Trusted Legal Advisor Program
Are you ready to build a company that can stand on its own? That has real potential to generate wealth (not just income)? To find a buyer? To attract investors? Then read on …
Confidence, calm, assurance. Those are items that you won’t see on your monthly spreadsheets, but they are more valuable than the numbers. You get that with the help of a Trusted Legal Advisor—also known as outsourced general counsel. Part-time chief legal officer. Outside in-house counsel. Whatever you call this attorney, it means one thing: Peace of Mind.
When you work with a Trusted Legal Advisor, you set aside the worries that your small business faces, like:
- How do I “future-proof” my business and prevent problems from arising?
- How solid is our foundation?
- How can I create leverage in my business so that it can scale and isn’t dependent on me?
- How do I protect myself against lawsuits from employees or vendors?
- What can I do to save money on legal expenses?
- How do I position my company to make more money and get our clients to pay on time?
- Whom can I trust when I have legal questions? Can I have quick access to that attorney?
The Trusted Legal Advisor Program is designed to work with you proactively, making this program different from other outsourced general counsel or corporate legal services. This program creates a meaningful relationship with your very own legal counsel who understands your business and offers strategic direction that has the company’s growth in mind.
Read on to discover the benefits of our Trusted Legal Advisor Program and whether it’s right for you.What price tag should small businesses place on prevention?
When it comes to legal issues for small businesses, the overwhelming cost of fixing a problem outweighs the investment of doing it properly from the start. We have seen the horrors of litigation—expensive legal fees, business disruption and low morale.
- Because an import/export company did not place Grievance Procedures in an employee manual, the owners spent $100,000 fighting a baseless sexual discrimination claim.
- By getting a shareholders agreement done cheaply by a friend, two business owners spent $50,000 in legal fees when they had a dispute over the company’s direction. They were forced to dissolve the company and their dreams.
- When a small business owner was independently negotiating with a Fortune 1000 company, she missed one thing and was deprived of $150,000 in revenue.
Our founder, Nina Kaufman, is a small business champion—not just your typical business attorney. Forbes Magazine calls her “One of the 25 Most Influential Women Tweeting about Entrepreneurship.” The U.S. Small Business Administration named her their regional Women in Business Champion of the Year in 2011. In over 15 years in business, she has helped thousands of entrepreneurs generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue.
As a trusted thought leader, she reaches over 2 million readers each month on Entrepreneur.com. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report, Crain’s NY Business, HuffingtonPost.com, The New York Law Journal, and the American Bar Association Journal. TV appearances include MSNBC’s Your Business, Fox′s Good Day NY, and Better.TV.
But it was her own experience as a business owner that fueled her passion to help women business owners (and really smart men) escape what she calls “self-employed slavery.” Read about her “defining moment,” below.
A defining moment in my life happened in mid-2007. The economy was starting to tank—a precursor to the crash of 2008—and the revenues of my 11-year-old law firm choked. My law partner and I were relying on our credit lines at an alarming rate. We didn’t have a steady flow of client work. We had no staff to take the administrative burdens off our plates so that we could prospect for clients. Like when the dot-com bubble burst and the Twin Towers came crashing down in 2001, once again, things were tight. It felt like no matter how hard we worked, we could never quite gain the traction we needed.
Beginning that July, I would wake up at 3AM on a regular basis, my stomach in knots. I’d go into the bathroom and start having what I call the “silent screams” —you know, when you’re yelling at the top of your lungs into the mirror but not letting any sound come out? If you had seen me, I looked like a deranged guppy.
I spent many days in the wee hours of the morning sitting on the edge of my bathtub journaling, and silent screaming in the mirror. I saw that for all of our efforts over more than a decade, my business partner and I had never achieved leverage within our law business. As the firm unraveled, my relationship with my business partner rapidly deteriorated. I had to get out. And given the lack of scale–or anything saleable about our company—there was nothing we could do but shut our doors. By January 2008, I was standing amidst the ashes of a 12-year-old business with nothing to show for it but a $70,000 kick in the pants, including $40,000 in credit line debt (which I paid off within two years).
I was tired of the old model of trading time for money—which is how most law firms still work. That’s when I dedicated myself to finding a better way to “do business.” Law school had taught me nothing about running a law practice.
I made the commitment to invest in myself. I took courses, hired advisors, built my own strategic team, found mentors, and was determined to crack the code to get beyond self-employed slavery and the shackles of an owner-dependent business.
More importantly, on my own, I grew to see how much I loved sharing what I had learned and read. I spent more and more time speaking and writing and coaching and mentoring—and recognized that’s where my true value lay: as an advisor. Not a commodity churning out documents.
