, , ,

Celebrating Our 2nd Anniversary

2nd Anniversary

What’s Going On with Our 2nd Anniversary

It is our 2nd Anniversary and we are celebrating by inviting you to our Open House! If you are in the Honolulu area on Thursday, November 1st then stop by our offices to meet with us, our staff, and learn something. We will be conducting five (5) free seminars throughout the day. I, Ryan K. Hew, will be doing various business law topics meant for small business owners. My partner, Trejur P. Bordenave, will be going over the basics of personal injury and making a claim.

2nd Anniversary

Join us on November 1st for our free seminars!

Sign Up at EventBrite

So if you are interested in:

  • Internet and Social Media Law for Small Business Owners
  • Contracts for Small Business Owners
  • Forming a Business Entity
  • Plaintiff’s Injury Claims: What to do if you get hurt

Then please find the details and sign-up at Eventbrite. Also throughout the day, if you want to swing by and say hi or sign up for an initial consult for another date and time that would be great too.

Thanks and see you around!

-RKH

, , ,

Ryan Responds: What’s the Difference Between a Trade Name and Trademark?

Ryan Responds trade name vs trademark

Is a Trade Name and a Trademark the Same Thing, or are They Different?

In this Ryan Responds video, what are the differences between a trade name and a trademark. Short answer: they are different. Much of the confusion comes up nowadays when people are registering their business and trying to come up with the marketing and advertising for it. This is especially true when you add in the registration of domain names and social media accounts; this shall be a future post when it comes to branding strategy and protection in our interconnected world. However, for today’s topic we are focused on just trade names and trademarks.

Critical for Business Owners to Understand for their Marketing and Branding Strategy

If you are launching a new business, then you really need to grasp the difference between these abstract legal terms. It will impact your naming and registration strategy for the business and its brands before you launch. Why? Because you will do a lot of market research prior to registering your business and applying for trade names and trademarks.

I’ve seen many new business owner fail to grasp these intellectual property and business registration issues; they then go through all this energy and expenditure planning for the naming and marketing of their business, only to pay the price in changing registrations and applications, taking down their advertising, and basically upending their whole marketing strategy. They have to rethink their branding. As always it is best to do some research and speak to an attorney prior to taking any action that could make you liable, especially if you are unclear about intellectual property infringement.

Finally, in addition to the video below we provide a one-sheet on the same topic for your reading.

 

If You have a Question for Future Ryan Responds Videos …

Finally, if there is a short question you want the answer to submit them to admin@hewbordenave.com with the Subject line “Ryan Responds”. Please keep your questions short, general, and related to a business topic. Please do not provide specific details of  your matter or attempt to seek direct and specific legal advice through this format. If you need assistance and legal services, then please schedule a consultation with an attorney in your relevant jurisdiction.

If your matter is located in the Hawaii or California jurisdictions, then feel free to reach out to us to schedule an initial consultation here.

Thanks for watching!

RKH

Disclaimer: The content of this video is for general information purposes only. Nothing should be taken as legal advice for an individual cases or situations. The viewing of this video does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney in your relevant jurisdiction.

, ,

A Chef’s Work-Life Balance: Closed for Dinner, but Open to Subleasing or Partnering?

Between work and life.

Chefs and their Work-Life Dilemma: Dinner Service vs. Quality of Living

A friend and a client recently shared a Food & Wine article on their social media. It was entitled “Why So Many Top Restaurants Are Closing for Dinner“. The article was about how restaurateurs and chefs were seeking better work-life balance by opting not to provide dinner service. Instead they would focus on higher quality breakfast and lunch and that would be it.

Closed restaurant.

Can a restaurant owner afford not to be open for dinner?

I love food and of course, as a small business attorney, I like finding new spots to eat. Networking, meeting clients for lunch, and yes, sometimes picking up the owner as a client. Shouldn’t chefs and lawyers be friends? I often joke that I would trade services for food. Legalese in exchange for pasta bolognese! So as a fellow small business owner I do get the appeal of setting your own work hours, especially for the tough life of restaurant owners and chefs. The desire to spend quality time with friends and family, but of course there is a catch – is it cost effective?

Throughout the article there are comments about the economic realities of this operational decision:

“Though it seems like these breezy cafés should allow their owners and chefs to live breezier lives, many struggle to earn a decent living. Diners who don’t blink at a $100 dinner for two balk at lunch tabs that are half that. Lower price-points make it tough for even the busiest daytime restaurants to pay the bills.”

“Nicholas Morgenstern, owner of New York City’s vegetable-centric cafe El Rey, has been avoiding dinner service, but says it’s not sustainable.”

You Not Being Open for Dinner Might Create Opportunities

While I read through this article, I constantly wondered are there missed opportunities or creative solutions? My practice resolves around assisting business partners formalize their relationships. I also review commercial leases for food service and retail clients. So my feeling was: wow, no dinner service?! That is a lot downtime and an empty space not being utilized!

