Posts

,

Communicating With Your Business Partners

communicating in contracts

A New Year, A New Business, and A New Of Hope Of Communication

Aloha and Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!

I hope this finds you all well, and I thank you for visiting our legal blog or blawg. How has your first week of 2017? Ready to dive into new projects?  For those of you thinking this is the year or the time to start a business, well then today’s post and the couple of posts that will follow are for you. Specifically for those of you interested in starting a business, especially with business partners who will own the business with you. The overall theme of these posts is about communicating.  The source of this inspiration for the theme? My own partnership with Trejur launched last year my lecturing for a communications class at HPU, and I always get this question: Can my business partner do that?

Part I, Communicating With Your Business Partners

So today’s post is on communicating with your business partners, the one following this post will be on communicating with third-parties outside of the business entity you form with said partners, such as clients, customers, vendors, suppliers, contractors, etc …, and finally, the last post shall be about communicating with the government and various agencies.

Where it All Begins: Communicating, Not the Paperwork

So many of you that know me or have followed me, know that I started out as a solo practice working with small and medium-sized business clients on contracts and compliance work, such as forming limited liability companies. Over the years, as my workload increased I took on other contract attorneys to assist with the workload. Along the way, I met my commercial litigation partner, Trejur P. Bordenave. Trejur and I worked well together, and a lot of it was based on effective communication. This is the foundation that led us to the partnership we have today. In fact, he and I spent a good portion of the early part of 2016 discussing the partnership before formally launching the partnership itself.

Why am I telling you this?

One of the biggest issues I see when clients come to me to form a LLC or a corporation is they just want the documents. Yes, as a business attorney, absolutely I can draft your Operating Agreements or Corporate Resolutions, file your Articles of Incorporation, and/or obtain your Federal Employment Identification Number, and so forth, but typically, when someone like Trejur is called up to represent someone the dispute stems from a breakdown in communication and trust, amongst the business partners. There is not necessarily anything wrong with the paperwork, but the business partners did something, not necessarily maliciously or with intent to deceive, but their expectations about how the business would work, how they would get paid, reimbursed, when that would happen were all at different levels.  Let me use two examples of how this can play out to illustrate.

Example Stories

So these following examples are fictional, but they are issues I have seen before in a wide-variety of starting businesses or in the midst of a business dispute. Again, the point here is to illustrate that good communication is the foundation of a good business relationship, which in turn drives the drafting of the legal documentation.

Example One: Majority Member and Unfair Distributions

Kai and Russell open a new restaurant business. They organize a LLC. The LLC Membership Interest (or Ownership Interest) is divided 60% for Kai and 40% for Russell that is because Kai has contributed more cash and equipment (valued at $60,000.00) into the LLC as his Initial Capital Contribution than Russell. Russell just agrees that he will bring some of his old recipes from a prior business with him and agrees to work for the LLC for the value of his Initial Capital Contribution because they are in a rush to open the restaurant they draw up a generic Operating Agreement that recognizes the 60/40 split and that everything from that, including voting, profit/loss allocation, distributions, etc . . . will be 60/40.

Five months later, after the restaurant has been up and running, Russell quits and wants to terminate the LLC. Why? Well, he feels that Kai treats him more as an employee because he feels he owns the majority of the LLC and that Russell needs to work off $40,000.00 or what Kai believes Russell’s fair share of the contribution should be. Further, due to the majority position Kai takes his cash distributions at the beginning of the month, and gives Russell his distributions at the end of the month and if there is not enough for budgeting purposes states the LLC will just owe him later.

Example Two: Discussing Officer Duties Prior to Incorporating

Lisa and Jessie want to start a solar design and installation business. They intend to incorporate a corporation, which shall issue 1000 shares, where Lisa would own 550 shares and Jessie would have 450 shares. Lisa would like to be President as she has more local connections and is the one who can bring in more clients whereas Jessie will likely do the grunt work. However, Jessie is concerned that Lisa is President and has more shares so as a minority shareholder she fees unprotected. Lisa and Jessie meet and discuss this issue.

