Friday, December 02, 2016

Starting a professional practice? Why you may want to consult with a Lawyer


Anyone who has ever taken the leap to start their own professional practice will tell you of the many restless nights they have had contemplating the various, potential legal disasters their future professional practices could run into.

Having personally advised my family and clients through the trials and tribulations of starting and operating their own chiropractic clinics, dental clinics, architectural firms, brokerage firms and other professional practices, I know just how important it is to feel informed about the legal requirements of your professional sector, and the applicable law generally, before opening shop. 

Here is the good news - if you are feeling a bit overwhelmed and anxious, you are probably on the right track

It is actually very important to go through the checklist of "what could go wrong", in order to make sure you have it right. This is a time when your lawyer can become your best friend, and the key to having a good night's rest.

Here are some ways in which a lawyer can help.

Legally structuring your practice to meet your objectives

Make sure your practice is structured in a way that makes the most sense for you, both from the perspective of minimizing liability and realizing maximum profitability.

There are various ways in which your business can be structured, ranging from a sole proprietorship or partnership to a limited liability corporation. Sometimes, it can also be advantageous to consider incorporating a management company to operate certain aspects of your practice.

It is important to keep in mind that each ownership structure has its own advantages and disadvantages. Consulting with a lawyer (and an accountant) early on can ensure that your practice is legally structured in a way that actually reflects your underlying concerns and objectives. 

Creating proper and enforceable employment documentation

The key to any successful professional practice is having the right people in place. It is of course a long and often trying process to put together a team of staff, associates and other practitioners or professionals who are just the right fit for your professional practice.

As you put together your dream team, and build towards your professional empire, hiring employees and sometimes, making changes, will quickly become a reality of life.

It is accordingly so important that you ensure that your practice has the right building blocks with respect to is employment documentation, including employment contracts and contracts with any independent contractors and subcontractors, as well as confidentiality, non-disclosure and non-solicitation agreements. In some circumstances, particularly where a practice is being purchased from another practitioner, clear non-competition agreements may be necessary to protect your financial and professional interests.

A lawyer can help by ensuring that you are equipped with these necessary agreements, contracts, employment agreements, handbooks and a suite of employment-related templates that will be valid and enforceable, to protect your business in the long run.

Interpreting the laws and regulations applicable to your professional practice

Professionals are guided and overseen by their professional bodies, and are subject to various rules and regulations that change over time.

A lawyer can provide you with a regulatory map to help you navigate your professional practice.

For example:
  • Are you permitted to accept or to provide referral fees in your profession? 
  • Can you accept family members as clients or patients? 
  • What confidentiality provisions, if any, are you subject to? 
If you find yourself asking such questions, you can take proactive measures by seeking a legal assistance as to the laws and regulations applicable to your professional sector, and how best to avoid common pitfalls.

Troubleshooting and Dealing with Issues Proactively

Once you are up and running, legal advice is sometimes needed urgently:
  • You have a continuing issue with an employee or former employee 
  • A workplace-related complaint has been made by one of your employees against another
  • A supplier has not come through and you now have suffered losses
  • A problem has emerged with one of your investments 
  • Your building has been damaged and your landlord won't fix it
  • A legal claim or dispute arisies
  • You have serious accounts receivables and certain clients or patients who promise, but never pay
  • You are considering a new opportunity and want to discuss your options.
Any number of day-to-day concerns can arise in any business or professional practice. At many such junctures, picking up the phone and speaking to your lawyers can make a world of difference and help you to ensure you are on an optimal and protected legal path.

Take a moment to think about the most successful practitioners and professionals you have come across.  What they often have in common is a willingness to access other professionals who understand their business needs and can provide practical guidance regarding their profession's regulatory requirements.

Your lawyers, among other professionals, can work with you as a partner to plan for and achieve the goals of your business, while limiting risk and ensuring you are compliant with the requirements of your regulators.

- Simran Bakshi, Associate Law, Toronto

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