The following ideas are not complete solutions to the work-life balance equation. However, they do give restaurateurs and chefs, or any businesses in a commercial lease setting some options to consider. They may not be suitable for every business owner that is chasing that work-life balance.  Further, they do require a lot of planning and communicating. Executing them also requires all the right pieces, but they may be worth considering if you are a chef (or an overworked small business owner) trying to get to that magical work-life balance ratio.

Ways to Make Full Use of a Space, While Not Being There: Sublease or Partnering

So what struck me about this article is that these restaurants all likely have a lease; it is rare for a new restaurant business owns the property and building. Meaning the restaurateur is entitled to the premises which they are leasing. Kind of obvious, yeah? But, if they choose not to open for dinner, then that creates a possible opportunity, as they are not maximizing the use of the leased space. What do I mean?

Retail and restaurant space for lease.

A tenant that leases a space has a lot of control over the space. When to open, when to close.

In a lease situation, the renter has property rights. While, the tenant does not have superior ownership rights with respect to the property owner, they do lease the premises. Obviously, there the space comes with restrictions and requirements, such as insurance, indemnification, specific-use, rent, but as the business tenant can use the space as they see fit  Therefore, by shutting the space down for dinner, that means the space is down to 2/3rds of its total use time, that is breakfast and lunch. Granted operating for dinner has costs and expenses, but as pointed out in the article dinner service can be a huge revenue generator with higher ticket food items and alcohol sales.

So how do you operate in a space when you do not want to be there? Why not consider subleasing or partnering. Have someone else make use of the premises for the evening, while you are having dinner with your loved ones. Of course this is easier said than done. I will run through the differences between the two and some of the issues, but if all parties involved can come to terms either one may be a workable solution for the chef that wants to go home for the night.

Subleasing: Becoming the Landlord to Your Own Tenant

Subleasing is a situation where there is a lease in place and the tenant leases out the space to another tenant below them. The legal relationship would look like this: landlord <– (lease) –> primary tenant <– (sublease) –> subtenant.  The primary tenant acts like a mini-landlord to the subtenant. This would mean that the primary tenant, who only wants to operate for breakfast and lunch would lease out the space for dinner time to another business. Thus the premises are used throughout the day and everyone is happy, right?

Issues with Subleasing: Caught in the Middle

Hold on! It is not that simple. Remember I mentioned there is a lot of planning and communicating? First, is there even a market for another business who wants to sublease the space? Sometimes. Obviously, it depends on your city, but consider that there are food truck owners who may want to test out their food in a restaurant setting and they need a certified kitchen in some cities because of food safety laws. Other times newly-minted chefs want to do pop-ups or pastry chefs would like to focus on doing a dessert bar.  You will have to ask around. Time to use those networking skills of yours!

Second, is the landlord even going to go for this? Depends. Commercial leases almost always have anti-assignment, subleasing, etc … clauses. These provisions make it so that the tenant cannot convey any property rights (such as the act of leasing and using the premises) to another party without the consent of the landlord. It would violate the lease if the tenant did entered into the sublease without the landlord’s approval. So if you did find another party willing to sublease, then you would need to work with your landlord first before formalizing with your subtenant. Sometimes the landlord would make you co-tenants or have the subtenant make a personal guarantee; for them it is all about the risk.

Even if your landlord lets you sublease are you ready to manage your own tenant?

Other issues with commercial leases and subleasing are where is your restaurant located? Often times for malls there are certain operational hours that a business can be open for. If you are intending to sublease for dinner service and that subtenant wants to sale alcohol, they will have to get a liquor license which are often tied to zoning laws. In addition, if the subtenant is going to do a food service that is different than yours, like I mentioned the dessert bar, are there specific-use clauses in the lease? Mall owners tend to want to limit the kind of services depending on size and location as they do not want their businesses to directly compete with each other. Other times large national brands force the mall owner to allow them to be the only type located at the mall.

Finally, you are acting as a landlord to this subtenant. They are a separate business. So that means they have to get their own insurance. Furthermore, as the middle person between your landlord and them, you are responsible to both of them. If your subtenant messes up, say missing rent to you or they burn down the kitchen, then you still will be on the hook to your landlord. On a personal note too, I know with many chefs if it is their kitchen it is their rules. If you are leasing out your kitchen to another how will you tell them to use your equipment and tools? Will you even allow them to? Again, lots of planning and communicating.

Partnering: Two Chef Owners are Better than One

So maybe subleasing is not for you, as you do not want to be a landlord. What about having a partner? Maybe you have an upcoming protégé or work well with someone who want to focus/specializes in dinner, but does not want to manager their own independent business.

Partnering, when you have a business entity, a LLC or a corporation, means having a business partner join in as an equity partner by offering them ownership/membership interest or stocks/shares, respectively.  Especially, with LLCs, members (the owners of the LLC) have a lot of flexibility in designing the partnership arrangement.

