Maybe, maybe not. I am a sole practitioner, which means that, as a client of the law firm, all your legal work will be performed by an attorney/MBA rather than handed off to paralegals or legal assistants or pushed down to junior associates as the larger law firms do, but this also means that you may call the office and find no one immediately available to speak with you (although I always try to return phone calls and emails promptly). Good news, there's only one of me; bad news, there's only one of me!
While not required, many clients choose to conduct business with us via the more time-efficient methods of phone, fax, and email, which generally results in lower legal fees than in-person meetings. While this may require a certain amount of "sacrifice" versus a large law firm, this is reflected in my rates and billing practices -- and theirs.
However, we are not the low cost provider. If your only concern is the lowest possible price, we're probably not the firm for you, we are not going to compete on price to win your business, and - of course - you may well get what you pay for if you shop only for the cheapest service available. That said, our pricing is competitive for the Los Angeles legal market, and we believe we offer exceptional value for the fees charged; that is, best value, not best price. When comparing fees, be sure you are comparing apples to apples. For example, Legalzoom.com and similar legal document services do not provide legal advice so is not comparable to the services I provide in this and many other ways. (For more on this, see "How much to..." and "Why should I...", below, as well as my blog posts on this topic and Legalzoom's own disclaimer at the bottom of their website's home page.
Finally, the firm's practice is civil in nature (that is, no criminal law work); see the Legal Services offered page of this Web site for more information. If the legal services you require aren't listed there, or you aren't sure if we're a good fit, please contact me anyway -- I am often able to provide a referral or point you in the right direction. When appropriate, I associate with other attorneys and law firms to meet clients' legal needs.
Do I need to come into your office and meet you in person to retain you, or to receive legal services?
In almost all instances, no. The vast majority of matters can be handled entirely via telephone, fax, email, and "snail" mail. In fact, with hourly billing arrangements, handling matters this way whenever practical generally will reduce the overall bill, as in-person office meetings tend to be somewhat more time-consuming and slower paced for all parties involved (not to mention time spent fighting L.A. traffic to come to my office). But you certainly can, if you wish; just call to make an appointment first, please.
How much to [form a corporation / review this contract / draft a living trust]?
Usually, the honest answer is, it depends. Legal services are professional services more akin to those offered by doctors or even automobile mechanics than to purchasing a fungible item like a television. With a TV, you know what you're getting before you buy, and you can price shop amongst competitors, because you know the product is going to be the same regardless of where it is purchased. Conversely, when you visit the doctor, you know you need a check-up or aren't feeling well, but until you get in there and the physician runs some tests, you aren't going to know how much it will cost. Asking an attorney, 'How much to fix X problem?' is often times akin to asking a doctor, 'How much to make me better?' or your mechanic, 'How much to fix my car?' You could ask what a doctor's visit costs, but one doctor's visit may not cure your ills. Likewise, you can ask me about my flat rate incorporations, but after consulting with you about your circumstances and desires, I may also recommend contract, employment, trademark, or other legal work, and in fact, a corporation may not be the best entity for you, and furthermore some incorporations are more complex and costly than others (e.g., incorporation of a sole proprietor, no rush, versus incorporation involving five founders, on an expedited basis, with the desire for maximum limited liability protection dictating the use of a more complex structure), so the number quoted must be put into context. Sometimes, a client "doesn't know what s/he doesn't know," that is, doesn't know the right questions to ask or the implications of his/her desires.
For contract negotiation, drafting, review, and counsel, my rates are hourly, and the final fee will depend on a host of factors. The fact that an agreement to be reviewed may be five pages long is only one of these factors; the others will remain unknown until you sign on with me and I actually dig into the issues (just as your mechanic won't be able to determine what labor and parts are needed to repair your vehicle until you have paid him to look under the hood).
Further, clients may not realize what they need. 'How much for a living trust?' ignores that a living trust may not be needed, one living trust alone may not be sufficient, an irrevocable trust may be required or desirable in light of the client's needs, and that in any case proper estate planning involves more than just drafting a revocable living trust (and even that is customized for each client's needs and can range).
In summary, just as with the doctor and mechanic, some small leap of faith is required. You must hire an attorney to analyze your circumstances and advise you; the component parts of the solution may have flat fees knowable in advance, but some legal work may additionally be recommended or even required to get where you want to go. After all, part if not most of what you are hiring the lawyer to do is identify legal issues of which you might not be aware (known as "issue spotting" in law school). Seen in this light, calling around to attorneys to compare prices for an LLC or a trust may give you an idea of the generally prevailing fee level in the area, but the answers will rarely be precise, and others questions may be at least as useful. Again, I remind those making such comparison to compare apples to applies, e.g., my full-service LLC formation package is much more comprehensive and offers more, and excludes less, than most other attorneys, and my flat fee trademark filing services are, so far as I am aware, one of a kind, in that there is one up-front fee, and no back-end hourly rates on top of the initial flat fee (charged by most [all?] other trademark attorneys).
