What Constitutes Business Law?

Running a business or being involved in a corporation can be a very complicated and stressful experience. One component of this is the fact that there are numerous laws and legal restrictions you must abide by. Many of these regulations fall under the term “business law”. By better understanding what business law entails you are better able to take measures for the legal advancement of your organization.

The following are aspects of business that can fall under legal restrictions, making them important components of business law:

  • Exporting and Importing: If you will be working with customs and international business law in the United States and throughout the world it is important you understand the legal restrictions surrounding this practice.
  • Carrying products over land and sea: If you will be shipping or transporting good across the country it is important you are doing so with an understanding of how transfer laws can negatively and positively impact your methods.
  • Distributing consumer goods: There are many laws surrounding who you may sell and market to depending on the specific products you manufacture. If you are not practicing with an awareness of these restrictions you could lose your business.
  • Manufacturing consumer goods: Depending on your product there can be many laws determining what materials you use, how your goods must be made, and more.
  • Hiring and employment practices: Employment law is strictly enforced; from non-discrimination in hiring to proper compensation for workplace injury, there are many factors of employment law that significantly influence your business.
  • Operations of corporations: Because corporations are public entities they have a unique set of restrictions and obligations to follow from that of other business types.
  • Partnerships and mergers: Partnerships and mergers require legally binding agreements to be reached by multiple parties, usually in the form of contractual decisions.

If you are a business leader it is important you seek the assistance of a legal professional who will help you with the above endeavors while also helping you work towards your business goals and interests.

Law Firm Marketing – Becoming Client Centric

The Client Experience

Receiving exceptional service is always a memorable experience. It can make a person feel valued. And news of exceptional service spreads fast. It’s talked about to friends and family and even eulogized to strangers. It can transcend the ordinary and take on an almost mythical form. This is especially true when ordinary things are done in extraordinary ways.

Years ago, I had to fly to Bangkok on a business trip. After a long, trying taxi ride in rush-hour traffic, I finally checked into my hotel, tired and hungry. I dropped my luggage in the room and went down-stairs to get some dinner. An hour later, when I returned, I found my luggage neatly unpacked–shirts folded, pants hung up, ties carefully dispersed along the racks. Almost immediately, I began to relax. I involuntarily breathed a sigh of relief.

Then I looked into the bathroom and saw something I’ll never forget. The items from my overnight kit had been neatly arranged by the sink,?and someone had actually cleaned my hairbrush. All of the hair strands had been removed and the bristles were glistening. But the coup de grace was this: Resting in the center of the bristles was a beautiful white petal.
After more than ten years, I can still see this image. This one experience–this unexpected gesture that went beyond exceptional service–left me with a whole new understanding of what it means to put a client first.

When I returned home and people asked about Thailand, I invariably told them about that small white petal on my hairbrush. Today, when I think of great hotels, I think of the Hotel Oriental. It is the standard by which I judge all other hotels.

In the universe of companies, only a few consistently reach extraordinary levels of service. Studies have shown that companies that do reach such levels share certain fundamental values and organizational traits.

Marketing a Service

There is a fundamental distinction between marketing a product and marketing a service. Products are tangible. They either work as represented or they don’t. Products can be returned or exchanged. We can touch and feel a product before we decide to buy it; rarely is this the case with a service.

Services are meant to be experienced, not ordered from catalogs. Serv-ices are profoundly personal in nature and our response to them is often emotionally driven. A service relation-ship, especially a professional service relationship, challenges the provider to be an expert in serving people.

Think about the ways buyers perceive “value” generally. When we buy products, we rely mostly on objective criteria. For products like shampoo and stereos, determining objective value is fairly simple. A large bottle of shampoo delivers more product than a small one, so we are justified in paying more for the large one. A stereo system that has more features is said to contain more value than one that has fewer features. Product features, quality and quantity are all critical factors in the determination of value. Service, however, is far more nebulous–and is therefore much more challenging to define and measure.

Service Is a Process, Not an End

One reason service is so difficult to measure is because it’s so subjective. It is experiential–we can feel it and see it, but defining it is another matter. Perhaps it’s a little like what the Supreme Court wrote about pornography: It may be hard to define, but we know it when we see it.