Two chefs back-to-back.

Two chefs might mean that the restaurant stays open, that is if they can come to terms of agreement.

Consider that for some doctors’ groups that operate as a partnership they cover each other;  say one doctor wants to go on vacation, well then the others would cover their work thus guaranteeing continual operation and coverage for medical services. Similarly, for the restaurant, one chef partner agrees to provide breakfast and lunch, while the other does dinner. Another option may be it is on an alternating basis, where one chef does breakfast, lunch, and dinner for one week and then it changes to the other partnering chef the next. There are a lot of options to the division of labor.

What about the money? With LLCs, they are flexible in having the “keep what you kill method” via their Operating Agreements. Each member would take a share of the money based on how much they brought in. Partnering lawyers sometimes consider this method when they just want to share in the expenses of the firm, but would like to be responsible for how much they bring in. So for a chef working only during the day, then they would get the money from the sales of breakfast and lunch. So course the chef who opens for dinner gets the profit from the dinner service. Even if they are 50/50 members in the restaurant LLC that does not mean they have to split the profits 50/50. LLCs are flexible business entities. Obviously, for this method to work, you need a good accountability system.

*While a corporation remains a possibility, usually much more goes into such a relationship, such as tax and accounting planning, use of employment agreements, and drafting of specific corporate governance documents.

Issues with Partnering: Are You Ready for Business Divorce?

So again, just opening your business entity and suddenly having a partner is not at all what it is cracked up to be. First, often times when launching a food business many chefs do not have the funds to open their restaurant. They need a financial backer. Whoever is funding them, is either a formal partner already or have a loan to the restaurant. Either way, adding a new person to the mix is something a financial backer may be concerned about.

Second, even if you get the money situation squared away to what is deemed “fair” between the partnering chefs there are still a host of other issues. They may or may not have an equal say in running the business. Even if you are majority partner and they are the junior partner, how long will they keep working with you if you keep overriding all their decisions or input? Can there two chefs use the same kitchen? What about branding? In this scenario, you do not have two separate businesses, but just the one. So personalities, visions, goals, and even styles of may not be aligned. Even if you both have a unified vision, what about consistency and quality? If the breakfast and lunch food items are awesome, but dinner services are subpar, you can only imagine what the Yelp reviews will say …

Partnering is not for everyone and is not someone should do seeking a quick fix for business issues as business divorce is not pretty.

If clients come to me and they want to talk to me about partnering, then my first question to them is: are you ready to be married? Having a  partner means making a lot of decisions together. Decisions where money is involved, how to split it up profits or how much to contribute to pay for expenses. You will be discussing marketing, finance, accounting, and HR issues. So if work ethics and personalities clash, then you will be looking at business divorce. Your pursuit of a work-life balance may turn into a nightmare if nothing is in writing. Business divorces can be costly in terms of time and money. I’ve seen situations where it takes months (years) before former partners even agree to the value of their contributions and the business itself; this says nothing of the payment process of a buyout. Again, planning/communicating is key, then documenting it.

One Last Bite on this Topic

Sometimes going out and networking is best to float ideas and opportunities, especially with a trusted adviser or mentor.

All of this is not to frighten off a chef making the personal decision of limiting their operating hours. However, like the article points out dinner is a revenue generator. So then the question becomes is there another way to maximize the leased space? I’ve offered a sampling of some creative solutions, but yes, subleasing may not be an option with a stringent landlord. For partnering, maybe you are seeking work-life balance to spend more time with your spouse, but you may be getting a business spouse. Can you juggle both?

Consider that closing down for dinner service might be a business opportunity for another who wants a shot at it. While there are no free lunches in these scenarios, try sharing a meal with a trusted adviser or two, or maybe a mentor or peer. It never hurts to ask, especially when your goal is to spend time with loved ones. Cheers and bon appétit!

-RKH

DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

, , , ,

Ryan Responds: “What should go in your Operating Agreement?”

Ryan Responds trade name vs trademark

What Should go in your Operating Agreement?

In this Ryan Responds video, I go over some of the more important items that an Operating Agreement should cover. While, not an exhaustive list, it is illustrative of the conversations LLC members and managers should have with one another. Business partners should strive to have this organizational document meet their expectations. It is a contract after all.

We also provide a one-sheet if you would like to read more about Operating Agreements. Finally, if you have any questions about reviewing, drafting, or even disputing an operating agreement please contact us or an attorney in your relevant jurisdiction for an initial consultation.

If You have a Question for Future Ryan Responds Videos …

We launched this on a YouTube channel, as we hope to publish educational videos on other topics in the future. Finally, if there is a short question you want the answer to submit them to admin@hewbordenave.com with the Subject line “Ryan Responds”. Please keep your questions short, general, and related to a business topic. Please do not provide specific details of  your matter or attempt to seek direct and specific legal advice through this format. If you need assistance and legal services, then please schedule a consultation with an attorney in your relevant jurisdiction.

