Choice of Entity for New Lawyers

coffee-cup-and-docs-bought-at-ssChoosing a legal structure and entity type for your law firm seems like an easy decision. But is it? Consider the following scenarios:

New lawyer establishes law practice with the goal of becoming an associate

If this is you, being a straight-up sole proprietor may be the best choice, assuming you have no employees.

A sole proprietorship is the simplest and most common structure chosen to start a business:

  • No formal action is required to start your business
  • It’s inexpensive
  • No papers to file
  • Nothing to dissolve
  • Simple tax preparation

When you’re ready to make the move from running your own practice to becoming an associate, the transition couldn’t be any easier.

On the downside, sole proprietorship means you have unlimited contractual liability and potentially higher taxes.

But how significant is the liability exposure?

Lenders, property managers, and others with whom you do business will typically require a personal guarantee for loans, leases, or other business transactions.  A personal guarantee means YOU are on the hook, even if you form a professional corporation or single-member limited liability company. As a result, contractual liability protection doesn’t count for much in evaluating whether to form an entity.

The real choice between sole proprietorship and forming a PC or single-member LLC comes down to taxes and the trade-off between potentially saving money (with entity formation) and simplicity (going with the sole proprietorship model).  Talk to a CPA so you can make an informed decision.

What if I’m planning to practice business law or intellectual property?

Why would your area of practice make a difference?  And didn’t we just say entity choice is driven by risk aversion – wreaking whatever benefit you can from contractual liability protection – and saving money – courtesy of a lower tax burden?  So what difference could practicing business and IP law possibly make?

If your goal is to help clients form entities and protect intellectual property, it could look a little odd that you haven’t followed the usual formalities in establishing your own business.

Fair or not, client perception counts.  So does marketing.  And part of marketing is how you brand your law firm.  Appending a PC or LLC designation to your business name may actually be an important part of how you choose to present yourself to potential clients.

If you plan to have employees …

This is an entirely different ballgame.  Without a doubt, form an entity. If you are a solo, choose a PC or single-member limited liability company (LLC).

Both entity types offer liability protection for non-professional torts committed by your employees.  The contractual liability protection discussed above will also kick in.  Talk to a CPA, but the likelihood is that forming an entity will also result in a noticeable tax savings.

If you plan to practice with others …

This is another occasion when forming an entity is a no brainer.  Do it for the avoidance of liability discussed in the preceding paragraph and for the limitation on vicarious liability.  The ideal structure may be to form a sole owner PC or single-member LLC that belongs to the firm’s entity. This may allow you, as the individual lawyer, to completely escape personal vicarious liability.

Multi-tier entities are complex, administratively messy, and no longer have the tax benefits they once enjoyed.  BUT avoiding vicarious liability is a big plus.  To learn more about this strategy, read Choice of Entity for a Legal Practice and Lawyers as PCs, LLCs, & LLPs in Oregon, referenced below.

Being fully informed in the premises

This post skates over some pretty significant content that deserves more in-depth thought.  Do your homework.  Recommended reading includes:

  • Sole Proprietorship as a business structure choice, courtesy of the Small Business Administration.  While you’re on the SBA site, poke around.  There is a ton of great content here.  And don’t forget about the help and resources available from the Small Business Development Center.
  • Law Firm Choice of Entity, from the ABA Young Lawyers Division.
  • Choice of Entity for a Legal Practice in Oregon, available on the PLF website. Select Practice Management > Forms > Entity Formation for Lawyers.
  • Lawyers as PCs, LLCs, & LLPs in Oregon, available on the PLF website.  Select Practice Management > Forms > Entity Formation for Lawyers.
  • Tax Considerations for Choice of Business Entity, Chapter 3 of the OSB CLE Seminar Handbook Broadbrush Taxation: Tax Law for the Nonspecialist (2015). Available in BarBooks behind the member login on the OSB website.

Most importantly

Talk with a CPA.  I can’t say this enough.  This is one of the best investments you can make in getting your practice up and running.  A CPA can help you determine whether forming an entity will result in tax savings.  He or she can also help you select an entity type – which is highly driven by tax considerations.

You’ll also learn about property tax, business income tax, business licensing, and other obligations you may not be familiar with – all of which are determined by where your business is located.

All Rights Reserved 2017 Beverly Michaelis

Use Strikingly to Enhance Your Job Search

Looking for a job?  Stand out from other candidates by creating your own personal Web site with Strikingly.  Simply create a login, then choose from one of six templates under the Personal tab or scroll to the bottom of the page and select “One Click Online Resume” to convert your LinkedIn profile to a personal Web site.  It’s that easy and it’s free!

To give you an idea of how Strikingly uses LinkedIn, let’s do a comparison of the two.

Here is a partial screen grab of my LinkedIn Profile:

Here is a partial screen grab of my Strikingly Web site:

Click edit to change the background image, upload your own image, change the template style, add content or edit content.  Save at any time to avoid losing your edits and use Preview to test drive your site before making it live. When you’re done, click Publish.

To navigate your site, use the slide bar or simply scroll down the page.  (Note:  recommendations follow experience, but don’t have their own navigation.)

What did I appreciate about Strikingly?