Truly great firms–those with legendary status–are always striving to reach greater levels of service for their clients. Fundamental to such firms is the understanding that service is a never-ending process driven by a specific mind-set. These firms know that while they must always try to reach higher levels of service, they can never assume they have achieved the highest level. There is always a higher level to strive for, and standing still squelches the pursuit of excellence. Either a firm continues to reach for higher service levels or it has abandoned the pursuit. There is no middle ground.

Most firms revolve around the desires and needs of their partners. For service-driven firms, just the opposite is true–not because these firms have partners who enjoy a higher sense of purpose, but because they have a higher sense of business smarts. For them, everything revolves around the client. And as you might expect, the benefits have a way of coming back to the partners. Consistently delivering increasingly higher levels of service to clients builds the types of returns that keep a firm thriving.

There is no quick and easy recipe for becoming a service-driven firm. There is no secret formula for meeting–and exceeding–your clients’ needs. But one of the best ways to find out how your firm can provide exceptional service for your clients is, strangely enough, one of the most frequently ignored: listening to what your clients need–being client-centric instead of firm-centric.

You may be convinced that your best clients have been attracted by the stature of your firm–by its size or its range of specialties. But the truth is that it’s not what you think you’re offering that counts, but rather what the clients are experiencing that matters most.

The Emotional Side

Providing a renowned level of service to clients requires paying attention and being sensitive to the emotional side of legal trouble.

Lawyers who pay attention to clients’ subjective experiences are able to expand the scope of legal and practical options available to their clients, which can result in the lawyers becoming better problem solvers.
Old marketing models were based on a number of false assumptions about what influences people’s decisions. Now that we know more about how the mind works, we have a unique opportunity to apply this knowledge to the goal of meeting our clients’ real needs as opposed to the needs we merely assume they have.
In our legal training, we are taught the paramount importance of words and logic. Even in the emotional setting of trial, most skilled attorneys–while highly attuned to the emotional reactions of juries–ultimately almost always rely on the persuasive power of logic, words and reason to win their cases.

Today, neuroscience is providing important insights into the ways people interpret information and the degree to which “thinking” is used to influence our decisions. Lawyers’ emphasis on words is based largely on the false assumption that most of our thinking takes place in our conscious minds. In fact, recent brain science research reveals that just the opposite is true: As much as 95 percent of our thinking actually takes place at the subconscious level.

Our memories, associations and emotions occur just below the surface of our awareness. In response to stimuli, our minds go busily to work at a staggering speed, networking, sharing, distributing, connecting, shuffling and reshuffling memories, images and thoughts before the first words of reaction ever leave our lips. Ironically, the words we speak are literally an afterthought.

How can this knowledge be applied to the way we communicate and deal with our clients? We would like to assume that clients, for the most part, make decisions deliberately and rationally. That is, that they consciously contemplate the relative merits of a choice, assign a value to each criterion and then convert this information into what we call a judgment. We’d certainly like to assume that’s how we make decisions ourselves! But the fact is, most decisions are made at the intuitive, emotional level.

Whether responding to an argument in the courtroom or to a firm’s marketing campaign, even the most intelligent people process their decisions below the surface of their conscious mind. In reality, words and logic have more to do with justifying a decision than forming the basis of one.

Consider how clients choose law firms. They may think they were led by logic–going with “a big firm” or choosing on the basis of a lawyer’s “professional demeanor,” but they are actually using their intuition to make a highly subjective -decision.

When attorneys learn to think emotionally, they will find new ways to communicate with their clients at the decision-making level. Therefore, providing a renowned level of service to clients means expanding the quality of personal attention given to the emotional side of problem solving. Lawyers who pay attention to clients’ subjective experiences are able to offer a wide scope of practical and legal options for their clients to consider.

“We see the same problems over and over again,” a partner in a small Cleveland practice explained. “When we know our clients are going through a painful time in their life, our job is often to help them connect the dots at a personal level. This requires us to think emotionally–to become more empathetic–so that we can get inside the minds of our clients. But the truth is, even in the context of law, a client’s decision process is driven more strongly by emotion than by any other single factor.”
Emotion is a stronger influence on the decision-making process, but words are not even a close second, although it’s a common assumption that we think in words.

While words play a central role in communicating thoughts, we rarely use them to think. Using words is just too slow, and language does not contain enough bandwidth to accommodate the complexity of our think-ing processes. Feelings can be both instantaneous and complex in ways that words cannot be.