Thanks and Cheers!

RKH

Disclaimer: The content of this video is for general information purposes only. Nothing should be taken as legal advice for an individual cases or situations. The viewing of this video does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney in your relevant jurisdiction.

,

Honoring Fred Korematsu Day

I’d like to share some of my views on Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. California created this special day, held every January 30, posthumously for Fred T. Korematsu. It is also celebrated in Hawaii and a number of other states. The Day commemorates Fred Korematsu’s birthday and his contributions as a Japanese American civil rights activist. It recognizes his contributions in fighting the injustice of Japanese interment during World War II, but in general recognizing civil liberties under the U.S. Constitution.

Manzanar War Relocation Center, California was the internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War 2.

Background and Context

In Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944), the Supreme Court sided with the U.S. government in upholding Executive Order 9066. An order that forced Japanese Americans into internment camps during World War II regardless of citizenship. The Korematsu case decision showed how deeply ingrained racism was and still is in our government and society. Racial profiling and the stripping of citizens of their civil liberties is not gone from the American experience. This conversation is still going on as we can see in today’s politics and news.

For example, author Lily Rothman poignantly observes in her Time’s article that knowing the history of Japanese internment matters a great deal. While the internment of Japanese Americans took place nearly 80 years ago, the themes of racial exclusion and stigma still linger today.

Therefore, I think I should share some of my views on this matter so you can understand the value’s of the firm and the kind of law that we practice.

This is a monument to Japanese interred at Manazar.

 

Words of Ryan K. Hew

I am sure people are wondering what impact does Fred Korematsu day have to do with a business attorney. Isn’t business law all about contracts or stymieing people’s rights in transactions?  I would probably respond that: (a) that nearly 90% of businesses in the U.S. are small businesses (20 workers or less); and (b) the government tramples the rights of the business owners as it did with the Japanese Americans during internment.  Japanese American business owners were forced out of business and into the camps. Nowadays, many immigrant business owners fear the law or lack access to legal assistance.

None of this is new, making Fred Korematsu Day an important symbol to remember and continue his legacy. I was a history major during my undergraduate days and even prior to the events of World War II and the unjust internment of Japanese Americans I learned about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This was one of the first major pieces of U.S. law to restrict immigration. Similar to today’s arguments on immigration, the Act was born out of fear of Chinese workers. Fears of them causing unemployment, depressing wages, and bringing other problems due to their ethnicity. The law acted to effectively ban Chinese immigration into the United States and prevent them from becoming U.S. citizens.  For me, this other dark piece of history is no different than the Japanese internment. It represents laws based on fear and bias.

Japanese Americas were forced to close their businesses and relocated to the internment camps.

My Personal History and Connection to What I Do

For me, reading about this history from as an undergraduate to a law student, did have personal relevance. My mother always told me stories of how my grandfather owned a popular shop in Chinatown Honolulu. However, unfortunately cancer took him at an early age. Soon after, my widowed grandmother was exploited due to her lack of English and inability to understand the law. Eventually she lost the business and much more due to the loss of income. To me the U.S. government forcing Japanese Americans from their homes and businesses was no different. Both scenarios arose out of the lack of justice and exploitation of the law. This is why I launched my own practice, why I enjoy educating small business owners with a variety of backgrounds on their business rights, and why I do pro bono with the Business Law Corps, whose motto is lawyers for economic justice, at the Patsy T. Mink Center for Business and Leadership.  The fight for civil liberties also means giving people fair chance at starting and owning their own business.

Final Words

I would like to extend my appreciation and thanks to Fred T. Korematsu and the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for continuing his legacy. At the firm I’m with, we fight for individual rights, economic justice, and civil liberties in our own way. Fred Korematsu Day highlights the need for us to remember and educate. Thank you for reading this post.

, , ,

Ryan Responds: “Do I Need to Form a Business (Entity)?”

Ryan Responds trade name vs trademark

Ryan Responds Video on “Do I Need to Form a Business (Entity)?”

One of my New Year resolutions was to finally start doing short informative videos on various aspects of business law. Many social media consultant and other small practice firm friends urged me to do this, as I already do educational seminars for business owners. If you are in Honolulu on January 31st, you can come attend one.

So the “Ryan Responds” videos are meant to be a quick reply to people’s FAQs about business law. They are not specific in-depth advice. So they are not a replacement for consultation time directly with an attorney. Rather they are meant to bite-sized and approachable for people that have general questions.

If You have a Question for Future Ryan Responds Videos …

We launched this on a YouTube channel, as we hope to publish educational videos on other topics in the future. Finally, if there is a short question you want the answer to submit them to admin@hewbordenave.com with the Subject line “Ryan Responds”. Please keep your questions short, general, and related to a business topic. Please do not provide specific details of  your matter or attempt to seek direct and specific legal advice through this format. If you need assistance and legal services, then please schedule a consultation with an attorney in your relevant jurisdiction.