  • It is incredibly easy to use.  Hard to beat a “one click and you’re done” Web site.
  • If you build one personal site and don’t mind the strikingly.com domain name, there is no charge.
  • Sites are available instantly – about 10 seconds and I was off and running.
  • Editing is easy and intuitive.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn I could upload my own background images and change the template style.
  • Stock iconography and logos are used advantageously to enhance content.
  • A key recommendation was showcased in an appealing way.
  • Publicize your new site on Twitter or Facebook when done!

If you are looking for a more engaging, interesting way to present your qualifications, please give Strikingly a try.  Take the time to edit and personalize your site by uploading your own background image and tweaking the template.  For custom domains and other features, check out the Limited or Pro pricing plans.

All Rights Reserved [2014] Beverly Michaelis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are Contract Lawyers Automatically Independent Contractors?

Many new lawyers seek out contract lawyering assignments as a means of getting their practice off the ground.  If you are interested in contract lawyering, there are many excellent resources to help you get started.

Begin by checking out the following forms and practice aids available from the Professional Liability Fund at no charge:

  • Contract Lawyers Checklist
  • Contract Project – Letter of Understanding
  • Contract Project Intake Sheet
  • Letter Declining Contract Project
  • Project Assignment

Next, order the following free CLEs:

  • Choice of Entity for Contract Lawyers and Sole/Small Firm Practitioners
  • Practical Contract Lawyering

Both can be found on the PLF Web site.  Select Programs on CD/DVD under the Loss Prevention – CLE heading.

Once you’ve done a bit of homework you will start to get the drift that there is a bit more involved in being a contract lawyer than merely taking an assignment and completing a project.  For example, your classification.  Are you an employee or an independent contractor of the hiring firm?

Some contract lawyers assume they are “independent contractors” because they produce “contract work.”  But a true “independent contractor” must meet the criteria of federal and state agencies for income tax, employment tax, wage and hour, pension, health, Medicare, retirement, disability, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance purposes – to name a few.  So how to proceed?

In their article Contract Lawyers: Independent Contractors or Employees? Lisa Brown and Jim Vogele provide some answers.

First, enter into a written agreement with the hiring firm confirming your independent contractor status.  Brown and Vogele suggest including the following provisions:

  • The contract lawyer is responsible for his or her own income tax withholding and Social Security self-employment taxes, professional liability insurance, and excess coverage.
  • The firm will issue a Form 1099 for the services performed by the contract lawyer.
  • An acknowledgement that this is not a joint venture and the parties do not have any shared business interests.
  • The contract lawyer is currently licensed and in good standing with the Oregon State Bar, has current professional liability coverage, and has no pending malpractice claims or ethics complaints.
  • The contract lawyer does not have a conflict with any of the parties involved in the assigned project.
  • The contract lawyer agrees to at all times fulfill his or her professional duties to protect the client’s privileged and confidential information.
  • The contract lawyer will at all times comply with his or her ethical and legal responsibilities as a lawyer licensed to practice law in the state of Oregon.
  • The contract lawyer will return all client documents, including all copies of the documents, when the project is complete.
  • The contract lawyer will not receive any employee benefits or workers’ compensation coverage.

Second, behave like an independent contractor:

  1. Maintain your own office (virtual or brick-and-mortar)
  2. Provide services to a variety of firms
  3. Print and use your own business cards
  4. Keep an e-mail account separate from the hiring firm(s)
  5. Use your own online legal research tools, computer, and copying capability
  6. Get your own taxpayer ID
  7. Work independently, setting your own hours
  8. Exercise control over how your work is performed
  9. Invoice the hiring firm and arrange for payment on a project basis
  10. Obtain a 1099 from the hiring firm at year-end
  11. Fulfill the other hallmarks of working as an independent contractor

Read the complete article on the Professional Liability Fund Web site.

Learning the Ropes – Practical Skills & Ethics Workshop

Are you new to private practice? Then I have just the ticket for you!

Attend our three day conference – Learning the Ropes: A Practical Skills & Ethics Workshop – for a mere $65.  Attendance at the full program satisfies the MCLE requirements for new admittees’ first reporting period.

Choose from these concurrent sessions:

  • Creating a Firm (featuring yours truly) or Joining a Firm
  • Tort Litigation or Criminal Law
  • Domestic Relations or Estate Planning
  • Civil Motion Practice or Bankruptcy
  • Intellectual Property or Employment Law

Can’t decide?  All tracks are recorded for later viewing at no charge.

Plenary sessions include:

  • How to Develop a Succcessful Practice and Avoid Legal Malpractice
  • Communicating Consciously and Conscientiously
  • The Ethics of Practice Management
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • Recognizing Child Abuse and Fulfilling Your Duty to Report
  • Courtroom Do’s and Don’ts
  • Negotiation Tips, Tricks, Traps, and Tools
  • Bridging the Cultural Gap

Day 1 includes a “Meet the Judges” luncheon.  Day 2 features a networking luncheon with bar leaders and respected practitioners in the fields of Appeals, Criminal Law, Employment Law, Intellectual Property, Business Litigation, Debtor/Creditor Law, Estate Planning, Litigation, Business Transactions, Elder Law, Family Law, and Real Estate.

All meals, including the luncheons, are included in your $65 workshop fee.  The program is at the Oregon Convention Center November 2, 3, and 4, 2011.  To register, visit the PLF Web site > Upcoming Seminars (under the heading Loss Prevention – CLE).  Sign up early.  Space is limited!

Copyright 2011 Beverly Michaelis