Which legal form should I use for....?
More often than not, this question reflects a fundamental misunderstanding regarding the law and lawyers. This misperception has unfortunately been fueled by the proliferation of document preparation and online services, which promote one-size-fits-all 'simple' fixes for legal problems. In truth, it is the rare case where free legal forms found online will provide the complete solution to a legal issue. If it was just a matter of pointing to the right form in some mythical form book, there would be little need for law school, let alone lawyers!
In reality, the forms found or purchased online (as the purveyors themselves often point out, at least in the fine print of their user agreements), are no substitute for legal advice and the counsel of an attorney. In addition, forms found online may or may not be well drafted, up-to-date, compliant with your state and local laws, suitable for your particular circumstances, or sufficient on their own to achieve your goals.
Even if all these requirements are met, filling in the blanks or executing the document incorrectly can render it ineffective, unenforceable, or worse. For example, most non-compete forms have blanks for the duration in years and the geographic scope in miles. Putting the wrong items in these blanks can cause the form to become void and without effect. And if you don't know the severe restrictions on the use of non-competes in California... Or haven't considered the need for other non-interference, intellectual property rights, trade secret, and non-soliciation clauses or agreements...
The savvy business person hires an attorney to not only carry out their legal requests properly, but also to act as a sounding board, advisor, and to advise the client based on education, training, experience, and know-how which the typical non-lawyer would have little chance of knowing or keeping up to date on. Usually, then a better question is, 'I want to accomplish X, Y, and Z: Can you advise me and - as appropriate - generate a custom agreement and create such additional documents that may also be needed and do everything else that may need to be done to give me the greatest chance of avoiding misunderstandings, litigation, and risks down the road in connection with this matter?'
Additionally, you should be aware that there is a wealth of misleading, incomplete, outdated, and incorrect legal information on the Internet. Finding an answer online doesn't mean you have, or have correctly interpreted, the 'right' answer. No surprise, then, that all successful businesses budget for professional assistance with legal, tax, and accounting matters, and you should, too.
Can I set up a free in-person initial consultation to pick your brain, get some advice on my issue, and see if we are a good fit?
Generally, no. If this is your desire, you may well be able to find an attorney who is amenable to such an arrangement; however, my time is limited, and free initial consultations are unfortunately of necessity limited to relatively brief email or telephone exchanges to ensure our personalities are compatible; determine whether I can assist you; and answer any questions you have about me, my practice and experience, my fees and billing practices, and what you should expect if you retain me, rather than to begin solving your legal issues or dispensing advice. One-hour in-person consultations are available; however, this requires the payment of a non-refundable $325-375 fee in advance of the appointment. Many times, I have saved a potential client an hour plus of driving, parking, and setting aside time for an office meeting, by determining in a five-minute phone conversation that I am unable to take on their legal matter as it is a conflict of interest, outside my practice areas, is not a matter I wish to pursue, am unable to commit to due to time constraints, the prospective client does not possess the requisite finances to move forward, or the matter would better be handled by another law firm or type of lawyer for some other reason, or by an attorney or firm in another jurisdiction.
I have a quick legal question but no money - can you answer it for me?
Sorry, no. For legal and business reasons, legal advice is only provided to clients who have signed a retainer (services) agreement specifying the fees, scope, and other aspects of the engagement; passed a conflicts check with my present and former client list; and agreed to compensate me for the time, expenses, education, training, skill, and experience required to render legal services and counsel. When finances are an issue, please note that my rates are already reasonable when compared to other attorneys in the Los Angeles area and that I accept credit cards. If costs are still too high for your budget, you may want to contact your local legal aid society for assistance, or consider obtaining a loan or accumulating further savings before moving forward without proper legal guidance. Fixing problems later usually costs more than avoiding them in the first place.
Do I have to report my payment of legal fees to you to the IRS? Are your fees tax deductible?
Yes, generally gross payments of $600 or more in attorneys fees during a tax year must be reported to the IRS on form 1099-MISC and are often tax deductible. See the IRS website or your tax professional for more information. Our EIN is available on request to clients for this purpose and also appears at the bottom of each billing statement for your convenience. Credit card payments are already reported on a separate credit card processor 1099, so these payments, as well as costs, must not be included in any 1099 issued to this firm.
Why should I hire an attorney to form my corporation or LLC when incorporation services and paralegals are available at a lesser cost?
Paralegals and document preparation services such as We the People and LegalZoom cannot by law offer you legal advice. They will only form the corporation or LLC you tell them to, in the state you tell them to form the business entity in, when you tell them to form it. If you don't know exactly what's best for your business, whether your business is permitted to operate in your state as the type of entity you have chosen (e.g., there are no professional LLCs in California), if you can't explain to yourself or others why you are choosing an LLC over a corporation, or an S corporation instead of a C corporation, or why you are filing this year instead of a delayed filing for next year, or in Nevada versus California, then you need to consult an attorney in order to make those determinations with you. Doing so may avoid what may be a costly mistake you'll have to remedy later and possible missed self employment or other tax savings which usually can never be recovered and which sometimes may in and of themselves more than cover the cost of an attorney. With document filing services, corporations and limited liability companies are formed - and federal and state trademark filings are made - in assembly-line fashion, often without the opportunity to avoid or correct mistakes, and without personal service, advice, and suggestions along the way. In the fine print, many non-attorney incorporation services actually advise their customers to seek the advice of an attorney and/or accountant prior to utilizing their services.