They decide that through their Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, and Resolutions that the corporation shall only have the offices of President, Secretary, and Treasurer and that Jessie shall be both Secretary and Treasurer. Further, that Lisa as President must submit a marketing budget for the next fiscal year to Jessie as Treasurer on the June 20th before Jessie will cut checks from the corporation’s expense account to where she will have sole authority to cut checks from. They also agree that all 1000 shares (unanimous consent) must vote in favor of declaring dividends before money is paid out as such.  Finally, both agree to sign Employee Agreements stipulating to what their compensation, benefits, work hours, etc . . . on top of their rights and obligations as shareholders of the corporation.  Both are satisfied with this arrangement and move forward to incorporate.

So What Happened? What Should You Consider for your Business Partnership?

In my first example, the business partners were in a rush, failed to communicate expectations, and felt that once they had the paperwork everything would resolve itself. But as trite as it may seem, they did not talk about their feelings and by signing an Operating Agreement that just split everything according the Ownership Interest percentage it did not really reflect on how they were going to do business with one another. In the my second example, discussing how Jessie felt about her worries and concerns allowed them to create a process, a mechanism of a check and accountability that they discussed and agreed to.

At this point, I’d like to put in your mind a lot of people think that once the file their Articles of Organization or they come up with the Bylaws these are set in stone. That is not necessarily the case, the owners of the business can always amend them if they are in agreement. Also consider if you and your partners are not sure what the final arrangement will look like, that is you are in an ongoing negotiations, but you have stipulated to some terms or have an inkling about where your arrangement is heading, you can always use a Memorandum of Understanding or Letter of Intent or whatever document applies to stipulate to what has already been discussed or agreed to, and agree to return to the matter at a later time to finalize. Communicate and trust each other, but keep a record of it.

Often times, people do not slow down to consider how they want to structure their decision making processes, their rights and duties to each other, to the business. Their feeling is that making money will resolve all that, but then the issues come up overtime like . . . Why do you get reimbursed for parking when I take the bus? I bring in all the clients and you do all the work, and marketing and networking is work. The recipes I brought with me are the value of the food company so I should get a majority interest. I’m the older brother so I dictate the operations just like the way our father and grandfather did it. And so on and so forth . . . if you thing your dispute is ridiculous with your business partners, I’m pretty sure there are ones even more crazy.

Sit Down and Discuss Expectations

What isn’t crazy is sitting down and discussing what you expect out of the business relationship and what you expect out of your business partners before forming the business entity and doing business. In many ways having a business partner is like getting married it is for better or worst, and business divorces are ugly affairs like regular divorces. Therefore, it is worth the time to sit-down and talk it out, and then if you are wondering can we arrange our business partnership according to what was discussed that’s when you can give me a call and we can work out . . .

What is the difference between a Member-Managed and Managed-Managed LLC? Can I contribute services in exchange for stock ownership? What are the differences in liabilities for a General Partner versus a Limited Partner? Can we have percentages of Ownership Interests that do not match Distributional Interests? What about having two-levels of Ownership Interests? Should we limit the powers and authority of the President?

Mahalo for reading this post. I hope you have a Happy and Fortuitous New Year! See you next time!

-RKH

DISCLAIMER: This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in this post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in their relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

For LLC Owners: The Difference Between Allocations and Distributions

“Why do I have to pay taxes on money that did not get distributed?!”

This is a question that many LLC owners (know as “members”) ask me. The confusion (and obviously frustration) of paying out taxes on money that you never received is real, but much of it stems from the lack of understanding that in the realm of LLCs there are “allocations”, which handles how profits and losses are allocated among the members and there are “distributions” the actual distributing of cash or property from the LLC. Many business owners like to conflate the two concepts together, which is not the case, and thus creates their confusion.

I provide an informational sheet for readers to take a look and get the basic understanding of the difference between allocations and distributions (see below).  The tax matter aside, the divvying up of allocations and distributions that is a discussion that business owners should have prior to organizing a LLC and then having an operating agreement drafted for them because of not just the tax issue, but due to the flexibility of LLCs of having allocations and distributions not match ownership interest, and the timing of distributions.

