Shortcuts in Business Contracts: Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

In today’s uncertain economy, marginal increases in revenue or minor reductions in expenses can noticeably improve the bottom line of a small business. However, many small business owners in Northern Virginia attempt to cut costs by managing their commercial contract drafting or negotiations without an attorney, an ill-advised attempt at cost-cutting which often backfires.

Whether negotiating a commercial lease, a promissory note, a distribution agreement, an asset purchase agreement, or a joint venture agreement, consulting with an attorney early in the process will likely save you money and help avoid headaches both during the negotiation process and during the term of the agreement.

Many small business owners or entrepreneurs are tempted by the thousands of easily obtainable agreements online, and in fact, many of these agreements are indeed professionally and expertly drafted—but for different parties dealing with different and unique circumstances, often in a different state or legal jurisdiction. Since the addition or omission of a single word or sentence can often radically change the meaning or enforceability of an agreement, attempting to modify and utilize these agreements without professional assistance can end badly.

When it comes to business agreements, business owners without legal training don’t know what they don’t know.

The attorneys at PJI Law have seen countless commercial agreements that omit critical provisions which should always be included, as well as agreements made by individuals when the parties should be corporate entities, or agreements made by corporate entities which have been dissolved or have never existed to begin with. We often find ourselves helping clients who had poorly drafted agreement resolve contract disputes at a far higher cost than the small upfront investment in legal guidance that would have likely prevented such problems from arising.

When both parties are represented by counsel and the attorneys drafting the agreement have a clear understanding of their clients’ desires and concerns, the process can become streamlined and efficient. An effective commercial contract can save even a very small business tens – or even hundreds – of thousands of dollars by helping to reduce the likelihood of problems arising and minimizing the damage in the event that problems do arise – whether from breaches, negligence, liability, or indemnification issues.

Finding ways to cut costs in your small business is absolutely critical for success and survival, but business owners should think twice before trying to save money by taking shortcuts with their commercial contracts. No one wants to reach a point where they realize they were penny wise and pound foolish.

A Change in Virginia Law Makes Spousal Support Even More Contentious

You may know it by the terms “alimony” or “maintenance”, but you have almost certainly heard that spousal support can be a major source of contention in divorce. Indeed in any divorce case in Virginia, the court will, upon the request of a party, determine whether or not a spouse is entitled to spousal support, including the nature, amount and duration of such support.

There are certain factors that the court must consider in awarding spousal support, and if your lawyer does not continually keep abreast of the latest legislative changes on the topic, it is likely that you may not be aware of the changes that were made effective July 1, 2016. Pursuant to these changes, in determining spousal support awards, courts must now consider “the circumstances and factors that contributed to the dissolution” of a marriage, “specifically including any ground for divorce”.

The change in the law could impact spousal support orders by thousands of dollars - in either direction.
The change in the law could impact spousal support orders by thousands of dollars – in either direction. 

Previously, although the court could consider such factors and any fault grounds in distributing marital assets, there was no clear guidance from the law that the court could also consider the same factors in determining spousal support. This led to many spousal support decisions being made with a complete blind eye to the causes of the marital breakup. Our legislators decided that this needs to change, and as such, a few months ago Virginia Code section 20-107.1(E)(13) was amended so as to provide the court with the power to essentially punish what it considers to be non-innocent parties, or “bad actors”, through a spousal support decision.

Although only a few words in the law changed, the impact can be very significant. We at PJI Law have already identified a number of our current cases that might be impacted by this law, and have adapted our legal strategy accordingly, to the benefit and protection of our clients. This demonstrates the importance of lawyers closely following changes in the law, and explains why our attorneys make it a priority to stay updated and analyze our cases accordingly.

Beware of Memorial Day Weekend Traffic Dangers

According to AAA, more than 38 million drivers will hit the road this Memorial Day weekend. And unfortunately, Memorial Day weekend is one of the most dangerous times of the year to hit the road. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), this weekend sees a 13.1% increase in traffic deaths compared to a non-holiday weekend, with an average of 400 people losing their lives on the roadways. The NHTSA statistics also show that 44% of Memorial Day weekend fatalities result from the consumption of alcohol. 

