy, complicated, and often requires you to provide an exceptional amount of documentation, depending on the business. A Sacramento business lawyer will be familiar with the types of documentation necessary to obtain a Business Operations Tax Certificate, and can help you estimate how much your Business Operations Tax will be each year.

Your lawyer will also explain the possible penalties of failing to pay your Business Operations Tax. A lapse in your tax payments can result in late fees, penalties, or, at worst, the revocation of your Business Operations Tax Certificate. Remember that the Business Operations Tax is a yearly expense that must be budgeted in order to ensure the smooth operation of your business, free of fees and penalties.

Some particular types of business may require special licenses in the City of Sacramento. The necessity of these special licenses is often tied to the nature of the products or services offered at these businesses, and the degree to which the products and services are regulated by the federal and local governments. Some examples of businesses that may require special licenses include adult book, video, and clothing stores; gaming parlors such as Bingo halls, pool halls, and arcades; businesses that are publicly perceived to foster illicit activities, such as massage parlors or escort services, and others.

No matter the nature of your business, proper licensing will ensure its continued operation. Consider the aid of a Sacramento business licensing lawyer to ensure that you fulfill this critical need.

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