For small business owners, having a little legal knowledge is a must. According to the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, small businesses paid more than $105 billion in 2008 as a result of lawsuits. Understanding the law can help small businesses reduce potential liabilities that can lead to lawsuits, and also help them with regulatory compliance, succession planning and other needs.
The need to make sure your legal bases are covered begin before you even make your first sale. When establishing your business, you’ll likely need to establish a legal structure for it, choosing to be a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability corporation or corporation. Each type of legal structure has advantages and disadvantages with regard to tax and other issues, so you should research these choices carefully before choosing one.
It’s also important to ensure that your new business does not infringe upon the intellectual property of others. Before starting your business, make sure you or your partners don’t have non-compete agreements with other companies that could hinder your new business, check copyrights and trademarks to ensure you’re not infringing upon an existing business’ protected material and also make sure that no other legal agreements exist that could expose you to legal action if you start your new business.
Personal injury suits make up a large portion of the legal actions taken against small businesses. Making sure your business place is free of hazards that could give rise to lawsuits is important to heading off these legal actions. Make sure your business complies with all state, local and federal safety standards.
Contract suits are also a potential legal hazard to businesses. Small business owners should be cautious when entering into contracts with other businesses or customers, making sure to understand all aspects of the contract and having a realistic expectation of being able to abide by the terms of the contract before signing.
Licensing and permitting are another legal area small businesses need to be aware of. Small business owners should work to ensure that their small businesses comply with zoning ordinances, as well as licensing and permitting laws.
Employee lawsuits can also be burdensome for businesses. To avoid suits, be sure to have policies regarding employee hiring and termination, as well as conduct and sexual harassment in place and make sure these policies are enforced.
One of the best ways small businesses can make sure they’re on solid legal ground is to consult with an attorney on legal issues. For routine matters, a copy of Black’s Law Dictionary can also be helpful.