Thanks and Cheers!

RKH

Disclaimer: The content of this video is for general information purposes only. Nothing should be taken as legal advice for an individual cases or situations. The viewing of this video does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney in your relevant jurisdiction.

, , ,

Recap: Horrors of Business Ownership Part I

Horror Stories of Owning a Business and How to Deal with Them

The seminar focused on stressful situations encountered by business owners and how to deal with them.

Horror Stories of Business Ownership: Recap of Seminar

How is the beginning of your November 2017 going? Are you scared there are only 2 months left till the end of the year? Well, speaking of frights, I did a seminar with the Better Business Bureau of Hawaii (BBB) this past Monday celebrating Hallloween. We told spooky stories, well sort of. We discussed the horrors of business ownership. Specifically, I talked about these broader topics:

  1. structure of entity – failing to plan properly;
  2. disputes with business partners and managers;
  3. government regulations – the revoking of permits and licenses; and
  4. intellectual property infringement.

Lisa Nakao,Director of Operations of the BBB, discussed the resources the BBB offers and how to deal with reviews and complaints by customers hosted on the BBB’s website (I will cover some of this in a Part II to this post). If you could not make it to this seminar do not worry. I will continue presenting seminars aimed at educating business owners about the legal issues. So be sure to check back and follow us.

Some of the Horrors of Owning a Business – Highlights

I’d like to take this time to discuss some highlights of the seminar. While, I will not cover everything from the seminar, as you will  just have to come to the next one, this post will touch upon a couple of issues. Particularly the ones that gave good discussion or attendees asked a lot of questions.

1. Managerial Authority in a LLC: Friends, Family Members, and/or Relatives of Friends as Your Manager

I’ve discussed in the past of business partner disputes, but this following scenario is derived on a similar theme. Consider the situation where many small and medium-sized business owners rely on family or friends to help run their business, including relatives of friends. This tight-knit network can be a boon or a misfortune. Especially, here in Hawaii where people tend to rely on local connections the trust and reliance can run high and sometimes too quickly. Specifically, I refer to hiring someone as a manager of your LLC or corporation and giving them access to the company’s bank account and credit cards. Then the business owner discovers the person they thought they could trust is gone the business account is empty and the credit cards are over extended. Worst yet, there is no written management agreement.

Don't lose your business account.

Be careful of giving your manager too much access to your finances.

Is there Nothing that Can be Done? 

While, legally there is a lot to do, such as suing them or attempting to report them to the police for theft – the reality is proof and evidence issues. Many times business owners in this situation rely on a handshake, only talk to their manager on the phone, and their emails and texts refer to managerial duties/obligations obliquely. There is no writing of the contract. Further, consider even if you have a good case, you have to find them and force them to give back the money, which by the time you get the the lawsuit filed, served, and litigated, they’ve probably spent it.

So again, this is an urging to slow it down and think methodically. I get it. Small business owners are trying to get help and tread water. However, consider the following ideas:

  1. conduct due diligence – find out more about them before you hire them;
  2. limit their access to the business bank account and credit cards – you do not need to give them unfettered access;
  3. if you cannot do a full-blown management agreement, then at least tackle the main terms in some of memorandum, letter, or lengthy email;
  4. as to point 3 make sure you get their signature, acknowledgment, and confirmation!

While, those things will not always save you, the point is getting you into the habit of preparing, doing your research, and record keeping when you finally decide to take an action that may be risky.

2. Shutting Down Business Operations Due to Lost of License or Permit

So I told a story during the seminar of a business owner who relied on their accountant to do the business entity’s Annual Filings with the State of Hawaii’s Department of Commerce Affairs (DCCA). Only problem with that was the accountant was not actually doing the filings; it was not a part of their services. So the DCCA administratively terminated the corporation’s existence. So leaving the account and taxation issues aside, the main focus of this section I want to focus on is government licensing and permitting. See LLCs and corporations are legal persons. They may not be a living, breathing individual like you and me, but they are persons under the law. So often time government licenses and permits, for example liquor licenses, issues to the business entity itself and not the individual owners of the business.

So when the DCCA administratively terminated this corporation the business owner also lost their government license. In this instance, they could not operate the business because it would be illegal to operate without a license. So they had to shutter their business and form a new corporation, then reapply for a completely new government license.

Did they Really have to Close Their Business?

Yes, unfortunately in this case they did. However, sometimes the government fails to follow proper procedure when revoking or suspending a business owner’s license or permit. If the government does not follow its own rules and regulations there may be opportunity to stop the government’s action. However, it depends on the type of permit or license being revoked and the applicable laws and regulations surrounding it.  In this instance, the business owner could have saved themselves by routinely checking the DCCA and communicating with their accountant. Finally, catching the administrative termination of their original corporation earlier could’ve resulted in a successful petition to reinstate it.

