Keith Rosten is a partner at a law firm in Washington, D.C. He was recently interviewed on an episode of Latte with a Lawyer, a podcast featuring stories of attorneys and their strategies and tactics for making an impact in their profession. During the podcast, Rosten discusses his perspective on working with startups and other small and medium-sized businesses through the various business development cycles.
When you are starting your small business, you may be working out of our home, which is all too common in the post-pandemic era. As your business grows, you may need a physical location either because you are a retail business, or because you need a central place for employees to gather, or possibly simply because you like working in an office. For many small businesses, the lease is an important lever of success for the business. The rent will be a major part of the company’s expenses. The selection of the space and the negotiations for a lease may determine the success or failure of the business. This article highlights some of the major issues that will be the subject of negotiation for a commercial lease between a landlord and a tenant.
If you have started your business, you have no doubt been confronted with the ubiquitous non-disclosure agreements. These agreements are not all created equal and you should review the NDA carefully and consult your small business lawyer to understand what they protect and what they don’t. NDAs or sometimes known as confidentiality agreements can arise in numerous contexts. Maybe you are trying to keep an employee from disclosing proprietary information about your small business. Maybe you are creating a custom software solution for your customer, who doesn’t want to share any of its information without an NDA. Or possibly you are in the process of selling your small business to a competitor or large company, and you think that the NDA will provide a modicum of assurance that your precious list of customers will not get out. Each context implicates different concerns and of course the biggest difference is whether you are the receiving party or the disclosing party. In this article, we will discuss some of the major points as you are reviewing a non-disclosure agreement.
There have been a rash of news stories on various constraints under which U.S. universities and other research institutions must labor to cooperate with foreign institutions and academics. This is a hot issue because the life blood of many U.S. institutions is cooperation with foreign institutions. The U.S. government has been keenly concerned about this cooperation because of the specter of espionage and intellectual property theft. Institutions of higher learning have countered that overzealous government oversight impedes academic freedom. Given this heightened scrutiny, researchers, colleges and universities need to understand the constraints that are imposed in cooperating with foreign institutions and researchers. There are three major laws today that are in the toolkit of prosecutors who are scrutinizing these relationships. These are the Foreign Agents Registration Act; export controls and the False Claims Act. This article focuses on the False Claims Act.
Taxes for excess benefit transactions are to deter insiders otherwise known as disqualified persons from using a nonprofit for unreasonable compensation. Recent tax court cases underscore that apart from those named in the law as disqualified persons who were obvious targets—such as directors and certain officers, members of their families, and certain affiliated entities—there may be others who qualify as “disqualified persons.” The question whether an individual is a disqualified person generally “depends upon all relevant facts and circumstances.” The same guidance that goes for nonprofits goes for every legal entity: keep the entity separate. It may be obvious, but you should not use the nonprofit’s funds to buy groceries for the officers or directors or other insiders. You should not pay unreasonable compensation for the officers. In short, you should not use a nonprofit tax-exempt organization, which is subsidized by US taxpayers, as a personal piggybank for officers, directors, their families, or other insiders.
This article discusses recent developments in nonprofit law in private inurement and private benefits. Private inurement issues typically arise in connection with an IRS proceeding seeking to revoke the tax-exempt status of the organization. The IRS will not tolerate even a little private inurement. In short, insiders may not unjustly enrich themselves at the organization’s expense. The other side of the tax-exempt requirement is in the purpose of the organization. Under the private benefit doctrine, an organization is not operated for an exempt purpose unless it serves a public rather than private interest. The IRS recognizes that private benefits to third parties may incidentally arise from the nonprofit’s activities consistent with its proper purpose. Any transaction will result in some benefit to a third party, but what the IRS is concerned about is excessive private benefits.
Employers have become increasingly emboldened to stick it to their employees. Employees with little negotiating leverage or without legal counsel have been saddled with some egregious restrictions. Courts over the years have thrown out the most unreasonable restrictions, creating various tests whether to enforce the agreement. But the employee would need the resources to fight back in court. The District of Columbia has recently banned non-compete agreements, which is the trend throughout the country. If you have employees who reside or work in states that have banned non-competes, then you have precious few alternatives except to eliminate non-competes from your employment agreements with those protected employees. In the District of Columbia, that means eliminating non-compete provisions not only from your agreements with low-wage employees, but also agreements with even executive level employees.
Many small businesses are government contractors. They seek the services of a small business attorney to navigate the difficult landscape of government contracting. One significant lever to allow these small businesses to compete in the government contracting arena is to qualify for one of the contracting assistance programs, such as women owned small business program, administered through the Small Business Administration. There are several advantages if your small business qualifies for one of these certifications, including set asides and sole source contracts. A WOSB is also attractive to a government agency or prime contractor trying to meet its targets. Previously, women owned small businesses were able to self-certify, but as of last year, there are new restrictions on self-certification. This article explores the criteria for a business to qualify as a women owned small business.
You will remember that difficult discussion with your small business attorney about how you wanted your limited liability company to be treated for purposes of taxation. If you do nothing, then your multi-member LLC is taxed as a partnership. And in this article, when we refer to a “partner” or a “partnership,” we are generally referring to a member in a LLC that is taxed as a partnership. If you want to be taxed as a corporation, you need to file an election. This article highlights the new audit rules and whether you may want to consider making changes to your multi-member LLC.
Some owners of small businesses want to keep their ownership anonymous for various reasons. That just got a lot harder. The trend in many states is to require disclosure. Just last year, the District of Columbia joined other states in enacting legislation requiring the disclosure of beneficial ownership. Other states like Delaware have resisted the change. Now the federal government has entered the fray with the enactment of the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA). If you are a small business or if you are a small business lawyer assisting a small business, you definitely want to familiarize yourself with the CTA. Under the CTA, small business will have to submit beneficial ownership information to the Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crime Enforcement Network. The information will not be available to the general public. The new CTA accelerates that trend and it will become increasingly difficult to shield beneficial ownership information from government authorities and eventually the public at large.
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