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William Manchee

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Defending the Small Business - Part 20, Getting an Attorney
1/25/2009 6:30:19 PM

When your business is in trouble getting the right attorney will be critical to survival. Unfortunately, this task is more difficult than it might seem...
Once the business is stabilized, then all attention must be turned to making it profitable. Whatever mistakes have been made in the past must be identified and eliminated. To do this, an attorney, accountant, and possibly a business consultant will be needed. Think of your small business as a small kingdom at war. You are surrounded by armies ready to attack at any moment. They have one objective, and that is to take everything you own at any cost. Your attorney is the commander of your armyóthe army who will defend you while youíre trying to rebuild your kingdom which holds all your worldly possessions. Pick your commander carefully, as his or her skill will be critical to your survivalóand for godsakes, pay him so he wonít abandon you.

It amazes me how SBOs in desperate trouble treat their attorneys. Often their bills are neglected or ignored altogether when they are in the heat of battle. The SBO often treats the attorney like he is just another creditor, expecting him to work without being paid. But few attorneys will put up with this and, if you run up a big bill with your attorney, youíll soon find yourself with a new, more dangerous creditor at your heels demanding payment. So remember, if you donít pay your army, they will neglect or abandon you, and always at a time when you can least afford to be defenseless.

If your attorney is so critical to your survival, how do you find the best one for the job? Usually, the best way is by referral. But only accept a referral from someone who has used the referred attorney in a similar situation. Many people refer an attorney they know nothing about. They may have seen him on TV, heard his ad on the radio, or found out about him from a friend or relative. Every week I get similar referrals of clients from people who donít know me. While I appreciate these referrals, youíre not doing anyone a favor if you refer them to someone you know nothing about.

It is also important that the referred attorney is experienced in the area for which you are seeking representation. A friend might refer you an attorney who did a great job handling his divorce, but that same attorney is not likely to be the best person to guide you through a successful reorganization of your small business.

If you can't get a referral from someone who has successfully reorganized their business, then you may have to turn to a referral service. The local bar association is probably the best, but you still must be selective. The bar associations do not screen the attorneys who they recommend. Usually the criteria is simply that they are licensed to practice law, are a member of their association, and have malpractice insurance. You need to interview the attorney referred to you to be sure he or she is experienced in helping a small business under siege. The sure test of the attorneyís ability is to ask the attorney for references from three small business owners who he has successfully reorganized. If he canít or wonít provide those references, keep looking.

Once you have found the right attorney, confess to him all your sins. Be honest and tell him everything that might impact the defense of your business. Everything you tell your attorney is confidential, so donít be timid, shy, or too embarrassed to tell all. The worst thing for an attorney is to be blind-sided at trial or in a hearing. On one occasion I was helping a middle-aged woman shut down her failed business. It appeared to be a simple Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but she seemed to be a little more nervous than expected. I quizzed her about it and she said it was just her nature. At the creditorsí meeting, her nervousness increased, and during my questioning she suddenly confessed to having $25,000 in cash stuffed under her mattress.

Of course, I was flabbergasted and greatly disturbed, because failing to disclose assets in a bankruptcy is a criminal offense. Fortunately, I was able to convince the trustee that the woman simply thought because the money wasnít in her checking account, she didnít have to report it. This is a common misconception of debtors. They think that by giving cash or property away to a friend or relative, they donít have to report it on their bankruptcy. My client was lucky she didnít end up in jail.

The sad thing is she lost $25,000, that she probably could have kept had she been honest with me. If I had known she had $25,000 we probably could have figured out how to legally keep it or spend it prior to filing bankruptcy. Since she wasnít honest with me, she lost the money and nearly ended up in jail.

Many states have so-called board certified attorneys, who have special training in a particular area of law practice. Whereas a board certified bankruptcy attorney may be excellent at getting you through bankruptcy, he may know nothing about the proper structure of your business, minimizing estate taxes, or handling employee issues. A general practitioner, who is a small businessman himself, may actually be better than the bankruptcy specialist.

Sometimes you will need more than one attorney to get you through the problems you face. In one instance we were representing a client who was having financial difficulties due to of an automobile accident. He had been cut off by a large truck and suffered a severe concussion that left him with brain damage. He could still function, but lost the ability to run his business. In this case, we were able to handle his personal injury claim and file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy to try to preserve his business until he could recover, but we were not competent to handle a Social Security disability claim. We, therefore, referred him to an attorney who specialized in Social Security disability and monitored that case closely while we prosecuted the other actions. If you need more than one attorney, hire them, but select just one to be in charge of all the others so he can coordinate your legal affairs during this critical reorganization period.