You should know the filings you need to make with the government and calendar them into your schedule. Further, consider an annual business checkup to assist you in navigating your business’s compliance requirements. If you are interested in an initial consult to begin the process of an annual business checkup contact us today!

Be vigilant in your compliance.

Keep your business compliant or you may be forced to shut it down by the government.

There will be a Part II to this post; it will focus on the BBB Reports and Complaints and resources/information they shared. So check back!

DISCLAIMER: This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

, , ,

Part II, Communicating with Unpleasantness: Demand Letters

Demand letter.
Demand letter.

Demand letters are usually the start of unpleasant communications. Not the end.

What are Demand Letters for?

Usually, it is a demand on the other party take some corrective action or to stop doing something. It could be demanding payment because it is late. It could be demanding interest on top of the principal due to the lateness of the payment. Other times, if you are the customer and the service provider’s job remains undone, then you want specific performance. You are asking them to finish the job.

What about Cease and Desist Letters?

These letters are demanding that the other party stop doing something, such as Intellectual Property matters. Specifically, there is an infringing action that going on or about to happen and the owner of the IP wants the infringer informed of their rights. It could be an infringer’s use of an unauthorized copy of an image on their website and social media.

Sometimes the government uses cease and desist letters as a part of their enforcement powers. Agencies will indicate to the person that they are doing some type of illegal activity that should stop immediately. If not, and they ignore the notice of the letter, then they could face penalties, fines, or being charged with a crime.

Does it Need to be Drafted by an Attorney?

No. Attorneys don’t always draft them, but having them may help. You should consider the nature and context of the dispute. For instance, demanding a customer pay you $200.00 for kitchen supplies because the are past the due date might not be a good use of an attorney. However, if your client is not paying you $200,000.00 in consulting and construction fees and you have an obligation to continue working on the project, then are a lot of factors to take into consideration when making the demand.

Insurance Claims

Trejur will likely provide posts in the future that are more in-depth on this topic. However, for the discussion purposes of this post just know that for personal injury claims, the injured person usually starts the process by submitting a demand letter to the insurance companies. Further consider that negotiating and settling insurance claims may be aided by a lawyer’s counsel. The reason is there are certain structures and contents that go with the initial demand letter.

Examples include: describing the accident, medical treatments to treat the injured, and accompanying evidence and supplemental documents, such as police reports and medical bills. The initial demand letter is probably just the start; insurance companies tend to lowball their initial offer. A personal injury attorney’s knowledge and experience may assist in getting a higher settlement when communicating to the insurance companies.

What Goes into Demand Letters?

It depends. Every situation is unique. This includes drafting a demand letter for clients. Sometimes, short and sweet is perfect because the facts are simple, and the law is easy to understand. Other times, lengthy explanations are necessary. Such as when the legal rights and concepts are abstract. These include citing to the actual law, explaining case law, and providing some evidence to show the other side there is a provable case. At a minimum, a demand letter usually explains the situation, a view of the law that is favorable to the demanding party, and the demands. Money and/or taking an action (or stopping one) and deadlines to respond or comply.  Finally, consider lawyers communicate to other attorneys via these demand letters as well as laypeople, so they legal ethics applies.

I will say from an attorney’s perspective we, just as much as laypeople, enjoy creative demand letters. Demand letters don’t always have to be mean in tone. “Nastygrams” are not always effective. Consider many content providers realize that fans who are business owners flatter them through creative endeavors, but these actions may infringe on their copyright, trademark, and trade dress rights.

However, sometimes you do get a mean and unreasonable demand letter. The question then becomes how do you respond? Ridiculous cease and desist letters sometimes also open themselves to cheeky responses like this one.

Other than the Creative Way, How Should I Respond to One?

The opportunity to dare the writer of the demand letter to start a lawsuit by offering lollipops to the process server is not a frequent one. However, a lot of people feel that ignoring a demand letter is a reasonable response. It might not be, as sometimes silence may be viewed as an admission. The demanding party may just send another letter.

A strongly worded response letter may be able to dissuade the other side. Attorneys frequently engage in letter writing contests back-and-forth without even filing a claim because litigation can increase the costs dramatically. The hope is there is a resolution at some point, but a demand letter is not usually the end of the legal process. It starts a communication process.  So how you choose to respond sometimes requires a careful analysis of all factors:

  • What are the demands? What does it cost to comply with the demands?
  • Do you have any rights or claims?
  • What are the facts?  Are they verifiable?
  • How much would it cost to litigate? Take it through trial?
  • What are you willing to settle for?

Analyzing these factors sometimes helps clients make valuation decisions, especially for business owners. Sometimes it might be worth it to settle, other times not. The key is to understand the contents of the demand letter, and then the circumstances that surround it. It is the start of a communication process, not the end.

DISCLAIMER: This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in this post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in their relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

,

Business Partners Should Talk About Breaking Up First

Handshake between business partners.

Talk about your business relationship, reduce it to a written agreement, sign it, then get to work with your partner.

