Nicole Hull, Esq.
Don't Let Your Baby Be a Victim of Lawsuit
Never have I ever heard a fit parent say, “my child needs surgery, so let me hop on YouTube and watch a video on how to do it.” Nor have I heard a fit parent say, “my child has a cavity, let me Google how to fill the cavity myself.” Why? As a parent, my guess is that the risk of catastrophic consequences is too high for any parent to leave a child’s health in the hands of someone who is incompetent and wholly unqualified to practice medicine.
Like most parents, when the health of our precious children is at stake, my husband and I want to place them in the hands of the very best practitioner that we can find to guard against something awful happening. However, as an attorney, it amazes me how many intelligent, successful entrepreneurs will risk the very lives of their “babies” by placing their businesses into the hands of Google, YouTube, and pre-packaged legal forms as a form of protection against that horrible disease called “lawsuits.”
Tim’s Baby Almost Died from Lawsuit
One of my most memorable clients is Timmy Diditmyself. Timmy is a successful, brilliant entrepreneur that found success in the tax preparation industry. Wanting to branch out and try something new, Timmy decided to open a residential group home for children involved in the court system. As most successful business owners do, Timmy studied the market, created a business plan, and set himself up for success.
As his start-up money dwindled, and he needed to find ways to save money, Timmy decided to search the Internet for template employment contracts, and copied and pasted until he had what he thought was the perfect contract. He eventually invested in a consultant who advised him on finding the right facilities and helped him navigate applying for all of the required permits and licenses. He then hired his first employee, opened his facility, and prepared for another successful venture.
After about a month, Timmy realized that his employee was not a good fit for this company. She was irresponsible, inept, and mean to the children. As the problems continued to increase, Timmy decided to fire the employee and find a better employee. Well, maybe it was the cold weather or the loss of funds before Christmas, but as soon as Timmy fired her, she uttered that ugly, nasty, word- “lawsuit”, and a scared Timmy came into my office for a consultation.
“What attorney drafted this Employment Contract? Did you and the attorney discuss the goals that you had for this contract?” I asked.
And as soon as he put his head down and broke eye contact, I knew what he was going to say, “I got it off of the Internet.”
“Damn it, Timmy! I was rooting for you!” was what I thought, but what I said was, “Tim. This is bad.”
During the consultation, I explain to Timmy that Georgia allows employers to terminate employees for any reason (absent discrimination) and allows employees to quit for any reason. However, based on the wording in the termination clause of the Employment Contract, he had essentially contracted with the employee to give up her right to quit during the first year in exchange for his promise to employ her for a year. In Georgia, this negotiation was binding which meant that he was likely on the hook for allowing her to continue working at the group home for the remainder of the contract, or he would have to pay her the salary promised to terminate the agreement.
You would have thought that I told Timmy that his child was terminally ill, and in essence, I did. With this being a new venture, he did not have the financial resources to buy the employee out of the contract nor did he personally have the availability to pay her monthly and work the business himself.
“Timmy, why didn’t you come into the office to let one of the attorneys review this contract prior to you using it?” I asked in a mixture of confusion and frustration.
“I didn’t have thousands of dollars to hire you to review it!” he stated in frustration.
While I didn’t have the heart to tell him that we review contracts for a flat fee of $250.00 (one hour of the attorney’s time), I quietly handled him the paperwork to apply for a $6000.00 loan to pay for his legal services so that we could try to get him out of this horrible excuse of a contract.
The next week, Tim received a letter from the consultant he had hired stating that they owned 50% of his business, and ending with that same ugly, nasty, word- “lawsuit”. Again, a scared Timmy came into my office for a consultation.
“Show me the contract you had with this consultant,” I asked.
Again, as soon as he put his head down and broke eye contact, I knew what he was going to say, “I don’t have a contract.” This time, Timmy simply motioned for me to hand him the loan application without any further questions or comment. And I did.
I wish Tim had come into my office earlier so that I could have explained the myriad of customizable solutions that most firms offer small businesses. Like other business owners, lawyers have analyzed the market and are adept at providing services that meet the difficult needs and budgets of small businesses.
Limited Scope Representation
Many firms, like my own, offer clients the opportunity to pay for limited legal services like drafting and reviewing contracts, drafting cease and desist or other mean law firm letters, and even providing basic consultation on a particular issue. Because this type of advisement is only a onetime thing and will only require a few hours of time, most firms charge a flat fee of just a few hundred dollars.
This option works well for start-up businesses that need a one-time review of basic contracts that will be used over and over again; or the clients who need a one-time review of a production or publishing contract; or even the working professional that wants a review of their employee contract as they prepare to start their own ventures.
In Timmy’s case, this option would have been perfect for him as he drafted his contracts, or considered hiring consultants.
Monthly Retainers for Attorney Availability
Law firms are also providing clients the opportunity to pay a monthly fee for legal representation or services that guarantee an attorney will be available whenever consultation or representation is needed. Business owners that utilize this option typically want continuing legal protection across a variety of legal areas. Clients like this option because it affords representation for the enforcement and defense of contracts, employee accidents in company vehicles, representation in licensing hearings, etc. Because our firm employs several attorneys that specialize in different areas of law, we are able to provide our clients with a customized powerhouse of legal representation that suit companies’ needs.
For instance, one of our clients owns several daycares all over the state. We were able to protect our client from multiple lawsuits when an employee left a child alone in one of the daycares. Because she had a thoroughly drafted employee contract that prohibited such employee conduct, the attorneys in our firm were able to successfully terminate the employee, guard the client against paying damages to the parents, save the client from being placed on the Child Abuse Registry, and prevent the licensing board from revoking her license.
Timmy’s Healthy Baby
Getting back to Tim, he retained our firm, and we won his cases. While he was thrilled with the victory, it cost him substantially more to hire us in the end than it would have in the beginning. And while I am glad to have Timmy trust my firm with protecting his baby, I’d like to encourage everyone else not to be like Timmy and wait for a catastrophe to strike before reaching out to an attorney to discuss your legal needs. You have worked too hard to turn your dream into a viable business. Now, go one step further to make sure that you place your baby in the hands of a law firm that shields your baby from the dreaded disease Lawsuit.