The law firm that recognizes the important role emotions play in its clients’ decision-making process and adjusts its service accordingly will find new opportunities to provide clients with increasingly higher levels of service.

Knowledge Sharing

Professional service marketing is both knowledge intensive and relation-ship intensive. For law firms in particular, knowledge-sharing and relationship-building are two essential elements of providing quality legal counsel, and they need to work together. Developing client relationships comes from sharing knowledge in ways that build confidence and trust.
Unfortunately, many lawyers are reluctant to share their knowledge with clients. Some would rather create a shroud of mystery around their work, forcing clients to view them as indispensable–an especially effective technique for a lawyer who has already been successful in solving a prior legal problem for a client. However, this approach almost always results in clients feeling insecure and vulnerable, and it does not lead to the type of trust or loyalty that, in the long run, makes clients return.

Marketing is an empathetic process. It requires that lawyers step back and become observers in the lawyer-client relationship. In doing so, we must detach ourselves from our own views and old ways of thinking. For most of us, this requires a shift in perspective.

Neuroscientists tell us that our minds thrive on exploring new ways of thinking–seeing relationships between things we previously thought were unrelated and finding commonality between different disciplines such as language and the arts or science and philosophy.

The same can be said of the kind of shift in thinking required to connect emotions with marketing and marketing with identity. These new combinations are powerful and effective, but part of the challenge in us-ing them is to first get our minds around them.
The entire range of our thinking, the depth of our very perception, is said to shift when we challenge ourselves to understand the totality of something rather than just our narrow part of it.

Thinking is our forte as lawyers. But true mental strength depends on our willingness to understand different types of thinking on being able to shift and widen our perspectives and consider new approaches to problem solving.
Challenging our minds means breaking through the linear and narrow confines of our own categorical logic. We need to look beyond the world of opposites–things that are either true or false but never both. In short, we need to stop and take a fresh look at what we do and why we do it. If we hope to provide the kind of high-level service that will set us apart from our competition and create a new magnitude of client satisfaction, we need to see clients’ needs in ways we haven’t seen before.

This, of course, requires that we develop new ways of thinking. It means leaving our mental comfort zone–not a pleasant proposition for lawyers who have spent years learning how to think in that zone. Yet leaving it is essential if we are committed to the full range of the market-ing process.

Service Based on Character

Action that comes from one’s character is perceived as authentic and therefore predictable. Ideally, clients will come to know their lawyers as people who can be counted on under almost any circumstances. Lawyers who can be counted on to be responsible, attentive, caring, sensible, hon-est, hardworking and trustworthy will attract new clients and keep existing ones.
Developing a law firm based on these types of inspired values is what drives firm growth and fosters prosperity. However, character cannot be imposed from the outside. It must originate from the core of the firm’s leadership and grow outward. That’s why relationship building is so important to our work.

Many law firms balk at investing in education and personal development. Mentoring is too often limited to developing technical skills such as research and drafting. Developing lawyers’ communication and character-building skills has been devalued, and this reflects the degree of resignation and cynicism existing in our profession today. Ironically, the same firms that don’t value personal development wonder why they’re experiencing a staggering drop in client satisfaction.

The Trust Factor

Do clients see you as someone they trust? As someone who is honest with them and acts with integrity? Are you seen as someone who truly cares about their welfare?

What we do for our clients reveals not only our immediate intentions, but also our character.
Clients measure our service first and foremost–but not completely–by our actions. If our actions are perceived to arise naturally from our character, then we are perceived as sincere and trustworthy. If not, which all too often is the case, we can appear calculating and manipulative.

Clients trust their lawyers if they believe in the truth of the lawyers’ character. For lawyers to learn to serve from their character takes time, effort and a commitment to individual development. Despite popular opinion, character can be developed and learned, especially if it is en-forced by the firm’s culture and leadership. Thus, the term character building.
For most firms, however, developing communication skills in their lawyers is simply not a priority. In fact, some firms believe that it’s not necessary if they simply hire quality people.

“When we recruit, we look for young people who have a strong sense of purpose,” said a partner at an East Coast firm. “To our firm, this means maturity, manners and common sense. Sure, we want the brightest minds, but we refuse to compromise on character. We won’t give an of-fer unless we believe in our gut that person can truly grow into being a partner.”