When assisting business partners form their entities or when my litigation partner is consulting with me on a case I see the following scenario often:

A business partnership starts with a money person and an idea person. The idea person has a fantastic business plan and the money person has the cash. They think it is perfect. They rush to form a LLC or corporation, downloading an Operating Agreement or Bylaws from the Internet. It even might be worst, they do not even bother with a document. After that, they are running their business, but then several months into it they are fighting.

What do Business Partners Fight About?

Usually, they do not see eye-to-eye on major business decisions.  Decisions like:

  1. how much money should each person contribute;
  2. who has the authority to sign checks or what is the dollar limit each partner has for contract obligations;
  3. where should we locate our offices;
  4. when do we pay ourselves;
  5. what happens when one of us wants to leave; and
  6. so many other issues …

Business owners hate hearing this from their attorneys: slow down! They should be deliberative in their collaboration with their business partner. I sometimes remind people that getting a business partner is basically getting married. Also partnering with a friend is different than being a friend, you sometimes do not know their work ethic. This is why we urge business owners to get things in writing with their partners.

The goal when drafting Operating Agreements, Bylaws, and employment agreements* should be what are the processes that governs decision-making, what happens when there is disagreement, or if an owner wants to leave, etc. … Basically, preempt the fights by setting up contractual arrangements. *By the way, if an owner of a business wants to contribute work instead of capital, then the partners should consider an employment agreement. It is solely not just for contract law purposes, but for tax and accounting issues.

Business partners think that their idea will be a money-maker and that their partner is going to make it happen.  They fail to calculate that even in success that their business partner may have other ideas on the direction of the business.  There is nothing wrong with differences of opinion, but when decision-making is paralyzed it could stop the business from moving forward. Further, for its employees, vendors, and service-providers, knowledge of an ongoing dispute amongst the business owners can make them question the survivability of the business.

Protect your Business Relationship by Communicating

It is easy. Talk about it, come to an agreement, and then get it in writing before the business starts. Many people just want us attorneys to give them their documents or download their own forms for the Internet. They think it saves them time and money.  I’d contend that is the wrong way to look at it. The time and money spent on your governing documents is an investment in the relationship. They are a contractual foundation.

If not, you are just pushing disputes to a later date. Consider that when the money has been spent, you’ve worked countless days and nights, and now you are arguing.  Then you realize all you have for your contract rights is a poorly drafted document … or worst yet, you don’t have one at all.  So do yourself a favor, have the conversation now and plan for the future.  Communicating when you are on good terms with a partner is easier, then when you are fighting.

DISCLAIMER: This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

,

Communicating With Your Business Partners

communicating in contracts

A New Year, A New Business, and A New Of Hope Of Communication

Aloha and Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!

I hope this finds you all well, and I thank you for visiting our legal blog or blawg. How has your first week of 2017? Ready to dive into new projects?  For those of you thinking this is the year or the time to start a business, well then today’s post and the couple of posts that will follow are for you. Specifically for those of you interested in starting a business, especially with business partners who will own the business with you. The overall theme of these posts is about communicating.  The source of this inspiration for the theme? My own partnership with Trejur launched last year my lecturing for a communications class at HPU, and I always get this question: Can my business partner do that?

Part I, Communicating With Your Business Partners

So today’s post is on communicating with your business partners, the one following this post will be on communicating with third-parties outside of the business entity you form with said partners, such as clients, customers, vendors, suppliers, contractors, etc …, and finally, the last post shall be about communicating with the government and various agencies.

Where it All Begins: Communicating, Not the Paperwork

So many of you that know me or have followed me, know that I started out as a solo practice working with small and medium-sized business clients on contracts and compliance work, such as forming limited liability companies. Over the years, as my workload increased I took on other contract attorneys to assist with the workload. Along the way, I met my commercial litigation partner, Trejur P. Bordenave. Trejur and I worked well together, and a lot of it was based on effective communication. This is the foundation that led us to the partnership we have today. In fact, he and I spent a good portion of the early part of 2016 discussing the partnership before formally launching the partnership itself.

Why am I telling you this?

One of the biggest issues I see when clients come to me to form a LLC or a corporation is they just want the documents. Yes, as a business attorney, absolutely I can draft your Operating Agreements or Corporate Resolutions, file your Articles of Incorporation, and/or obtain your Federal Employment Identification Number, and so forth, but typically, when someone like Trejur is called up to represent someone the dispute stems from a breakdown in communication and trust, amongst the business partners. There is not necessarily anything wrong with the paperwork, but the business partners did something, not necessarily maliciously or with intent to deceive, but their expectations about how the business would work, how they would get paid, reimbursed, when that would happen were all at different levels.  Let me use two examples of how this can play out to illustrate.

Example Stories

So these following examples are fictional, but they are issues I have seen before in a wide-variety of starting businesses or in the midst of a business dispute. Again, the point here is to illustrate that good communication is the foundation of a good business relationship, which in turn drives the drafting of the legal documentation.