Again, communication is fundamental for business owners and a lot of discussion and pre-planning goes a long way to avoid the deterioration of the relationship because these were not hashed out prior to the formation of the business. As discussed in previous posts, LLC owners starting out would want these agreed upon terms on allocations and distributions reduced to writing, and is usually found in the Operating Agreement.

If you would like to see the information sheet, click here and then look for the downloadable pdf entitled, “For LLC Owners: Difference between Allocation and Distribution”.

Mahalo for stopping by and reading my blawg!

-RKH

Episode I: You May Dispense with the Pleasantries, Not the Formalities . . . Don’t Forget to Sign!

*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.  Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

So I am going start this post with one of my favorite movie villain’s quote: “You may dispense with the pleasantries, Commander. I am here to put you back on schedule.”

Except instead of building a space station, I am here to help you build your business by recognizing that while you can skip the pleasantries in business, you should NOT ignore the legal formalities.  I realize some of you business owners find your attorney, CPA, compliance officer, and the like as pains in the butt by sometimes being overly cautious, but please understand that these advisors suggest caution because they see how bad it can get when you don’t follow their advice.  So this post and several that will follow shall focus on legal formalities that I have seen business owners fail to follow.  By failing to observing these simple formalities these owners spent great time and expense trying to fix them, and some of them are unfixable.

Sign Your Papers

So today’s post what am I talking about?  Well, for this post I am talking about something so basic.  Namely, don’t forget to sign your agreements.   Before you laugh, consider how many times some asks you to do something so simple, you procrastinate on it to the last minute because you think it is so simple take care of later.  Consider in that in today’s technological world it is easy to text, email, etc . . . so some people feel, why bother signing a piece of paper?  Let me share a story that I see constantly among current and past clients: the unsigned Operating Agreement/Bylaws/Partnership Agreement.

I have had clients who have gotten into disputes with their business partners.  It might be suspicions, poor communications, changed expectations, but in general the relationship is deteriorating and these former allies, now want the other side out of the business or they want their share bought out.

So by the time the distressed business partner comes to me I will ask, “Where is your Operating Agreement?” I will be using a LLC as an example, but this applies to corporations, partnerships, and in general many relationships.  They usually have an Operating Agreement and aside from the host of other problems, such as lack of adequate protection, incorrect names or usage of terms, etc . . . I get to the end of the document and find it is unsigned.

What’s an Operating Agreement?

Before I continue, let me explain something about an Operating Agreement. This document acts as internal document that sets up the rules and procedures among the members (the owners) of a LLC, and may dictate how one becomes a member, sells their ownership interest, and handles voting, profit-sharing, etc . . . Suffice it to say, you should have an Operating Agreement if you have a LLC, regardless if it is member-managed or manager-managed.  It gives you the rules of interaction.  I have even seen problems where clients did not even bother having an Operating Agreement drafted, which is just worst than not even having one unsigned.

The Problem with Unexecuted Paperwork

Anyway, when your Operating Agreement remains unexecuted (unsigned) or any paperwork for that matter, it would indicate to an attorney that the parties had no intent to be bound by the document.  After all, “why didn’t you sign it?” is the question that comes to mind.

Unsigned documents are just paper with pretty words.  In the law we expect you to take an active act to be bound by those pretty words, and that active act is signing the documents.  The signature serves as evidence.  Consider for a moment that is why even in our electronic world, we make you go through hoops to “click”, “check the box”, or “electronically sign”, basically showing that you “read” the terms and by your action you agree to be bound to them.

So getting back to this situation where the parties have a dispute, but have unsigned paperwork the question remains what were the terms of the contract.  It is true in a lawsuit you can prove there was intent to be bound under the agreement by showing that the parties took active steps to be bound by the unsigned document.

However, don’t you think it is easier just to produce a signed document as evidence rather than cobbling together various pieces of evidence to demonstrate that the parties meant to sign it?

With an unsigned Operating Agreement, you may find yourself stuck with the default rules at law to guide your dispute with regard to fellow members in a LLC.  The defaults rule set at law are very broad and offer very little help in resolving a dispute among members.  So if you are going to take time to prepare a proper Operating Agreement that covers all your bases in a LLC relationship, don’t forget to get it signed by your business partners and sign it yourself, that way at least you know what to look at for guidance when problems start.

