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2015 Top Small Business Lawyers

2015 Top Small Business Lawyers
For entrepreneurs, their attorney plays an active and necessary role in many facets of their businesses. The following attorneys have proven their dedication to the success of small businesses in St. Louis and have been named this year’s top small business attorneys. Check out the advice from the Best Business Attorneys in St. Louis.

Jonathan P. Beck, Law Firm of Jonathan Beck

Years of experience: 15    

What are the biggest challenges you face when helping business owners?
Each business owner is unique in his or her prior experiences, but one common challenge is getting the owner to understand the value of paying for professional services before challenges arise; some people prefer to seek out professionals only in emergencies, and this is really the worst time to be seeking professional advice. Attorneys and CPAs are often helpful in avoiding problems in the first place, which is generally far less expensive and time-consuming than addressing them when they become urgent.

What’s the No. 1 piece of advice you would give to business owners?
Get everything right from the outset. Have a business plan in place; get your business entity formed the way you want it, have a CPA and a good bookkeeper, get set up on QuickBooks or similar bookkeeping software, and have written agreements in place before you start. There is nothing more difficult than having to address these issues once your business is up and running and you are, hopefully, busy handling your clients, customers, etc.

Where does your motivation to help businesses grow come from?

The satisfaction one gets from establishing and growing a business is unparalleled, and it brings me great joy to pass along my experience and knowledge to others.


 

Ira Blank, The Enterprise Law Group, LLC

Years of experience: 37

What are the biggest challenges you face when helping business owners?
Helping the business owner resolve a specific business problem of the moment that presents unconsidered or underconsidered downstream opportunities and risks. For example, what to do with the salesman who has refused to sign a noncompete agreement and who has close relationships with key customers but who has been the subject of employee complaints that he has been engaging in inappropriate conduct. Take corrective action or part ways with the salesman and risk losing significant revenue? Or keep the salesman in order to keep the customers but risk employee harassment litigation?

What’s the No. 1 piece of advice you would give to business owners?
Understand your financials.

Where does your motivation to help businesses grow come from?
Working in my father’s business during my high school and college years. I worked in so many pieces of the business – keeping customers happy and coming back, sales, budgeting, merchandising, inventory management, people management, union relationships, vendor relationships, security. I loved it.



Guy Brandt, Berger, Cohen & Brandt, L.C.

Years of experience: 24

What are the biggest challenges you face when helping business owners?
Initially it’s establishing the relationship of trust and confidence so that the owner knows when to involve the attorney. Oftentimes a business owner is so busy they either don’t want to take the time to handle their own issues or don’t think they need legal advice until there’s a problem.

What’s the No. 1 piece of advice you would give to business owners?
Put things down in writing, carefully, once matters are agreed upon.  

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve seen business owners make, and what advice would you give to solve the problem?  
They think they reached an agreement, but the other side doesn’t see it the same way.  My advice is to engage your attorney early in the process. Spending a little money up front to memorialize an understanding properly can save you a lot of time, money and aggravation down the road.

Where does your motivation to help businesses grow come from?
I grew up in a family-owned business. I enjoy working with business owners, both in expanding their business and planning the successful transitioning to the next owners.



Liza Chollet, The Kohn Partnership, LLP


Years of experience: 4

What are the biggest challenges you face when helping business owners?
Business owners often contact me when they need to correct a mistake that’s severely impacting, or even impeding, their day-to-day operations – and it’s usually due to poor planning. Small-business owners spend most of their time working in their business rather than on their business and reacting to crises after they arise.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve seen business owners make, and what advice would you give to solve the problem?
Many business owners do not have experience in operating a business and try to do everything themselves. Too often this means that their financial records are complete chaos such that there is no way to determine the health of the business. All business owners should have a professional preparing their books and a tax attorney who can explain the current financial health of the business.

Where does your motivation to help businesses grow come from?
I get a thrill taking part in helping business owners realize their dreams and improving their quality of life.



Kirk Damman, Lewis, Rice & Fingersh


Years of experience: 15

What’s the No. 1 piece of advice you would give to business owners?
The No. 1 challenge is getting them to see a lawyer not as an expense but as an adviser. A good lawyer is always trying to save your business money in the long run and avoid future headaches.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve seen business owners make, and what advice would you give to solve the problem?
Not protecting their intellectual property (patents, trademarks and copyrights) when they have the chance. Business owners perpetually don’t put resources to protecting the fundamentals upon which they build their business, and I have heard my fair share of horror stories of those who have ended up with an idea stolen from them down the line and nothing they can do about it because they had not acted when they needed to.  Intellectual property is an area of law where lack of knowledge can only harm you, and it is important to at least get a basic understanding of the fundamentals early, even if you don’t think you’re the type of business that will ever need intellectual property protection.  



Philip Kaplan, Stinson Leonard Street LLP

Years of experience: 47

What’s the No. 1 piece of advice you would give to business owners?
There are several pieces of legal advice. Business owners must understand the rules and the structure that they have created, such as corporations, limited liability partnerships or even proprietorships, so that when they sign for their companies they sign on behalf of the entity and not individually; they must understand the relationships and rights of co-owners, if any; and they must operate within the limits and obligations of their entity’s structure; and obviously they must have the right people.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve seen business owners make, and what advice would you give to solve the problem?
The biggest mistake business owners make is not consulting with their attorney, accountant or other professional advisers when they should. Professional advisers should be used early, not after a situation backs one into a problem, and those advisers should coordinate their efforts and opinions. That will save money in the long run. Retainers for that type of advice can work to the advantage of the business owner in that he/she will not have to worry about the fees incurred.