Lawyers who are truly valued by their clients develop client relation-ships that grow into alliances. At the other end of the spectrum are lawyers who view their job as opening and closing files. They exist in a virtual dead zone–a place where the personal side of the client’s experience is not relevant, the client having been reduced to just another “fact” in a set of issues belonging to a file making up a unit of revenue.

Somewhere along the line, these lawyers have come to believe that as long as there is sufficient revenue flow, fixing and changing the exterior problems (applying the hammer) will be sufficient to keep declining service in check. In the meantime, the partners keep partnering and hope that no one notices that they don’t have a clue about where the firm is going or how it will end up.

Without a moral center, there can be no group intention or direction. Instead, there is just the “organization” operating on cruise control, applying superficial fixes to problematic contact points where service and performance have fallen to unacceptable levels.

Accountability

Consider what it means to be accountable to your clients. When clients put their trust in you, what does that mean specifically–to you and to your firm?

Accountability can be viewed as the process by which a firm either succeeds or fails to make and keep its promises. What types of promises? The types that come from the firm’s inspired values–those that originate from the moral center of the firm–the “V” spot.

One partner had a very clear sense of what his firm promises: “Our clients count on us to be dependable, honest and totally committed to their interests all the time, every time.”

Take the time to identify just three character traits that clients can count on your firm to deliver. As an experiment, list these traits on paper and ask a few other people at your firm to come up with their own list. You’ll be surprised at how the responses will vary from person to person.
Consider this: If a firm can’t agree on what its clients should expect, chances are, neither can its clients. This is exactly why a firm must define for itself what it means to be in the service of its clients. Only with a clear understanding of its inspired values can a firm hope to provide clients with a consistent experience of exceptional service that they will long remember.

Business Laws Unveiled

Each and every person in this world must have at least once thought about opening some sort of business to increase his or her income. No matter if you are thinking about opening a small family business or a larger company, you cannot do anything but obey the business laws! If you don’t, you and your business can get into serious trouble!

In case you are under the impression that you need to be a graduate of a business law college or have a business law major in order to understand and use some of the basic ideas of small business law and corporate business law, you are making a very big mistake. Perhaps you have heard form the news and the headlines that employment law for business is one of the most dangerous fields, as a person can easily break the business laws and regulations.

The least any business man should know is that he or she must meet the general international business laws. You must also consider the export laws, import laws and but, by all means, one must obey to the specific laws of the country in which your business is situated.

Should you own a company that operates in your home country, then you must get to understand the business laws there. If you cannot manage to get a business permit or license, you can find yourself in a great amount of trouble, as your business can get shut down. Not to speak about the inconveniences due to business and hefty fines and penalties!

If you thought that Internet and online businesses do not need to take these rules seriously, then you can have the unpleasant surprise of getting serious problems. Of course these types of business need to obey the business laws, but they are called Internet compliance laws. Therefore, should you be operating a website of any kind and do not care about all these rules and regulations, criminal prosecution and hefty fines are waiting for you right across the corner.

Well, if all these bad things have made you fear doing business of any kind, you must know that no one expects you to be able to navigate the complexities of any type of business law by yourself! The best option for you is asking for help from a qualified professional of a business law firm. This way you will never get into trouble of any kind!

Starting a Law Firm – Local Counsel Work

When considering starting your own law firm, one often overlooked source of business for your fledgling business is local counsel work.

When I began my career as an attorney at a medium sized firm, I had an idea of what I would be working on. For instance, areas such as corporate law, family law, criminal law, estate law, real estate law, are all examples of practices areas that I, like all lawyers, am familiar with because those courses are taught in probably every law school in the United States. So, if you join a law firm in the private practice arena, you will probably work as a lawyer in one or more of these areas.

For example, the typical way to practice law is to have a client ask you to help them with their legal problem. A person or entity will come to you and hire you to help them with their business, family, or personal legal dilemma. That is the most common way to work as a lawyer.

However, one surprise that many lawyers find when they start practicing out of law school is that other lawyers and firms often hire attorneys outside their firm to be their lawyer for a local hearing. This concept is called local counsel.

There are two standard forms of local counsel work:

(1) a firm in the jurisdiction you work in, but which is a long ways away (like in a different city) hires you; or

(2) a firm outside of your jurisdiction and typically in another state hires you.