Stop back and I will talk about some of the problems you may face forgetting to do your Annual Filings or missing a renewal date!  Mahalo for reading!

Business Entity Formation Talk at ING Direct Cafe in Waikiki

Business Entity Formation Talk at ING Direct Cafe in Waikiki

August 1st – I will be holding my Business Entity Formation Talk from 6:00 – 7:00 pm. Come learn the differences between the entities at ING Direct Cafe.

Law and Legal Info in the Brief: Act 141, No Resolutions for LLCs, and the HSBA’s PBN Insert on Regulatory Compliance

Hey everyone, today’s Law in the Brief will be really brief!  I got some other interesting information to share as well.

Act 141:  Relating to Small Claims Court; Monetary Limit increased from $3,500 to $5,000

The Hawaii State Legislature was keen on access to justice issues this past session. The big one was ILAF (which I wrote a Civil Beat article urging passage of the bill) and at this past week’s Hawaii State Bar Convention the two attorneys responsible, Mihoko Ito and Gary Slovin, both with the law firm of Goodsill, Anderson, Quinn and Stifel, were recognized with the Ki’e Ki’e Award for their outstanding pro bono work (congratulations).

Anyway, another law making it easier for people to access justice is Act 141. This bill increased the maximum monetary claim that may be filed in small claims court; the prior maximum was $3,500 and with Act 141 it is now $5,000.

This is great for people seeking redress on a smaller level, but had disputes with a monetary value over $3,500.  If you were above that amount you would have to file a claim in another court, which had much higher filing fees. Right now, Small Claims Court has $35.00, whereas Regular Claims it is a $120.00. The advantage of filing in Small Claims as well is that it is typically simple, informal, and the cases resolved more quickly. Many business owners and landlords/property managers use Small Claims Court to resolve problems with damage to or repossession of stolen business property (i.e. shopping carts) and leased or rental properties.

For more information on Small Claims Court click here.

No Resolutions for LLCs

While at the bar convention last week Friday (9/23) I attended both the Corporations and LLC seminars. After all I had just conducted a talk on Business Entity Formation at Hawaii’s first coworking space, The Box Jelly. So I like to keep myself updated, so I can update clients as well. During my seminar, I discussed the difference in terminology between a LLC and Corporation. I also mentioned how important it is to understand those differences. One of the panelists at the LLC seminar proved the point.

Many of the formalities needed in a Corporation, are not needed in a LLC. One of those unneeded formalities are resolutions. The panelist bemoaned how many local bank personnel keep requesting her to draft resolutions for her client LLCs to authorize a loan. Her response, as would be mine to the bank is:

LLCs DO NOT NEED RESOLUTIONS TO AUTHORIZE ACTIONS.

This is one of the things I covered at my talk.  So if you missed my Business Entity Formations seminar not to worry I will be doing one again probably in a month (so Subscribe to this Blawg to find out when).

In the meantime, do not forget to sign up for my next talk on Social Media and the Law this Wed. (9/28) at The Box Jelly, starting 6:00 p.m. It will be $10 for The Box Jelly members and $15 for non-members. Materials are included.

Go to my Facebook page for info and invite. Also I would be happy to do a legal seminar for a gathering of more than 10 people. Contact me for details.

HSBA’s Pacific Business News Road to Regulatory Compliance Insert

Also at the bar convention Pacific Business News was handing out its current issue of (Vol. 49, No. 30). In it (right after the article on Hawaii’s awesome social media stars Toby Tamaye and Melissa Chang!) is the Hawaii State Bar Association’s insert Path to Regulatory Compliance. In it are several brief articles on new laws affecting Hawaii businesses. I recommend checking it out, especially the one on Protecting Gender Expression or Identity in the Workplace on page 11.

You might find that the author and the topic are familiar if you read this blawg regularly.

See you all Friday for Draw the Law wrapping up those worker privacy issues I have been discussing.

*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.  Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.