For that’s why clients come to me. Frankly, most attorneys can do a halfway decent job of drafting your contracts and website terms and employment manuals and the like. (Some of us even do a really great job 🙂 ).
But the value comes from what I know and how I got that knowledge. I didn’t just read it in a book. I didn’t just get it working for a large law firm. I got it by living it. I’m a small business owner, too. I’ve experienced the pitfalls. I’ve made the bone-headed mistakes. And I’m committed to helping my clients avoid as many of them as possible. I stay on the cutting edge by constantly writing and blogging and speaking—and learning—about the fundamentals that make for a business that has “legs,” that is, leverage and scale, so you too can position your companies to find buyers and investors … and achieve the million-dollar growth you’ve dreamed of.
88% of all women business owners are sole proprietorships without employees. 80% of all women-owned businesses earn less than $50,000. (It’s not much better for men-owned businesses: 77% for ownership and 59% for income ). These statistics are disheartening, because they mean that millions of business owners will never be able to recoup or leverage the blood, sweat, and tears they pour into their companies. At that level, they’re just not saleable. No investor will want to put his/her capital into your company. And if you don’t enter business with a bigger vision and plan for how you exit it, you will find yourself treading water for the rest of your working life.
Plus, there’s a race to the bottom in some sectors of legal practice. Technology is encouraging many people to DIY their legal protections, to buy documents off the shelf. If legal work were really as easy as pulling a document off the shelf and handing it to you, let’s face it, there’d be no need for lawyers. But that’s not the case. Part of making sure that clients have the right legal protections in place involves getting to know their businesses, and establishing the kind of relationship where an experienced attorney plays a welcomed role as a trusted, strategic advisor. If you have a bigger vision for your company, you’ll want to expand your brain trust.
 U.S. Department of Commerce (2010)
It’s the outcome, not the tasks, that matters. For many years, we were “order takers” for small business clients, doing tasks like preparing documents. A project here; a project there. It might have been a bit cheaper for those companies, but in the long run, it cost them so much more. They missed out on insightful strategic perspective, expert guidance, advice from those who have seen it before (both what’s worked and what hasn’t). They deprived themselves of the opportunity to build leverage in their business. And by handling their legal work on a piecemeal basis, they emerged with a patchwork quilt rather than a seamless garment for a legal foundation.
Now clients have us on retainer so that we are available to them when they need us. The emphasis is on our counseling role and advisory relationship—a partnership. When you become a client, this includes doing a deep dive into your business to handle matters proactively and take the guesswork out of “what’s next?” It means you have the opportunity for regular check-ins and strategy calls. Our value is as a strategic advisor, a guide along your road to success. Small business owners get the most out of that value when they commit to their success by committing to an ongoing relationship with us. And for businesses in the ramp-up stage, having access to this kind of advice and counsel leads your business to happier customers, more leverage, avoidance of legal problems, and greater profit.
For over 15 years we have guided small businesses in New York City to many of the legal issues they face as they ramp up for greater growth. We have worked with a range of companies, from authors to technology (there may be a “Z” company, but it’s not coming to mind).
Our experience has mostly centered on service-based companies such as those in “knowledge economy” industries. These include creative communications, consulting, web or graphic design, marketing strategy, branding, visual identity branding, crisis communications, corporate communications, professional services, corporate training, professional speaking, and social media marketing, as well as a variety of companies providing professional services.
Those companies that get the greatest value from working with us fall within the following metrics:
- Earn $500,000-10 million in gross annual revenue
- Have 1-10 employees, but frequently rely on freelancers or independent contractors
- Have been up and running for at least 3 years
- Are based in the New York City area
- Are closely-held (no more than 10 owners)
Especially when it comes to earnings, we find that smaller companies can be too cash-strapped to appreciate what goes in to creating a solid legal foundation that helps position a company for sale or scale. That said, we have worked effectively with business owners who have a highly developed “success muscle”— either they are serial entrepreneurs, have adequate capitalization, or extensive experience in their industry. That’s why we take select business owners through a “Get Acquainted Call” to make sure our capabilities are a mutual fit.
Peace of mind means a lot for those in the service business of creative communications, integrated/full- service marketing, advertising, public relations, professional services, and the like. There are lots of moving parts. Different people to coordinate. Assorted partners that vary by project. Multiple vendors. Diverse contractual elements. That’s a lot to juggle. The key is to identify the legal issues facing those businesses in advance and to put a plan in place to handle them.
Highlights of the Trusted Legal Advisor Program:
- Initial audit. Our “Fit Business Situation Analysis” locates areas of vulnerability in the business.
- Discovery Phase. Our “Fit Business Blueprint” provides a detailed plan to get the business on track for the coming year.