In these two situations, attorneys and/or law firms will hire out a lawyer to handle hearings in the courthouse or county where the original firm has filed its case. Hiring and outside attorney enables the hiring law firm to have an attorney present in a court-house that is far-far away from the hiring firm’s office. It would be much too expensive to have a $300.00-an-hour attorney drive from a far away city to attend a minor foreclosure hearing. So, the law firm that originated the lawsuit will often hire an attorney at a lower dollar amount to handle a simple hearing.

Examples of legal areas in which local counsel work is needed are: foreclosures, bankruptcy, and debt collection. Often the hired attorney will appear at a minor hearing, such as a status conference, and file an attorney appearance with the court. The attorney will inform the court that he or she has been hired only for the purpose of the local counsel work. A judge will often understand that the law firm who hired the local attorney will handle the actual procedural filing. However, the local counsel attorney will handle the minor matter before him or her. One thing to keep in mind is that the hired lawyer still owes a duty to both the court and his client to be diligent and prepared when he or she accepts the case – no matter how minor it is.

Why is local counsel work important for starting your own firm? In the foremost, it is usually relatively simple and it is a very effective way to generate cash flow for your firm. Without cash flow, your law firm will die.

Another great thing about local counsel work is that it helps the courts function efficiently. If an attorney can show up at minor hearing and guide the legal process along, the court can worry more about other, more important, cases on its docket.

In sum, local counsel work is an often unknown and overlooked aspect of starting and building a law practice. Attorneys who have been practicing for any amount of time often know about local counsel work. However, a person coming out of law school likely has never heard of it. If a person decides to start their own firm out of law school, they will not want to miss this great source of revenue-generating work.

Furthermore, another reason to do local counsel work is that lawyers tend not to stiff other lawyers. In other words, when you are hired, you know you are going to get paid. That may sound simple, but when you are staring out and trying to survive, getting paid for the work you do is of the utmost importance. Heck, it may be the only important thing to know when you are starting your own firm.

When considering starting a law firm, and whether your niche area is family law, criminal law, corporate law, or some other area of law, you need to remember local counsel work and focus some of your firm marketing towards this area. It is not always the most lucrative work, but, if you can get it, it is steady, it generates immediate cash flow, and it get your new law firm humming.

Starting a Law Firm, Moving to a New State

Starting a law firm can be tough. Trying to build your new law firm can be even tougher. Starting a law practice completely from scratch in a new jurisdiction could be fatal.

Many times, people starting their own law firm will leave an old firm with a bevy of client who they had represented under the old firm’s moniker. This is a perfectly acceptable way to start a new law practice. It is done many times and it will continue to be done. Think about it – if you already have a client base (or “book of business”) intact, you don’t need to worry so much about marketing and client development. Your only real worries initially are setting up a new corporate structure, a new office and the vagaries that go with that, malpractice insurance, and general institutional kind of work. Don’t get me wrong, that isn’t easy, but it appears much more doable when you know you have clients who are going to pay for those things.

However, moving to a brand new state with no clients AND trying to start your own law firm, is a whole different ball game. Not only do you have to worry about the institutional kinds of things every lawyer starting a law firm has to worry about, you also need to worry about how you are going to pay for this stuff while you build a client base. The very idea of it would discourage even the most ambitious man.

This article is not meant to discourage, though, it is meant to enlighten. When moving to a new state to start a law firm, you, of course, must be licensed in that particular jurisdiction first. Once you are licensed, the game is essentially on. The name of the game is marketing – something nobody teaches you in law school. (As an aside, this is where a joint MBA/JD degree would really come in handy).

So, how do you market your new law firm when you are moving to a new state? Simple, you get out there and hustle-n-flow. Another name for it is “networking”. In order to be successful in any business, let alone starting a law firm, you have to network and create a network. After all, starting a law firm is all about people and connections. Your clients connect with you. You connect with the court and court staff, including the judge or jury. Your business colleagues connect with you. How do you connect, again, get out there with your name and do good work. Be organic. Plant a seed and make it grow. Sound tough? It is.

It takes time and effort and failure. One of the hardest things an entrepreneur is faced with is failure. But, failure can be a good thing if you make it work for you instead of against you. An entrepreneur learns from failure and turns it into a positive. Life is about experiencing, learning, and failing – and then getting back up again.

So, if you think you have it in you to accept failure and keep on truckin’, you may be ready to move to a state and start and build a law firm.