Once you have one or more attorneys, keep in touch with them. Be sure you advise them immediately of any communications from creditors or new circumstances that could impact your reorganization. Your attorneys should promptly return telephone calls, but if they donít, be persistent and donít give up until you have reached them. Attorneys are busy and often take too long to return phone calls. If you canít get through immediately to the attorney, talk to his secretary or legal assistant. They are usually much easier to contact and will have direct access to the attorney.

If communication with an attorney becomes too difficult or impossible, then hire a new one. You have the right to hire and fire your attorney at will, so donít be afraid to do so if necessary. This may be your one chance to get your business on track, so donít let a bad choice of an attorney keep you from attaining your goal. Remember it is your future that is at stake, so take charge of the situation and do what it takes to be successful.

Next: Form of Business

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More Blogs by William Manchee
• Why Many Intelligent and Talented People Fail in Business - Monday, May 07, 2012
• Getting the Mail Can Be Risky Business - Friday, May 04, 2012
• Consumers Suffer Grievous Injury When Creditors Improperly Report Their Credit after Bankruptcy - Thursday, May 03, 2012
• The Effect of Print on Demand to the Small Press Author - Monday, July 04, 2011
• Nine-Eleven's Impact on the Small Press Author - Sunday, July 03, 2011
• Has Your Mortgage Company Ripped You Off? - Saturday, August 07, 2010
• Wrongful Foreclosure - Tuesday, February 16, 2010
• Don't Throw Away The Evidence - Friday, January 15, 2010
• Brandy - Saturday, October 17, 2009
• Why I Write in Different Genres - Wednesday, August 12, 2009
• Cash for Clunkers Bad Idea for Many Consumers - Monday, August 03, 2009
• Beware of Debt Negotiators - Tuesday, May 05, 2009
• Top Ten Reviewers - Tuesday, April 28, 2009
• Debt Collector Put Out of Business In Texas - Sunday, April 26, 2009
• Defending the Small Business - Part 23 - Changing Your Ways - Tuesday, April 07, 2009
• What Every Bankruptcy Filer Should Know - Part 3 - Will Filing Bankruptcy Ruin Your Credit? - Thursday, March 19, 2009
• Defending the Small Business - Part 22 - Bookkeeping and Accounting - Wednesday, March 11, 2009
• Chill, It's No Big Deal - Sunday, March 01, 2009
• What All Bankruptcy Filers Should Know - Part 2 - Wednesday, February 25, 2009
• Defending the Small Business - Part 21 Form of Business - Thursday, February 19, 2009
• What Every Bankruptcy Filer Should Know - Saturday, January 31, 2009
•  Defending the Small Business - Part 20, Getting an Attorney - Sunday, January 25, 2009  

• Defending the Small Business - Part 19 - Employees, Double Trouble - Sunday, January 11, 2009
• Defending the Small Business Under Siege - Part 18, Loan Consolidations & Workouts - Sunday, January 04, 2009
• Defending the Small Business: Part 17 - Bankruptcy: Friend or Foe? - Monday, December 29, 2008
• Tarizon: The Liberator Launch Update - Friday, December 26, 2008
• Defending the Small Business - Part 16 - When the Constable Knocks - Friday, December 05, 2008
• Defending the Small Business - Part 15 - State & Local Taxes - Saturday, November 22, 2008
• Defending the Small Business - Part 14 - Dealing With IRS Collections - Wednesday, November 12, 2008
• Defending the Small Business - Part 13 - Uncle Sam, The Sleeping Giant - Thursday, November 06, 2008
• Defending the Small Business - Part 12 It's Not As Bad As It Looks - Monday, November 03, 2008
• Defending the Small Business - Part 11. Misfortune - Tuesday, October 28, 2008
• Defending the Small Business: Part 10. Competition - Thursday, October 23, 2008
• Defending the Small Business. Part 9. Theft & Embezzlement - Monday, October 20, 2008
• Defending the Small Business - Part 8. Greedy Lenders - Sunday, October 19, 2008
• 7 - Defending The Small Business: The Credit Conspiracy - Saturday, October 18, 2008
• 6 - Defending the Small Business - Giving it away. - Thursday, October 16, 2008
• 5. Defending the Small Business: Starting on A Shoe String - Wednesday, October 15, 2008
• 4. Defending the Small Business: Suffocation - Tuesday, October 14, 2008
• 3 - Defending the Small Business: Looting - Monday, October 13, 2008
• Understanding the Current Economic Meltdown - Saturday, October 11, 2008
• 2 - Defending the Small Business - Doomed From Day One - Saturday, October 11, 2008
• 1 - Defending the Small Business: Introduction - Friday, October 10, 2008
• The Stan Turner Mysteries - Sunday, March 25, 2007

For Nil Consideration by Dave Brooks

The first in a series of books based around the fictional Sheraton Moss estate in Teesside... only this story actually happened! Based on the real life events of a traumatised teen..  
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