Paul Klug, Polsinelli PC
            
Years of experience: 24

What are the biggest challenges you face when helping business owners?
I answered this as what I see as the biggest challenges that business owners are facing lately – raising capital and finding and holding on to talent

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve seen business owners make, and what advice would you give to solve the problem?
Failing to recognize and protect key assets of their business that drive value, such as employees and intellectual property (trademarks, patents, trade secrets). The advice would include setting up appropriate agreements with employees and taking steps necessary to protect intellectual property. Also, waiting too long to consider exit strategies and how to prepare the business for an exit transaction. The advice would include setting aside time and resources to explore the various exit alternatives and regularly meeting with the company’s advisers to implement improvements or upgrades to the company to better position the company for an exit.


 

David A. Roodman, Bryan Cave LLP

Years of experience: 24

What’s the No. 1 piece of advice you would give to business owners?
Many medium to small, and sometimes large, businesses procrastinate in protecting, and undervalue, their intellectual property. In doing so, they risk losing extremely valuable rights. It is often heartbreaking to meet with a business owner or principal who inadvertently compromised their inventions, trademarks or trade secrets. As such, my No. 1 piece of advice is to promptly and regularly perform an assessment of, and take appropriate steps to protect, an entity’s intellectual property assets.

Where does your motivation to help businesses grow come from?
Having worked in and with a variety of businesses for over 30 years, I find it extremely rewarding, and gain significant pleasure and a sense of accomplishment, assisting people and businesses grow and reap the benefits of their ideas, creativity and hard work. There is simply nothing quite like helping and watching a client’s business expand and flourish.



William Randolph Weber, Hazelwood & Weber LLC


Years of experience: 37

What are the biggest challenges you face when helping business owners?
Having them understand that their attorney is a part of a team of consultants, which includes their CPA, banker and insurance agent, that needs to communicate with each other and with the business owner to help ensure the business’ success.  

Where does your motivation to help businesses grow come from?
Having served as general counsel for over 30 years for the Industrial Development Authority of St. Charles County and having just completed a two-year term as the chairman of the St. Charles County Economic Development Council, I have found enjoyment in sharing with others the realization that the most important issues facing the business community are almost always common to all, that the basic requirements for success are fairly straightforward, that there is no substitution for hard work and dedication, and to succeed in business you must meet the challenge of finding employees who share your work ethic and goals.



Erik Solverud, Spencer Fane Britt & Browne LLP


Years of experience: 20

What are the biggest challenges you face when helping business owners?
One of the biggest challenges that I deal with is convincing entrepreneurs and business owners to invest the time, effort and money to structure their business in such a way to accommodate what they want it to become rather than focusing on the immediate needs of the business. Business owners are oftentimes so busy dealing with the here and now that they don’t have the time to plan for the future growth of the business. This includes things like taking steps to protect their valuable intellectual property; using appropriate restrictive covenants (such as noncompete and nonsolicitation agreements) to protect investments in their work force and customers; and making sure that their governing documents allow for future growth, changes in strategic direction and business succession planning.  

What’s the No. 1 piece of advice you would give to business owners?
As a business owner, you should demand and expect more from your lawyer and other advisers. First, to provide the advice and counsel you deserve, your lawyer (as well as your accountant and other members of your team of advisers) needs to understand your business, the opportunities and challenges in your industry, and your plans for the future of your business. I try to personally visit all of my clients’ offices at least once a year to tour their operations, meet employees and learn about their business and industry.
      
Second, you should expect your lawyer to respond to your phone calls or emails promptly. I try to respond to all emails and calls on the same day. If I’m unable to do so, I’ll ask my assistant or one of my colleagues to return a call to make sure that my client’s needs are taken care of. If your lawyer doesn’t respond to your call within 24 hours, you are not getting the service you deserve.  

Third, you should demand that your lawyer’s billing statements paint a clear picture of what work was performed to protect or benefit your business, including exactly how much time was spent on a project or task and what work was performed.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve seen business owners make and what advice would you give to solve the problem?
The biggest mistake that I see business owners make is waiting too long to reach out to their lawyers for advice or input. If you’re not comfortable calling your lawyers or other advisers to ask for their advice or bounce ideas or strategies off of them, you should find yourself a new lawyer. Do not wait until a problem arises to contact your lawyer. An effective lawyer should have the experience to anticipate many legal problems and help you to avoid or at least minimize legal problems before they arise. Most of the time, having a short meeting or phone call with your lawyer before you take action will save you a lot of time, energy and money dealing with a problem later.

Where does your motivation to help businesses grow come from?
One of the most rewarding aspects of practicing law is that it allows me the opportunity to work with entrepreneurs, business owners and small businesses; learn about their business and industries; and share in their triumphs and successes. Seeing my clients succeed and grow is invigorating.  



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