- Strategy Dashboard. We break down the goals into four quarterly phases: the Foundation Phase, the Operations Phase, the Performance Phase, and the Ongoing Support Phase.
- Service Level Plan Options. Our Enterprise and Establishment Plans recognize that some companies are full-on with their vision and ready to dive in with a one-year commitment to take advantage of the full-year strategy dashboard; others prefer a more incremental approach and sign up for six months intervals.
- Discounts. Like the old American Express slogan, “Membership has its privileges.” Only those who commit to an ongoing relationship as your strategic advisor are entitled to discounts off our à la carte legal fees. The longer you commit, the more you save.
- Reduce risk and therefore, exposure to loss and unnecessary legal fees
- Reassurance of knowing there’s an advisor on call who knows the business and keeps an eye on the big picture
- Generate more revenue by being able to identify threats to your bottom line
- Accurately budget for legal expenses
- Save money on the amount of legal fees they would have spent if they had worked on an hourly basis
- Create leverage in your business so that it can scale and isn’t dependent on you
- Ready access to expert, strategic insights
- Have a bigger vision by making your company attractive for buyers or investors
Our approach is not for everyone. We are selective in choosing our clients, just as we know our clients are selective in choosing us. We prefer to cherry-pick our clients, choosing to (gently) turn away business owners who aren’t suited for our program. (It wouldn’t be fair to them.) Also, because of attorney licensing rules, we provide legal services only to companies based in New York.
The Trusted Legal Advisor Program is NOT for those who are just starting out or are cash-strapped. If you fall within this category, it’s absolutely OK. We’ve all been in bare-bones, start-up mode at one point or another. Do yourself (3) favors:
- Make a plan. If you don’t know where you’re going, no road will get you there. Take some time to flesh out a business plan so that you can get clear on the goals and vision for your business and what it will cost you to get there.
- Get outside help. There are plenty of free resources available at your local Small Business Development Center or SBA offices. Many of them provide free counseling, which can give you the guidance and direction you need in the startup phase of your business.
- Keep current. Make a point to familiarize yourself with some of the legal issues you’ll want to address in your business. Our blog has a treasure trove of free articles that will give you a LOT of things to think about.
Doing these three things will really help you get past start-up and primed for the ramp-up phase, which is our work. When you’re ready, you’ll know, and that will be the time to apply for a Getting Acquainted Call. (We’ll be here when you need us.)
Other types of business owners we won’t work with (without exception) are the second-guesser and the penny-pincher. Just as there are business aspects of running a law firm that are better left to the experts (like accounting or building websites), there are legal aspects of running a business that are better left to your trusted legal advisors. We don’t use the term “trust” lightly. We realize that we’re not a fit for everyone. That’s okay. If you don’t comfortable with the guidance we’re providing, you’re better off finding other counsel. It’s not cost-effective for either of us to continually weigh the “legal advice” you get from your college roommate, Uncle Max, or your golf pro.
If you want a business that can stand independently of you, you WILL need to invest money in getting that off the ground. And part of that investment is in the legal foundation. We are mindful of small business cash flow and have structured our fees to be affordable. But if this will become a constant battle of the budget where you need to challenge every recommendation we make, we’ll probably not work well together. We don’t want you to waste your time or money.
Finally, there’s temperament. If you’re happy staying solo, that’s fine—plenty of people do—but the likelihood is that you won’t get the full benefits of all the strategic guidance we can offer. Our Trusted Legal Advisor Program was created for business owners who are absolutely excited and deadly serious about ending their own “self-employed slavery” and creating a company that can stand and function independently of them.
We realize that some business owners may not be ready to make a commitment to an ongoing advisory relationship with an attorney. However, in our experience, having us jump in to give you quick advice on your situation doesn’t serve either of us. When you contact us out of the blue, we don’t have enough information to give you the guidance you need. Also, creating a document without regard to the rest of your business and goals leaves you a patchwork quilt of protection … that could conflict with other business processes. And as a service provider, it’s not particularly satisfying to feel like you’re part of a hit-and-run relationship.
Great! Did you know that one of the most prominent characteristics of successful people is that they take action? They take educated risks, are decisive, take action, and they move forward towards success faster as a direct result.
Here’s what you do: apply for a Solid Systems Strategy Session so that we can gauge together whether this program is a fit for your company. by clicking the ‘Apply Now’ button and answering the questions. Once we have your information, we’ll be back in touch with you within 1-2 business days. We look forward to working with you and to helping position your business for million-dollar growth and freedom. Let’s get going! *As a special bonus, you’ll also receive our All Systems Go bi-weekly ezine with hot tips on future-proofing your business. We respect your privacy.