My fee for incorporations or LLC formations is comparable to, and sometimes even lower than, these services and is certainly a better value, as I provide legal advice and include most of the extras at no additional charge. Some incorporation services and attorneys advertising low flat rates also charge a flat fee for the incorporation or LLC formation itself, but then nickel-and-dime you with extra charges for things that are already included in my flat fee. Or fail to include all the services you need - e.g., filing articles of incorporation is close to useless without also having and understanding appropriate bylaws, meeting minutes, buyout provisions, and making all appropriate federal, state, and local filings.
In choosing to employ a lawyer, you are paying that lawyer not only for his time, but also his experience, knowledge, training, and skill. More often than not, when a client comes to me needing "an incorporation", they do not know precisely what this entails, or what other implications may exist. In sum, you are paying not only for what you think you need, but for what you don't know that you need. If you employ an incorporation mill, they will send you on you way with articles, non-customized and unsigned bylaws and minutes, and you may believe you have everything you need because they will not likely tell you otherwise. Doing so would ruin their "it's easy, fast, and simple" sales pitch. I have yet to see an incorporation service corporation or LLC that was correctly set up.
The same concepts apply to questions such as, 'Why shouldn't I use a computer program to prepare my will?'; 'I found a free contract online - can't I just use that for my business deal?'; and 'A friend told me a Nevada LLC is probably the way to go, and a lot of websites seem to agree, so I don't need an attorney, do I?' Unfortunately, I frequently see the end result of these initial short-cuts when clients come to me seeking to remedy problems that have cropped up later.
Should I incorporate as a C corp. or an S corp? Should I incorporate my business in Nevada, Delaware, Wyoming, or my home state? What about an LLC vs. S corporation?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions, which is why the advice of a business attorney is so important when starting a business. The answer to each depends on the unique circumstances, needs, and goals of you and your business. Part of my service is working with you and, if possible, your tax accountant and/or financial advisor, in deciding which type of entity to choose and where to form it.
I know I need the advice of a business attorney, but many attorneys charge a minimum of $2,500 to form a corporation or LLC. Why are your fees lower?
I keep my fees lower so that entrepreneurs and small businesses can have access to legal advice at affordable rates. I attempt to keep my overhead down, don't have a large support staff, and most client contact is done via the more efficient and cost effective means of telephone, fax, and email. Many, if not most, attorneys who charge "full price" for business entity formation services actually farm out the work to incorporation companies or to the paralegals or secretaries they employ rather than do the work themselves. I always do all of the work myself, from start to finish, including consulting with and advising you personally, so, in this sense, my service is superior to theirs. In fairness, some of my business entity formations cost $2,500 and more; the fee depends on what's required under the circumstances, but one joke told by an attorney at a meeting of attorneys I attended, who caters to wealthy individuals and charges accordingly, was, 'Question: What's the difference between a $3,000 LLC and a $9,000 LLC? .... Answer: $6,000.'
Are legal fees and other business start-up costs tax deductible? Yes, within certain limits, most start-up costs incurred after October 22, 2004 (when the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 became effective), may be deducted in the the business' first year. If the election to expense these costs is not made in the first year, or they are ineligible, such costs may still be amortized and deducted over a number of years.
I am self-employed. Can I realize self-employment tax savings by incorporating?
Depending on your income level and profession, quite possibly, yes. In such an instance, your corporation may often pay for itself in the first year. Please contact me to discuss.
What's a DBA and do I need one? DBA, dba, D/B/A, and d/b/a all stand for "doing business as", which is another term for a fictitious business name (FBN). To obtain the right to use a fictitious business name, that is, a name other than your own legal name, or the official name of your corporation, LLC, or other business entity, you must file with your local government, usually at the county level. For assistance with determining the need for a DBA and whether your desired name is available, and in obtaining one if needed, please contact me.
Will you submit my screenplay or teleplay to Hollywood producers and studios? Get me an agent? A record deal with a label?
If you are unproduced, no. I find that most writers and producers, especially those that reside outside of the Los Angeles area, are poorly informed about the way Hollywood operates, how to get scripts read, how to obtain an agent, etc., and have unrealistic expectations. Thus, I offer one-hour telephone consultations to advise you on the legal and business side of the entertainment industry, along with the next best steps for your project, for $400 prepaid.
Do you practice music industry law? While I will sometimes review basic music industry contracts, form music production companies, and the like, in general I have more to offer those on the film/TV side of the entertainment industry.