Example One: Majority Member and Unfair Distributions

Kai and Russell open a new restaurant business. They organize a LLC. The LLC Membership Interest (or Ownership Interest) is divided 60% for Kai and 40% for Russell that is because Kai has contributed more cash and equipment (valued at $60,000.00) into the LLC as his Initial Capital Contribution than Russell. Russell just agrees that he will bring some of his old recipes from a prior business with him and agrees to work for the LLC for the value of his Initial Capital Contribution because they are in a rush to open the restaurant they draw up a generic Operating Agreement that recognizes the 60/40 split and that everything from that, including voting, profit/loss allocation, distributions, etc . . . will be 60/40.

Five months later, after the restaurant has been up and running, Russell quits and wants to terminate the LLC. Why? Well, he feels that Kai treats him more as an employee because he feels he owns the majority of the LLC and that Russell needs to work off $40,000.00 or what Kai believes Russell’s fair share of the contribution should be. Further, due to the majority position Kai takes his cash distributions at the beginning of the month, and gives Russell his distributions at the end of the month and if there is not enough for budgeting purposes states the LLC will just owe him later.

Example Two: Discussing Officer Duties Prior to Incorporating

Lisa and Jessie want to start a solar design and installation business. They intend to incorporate a corporation, which shall issue 1000 shares, where Lisa would own 550 shares and Jessie would have 450 shares. Lisa would like to be President as she has more local connections and is the one who can bring in more clients whereas Jessie will likely do the grunt work. However, Jessie is concerned that Lisa is President and has more shares so as a minority shareholder she fees unprotected. Lisa and Jessie meet and discuss this issue.

They decide that through their Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, and Resolutions that the corporation shall only have the offices of President, Secretary, and Treasurer and that Jessie shall be both Secretary and Treasurer. Further, that Lisa as President must submit a marketing budget for the next fiscal year to Jessie as Treasurer on the June 20th before Jessie will cut checks from the corporation’s expense account to where she will have sole authority to cut checks from. They also agree that all 1000 shares (unanimous consent) must vote in favor of declaring dividends before money is paid out as such.  Finally, both agree to sign Employee Agreements stipulating to what their compensation, benefits, work hours, etc . . . on top of their rights and obligations as shareholders of the corporation.  Both are satisfied with this arrangement and move forward to incorporate.

So What Happened? What Should You Consider for your Business Partnership?

In my first example, the business partners were in a rush, failed to communicate expectations, and felt that once they had the paperwork everything would resolve itself. But as trite as it may seem, they did not talk about their feelings and by signing an Operating Agreement that just split everything according the Ownership Interest percentage it did not really reflect on how they were going to do business with one another. In the my second example, discussing how Jessie felt about her worries and concerns allowed them to create a process, a mechanism of a check and accountability that they discussed and agreed to.

At this point, I’d like to put in your mind a lot of people think that once the file their Articles of Organization or they come up with the Bylaws these are set in stone. That is not necessarily the case, the owners of the business can always amend them if they are in agreement. Also consider if you and your partners are not sure what the final arrangement will look like, that is you are in an ongoing negotiations, but you have stipulated to some terms or have an inkling about where your arrangement is heading, you can always use a Memorandum of Understanding or Letter of Intent or whatever document applies to stipulate to what has already been discussed or agreed to, and agree to return to the matter at a later time to finalize. Communicate and trust each other, but keep a record of it.

Often times, people do not slow down to consider how they want to structure their decision making processes, their rights and duties to each other, to the business. Their feeling is that making money will resolve all that, but then the issues come up overtime like . . . Why do you get reimbursed for parking when I take the bus? I bring in all the clients and you do all the work, and marketing and networking is work. The recipes I brought with me are the value of the food company so I should get a majority interest. I’m the older brother so I dictate the operations just like the way our father and grandfather did it. And so on and so forth . . . if you thing your dispute is ridiculous with your business partners, I’m pretty sure there are ones even more crazy.

Sit Down and Discuss Expectations

What isn’t crazy is sitting down and discussing what you expect out of the business relationship and what you expect out of your business partners before forming the business entity and doing business. In many ways having a business partner is like getting married it is for better or worst, and business divorces are ugly affairs like regular divorces. Therefore, it is worth the time to sit-down and talk it out, and then if you are wondering can we arrange our business partnership according to what was discussed that’s when you can give me a call and we can work out . . .

What is the difference between a Member-Managed and Managed-Managed LLC? Can I contribute services in exchange for stock ownership? What are the differences in liabilities for a General Partner versus a Limited Partner? Can we have percentages of Ownership Interests that do not match Distributional Interests? What about having two-levels of Ownership Interests? Should we limit the powers and authority of the President?

Mahalo for reading this post. I hope you have a Happy and Fortuitous New Year! See you next time!

-RKH

DISCLAIMER: This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in this post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in their relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.