Motorcycle 1

This year Washington D.C. is among the top destinations for travelers, which means that northern Virginia roadways will see some of the heaviest traffic conditions of the year. With events such as the largest Memorial Day parade in the country, the annual Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally, Washington Nationals baseball games, and the National Memorial Day concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, drivers will need use extra caution this Memorial Day.

PJI Law’s experienced attorneys regularly represent both local residents and out-of-town visitors in such personal injury and traffic cases that arise in Fairfax County, Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, and other northern Virginia jurisdictions. The risks include everything from car accidents, to pedestrian injuries, to reckless driving. So please, be safe as you enjoy your holiday weekend to the fullest.

We at PJI Law wish you a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend, and extend sincere gratitude – which will never be sufficient – to our fallen patriots and their families.

Super Lawyers Selects Paul Abraham to its 2016 Rising Stars List

PJI Law is pleased to announce that its principal attorney, Paul Abraham, has been selected to Super Lawyers’ 2016 Rising Stars List.

The selection, according to Super Lawyers, stems from Mr. Abraham’s demonstration of “excellence in the practice of law”, and is the result of a rigorous selection process by the nationally known and respected organization.

PJI Law extends its hearty congratulations Mr. Abraham, and appreciates the opportunity to continue providing top-level services to all of its current and future clients.

10 Ways to Reduce Your Legal Fees

There are times when you simply cannot avoid investing in an attorney to assist you with your legal matter. But this does not mean that there aren’t many steps you can take to shrink your legal bills in cases billed on an hourly basis. In fact, one reason law firms use hourly billing for certain types of cases is that they don’t know how efficient and cooperative of a client you will be, and as a consequence, how much time they have to dedicate to your case. So then, what can you do to receive equally good service while keeping your attorney’s fees low?

1. Respond to Your Lawyer Promptly. Your lawyer can work much more efficiently when he has the answers he needs, without needing to continue following up with you, and without needing to spend time requesting extensions. Further, your prompt “Ok” on a court document could mean the difference between the document being sent for filing by mail ahead of time, rather than by the more expensive same-day courier.

2. Keep Your Lawyer Updated. Nothing wastes your lawyer’s time more than drafting a document or preparing for a hearing based on a certain set of facts, only to find out at the last minute about an event or update that you have known about for some time and that changes your lawyer’s course of action. Your lawyer should find out about relevant new information as soon as possible, and should hear it from you, rather than from opposing counsel.

3. Understand Your Lawyer’s Billable Hours. Many law firms bill in increments of 15 minutes, meaning that even a 6-minute phone call could be billed as 0.25 of an hour (we at PJI Law believe this is excessive, so we bill in increments of 6 minutes, or 0.1 of an hour – and we don’t bill for things like “reviewing voice messages”). Understanding how your lawyer bills, and what is considered as billable, will help you better plan your communication and actions during your case.

There are many ways for clients to reduce a lawyer’s fees.

4. Communicate with Staff when Possible. If you need to contact the law firm regarding a non-legal matter, such as getting a copy of a certain document, reach out to a legal assistant or secretary, rather than to the lawyer. Depending on the service, some firms bill for an assistant’s time and some don’t, but either way it will be far more cost-effective than using your lawyer’s time when you don’t really need it.

5. Deliver All Documents Upfront and in an Organized Manner. As soon as you sign your agreement with the law firm, deliver all relevant documents to your lawyer immediately, and supplement them as you receive new updated documents even if you haven’t yet been specifically asked for them. Otherwise, your lawyer’s work will be interrupted if he is missing certain documents, and he will inevitably contact you about them later as the need arises. Further, the more organized your documents are (grouped, tabbed, labeled, etc.), the more efficiently your lawyer can work with them.

6. Do Some of the Work Yourself. In many cases, there is at least some work that you can do yourself. This includes gathering documents, communicating with certain third parties, preparing responses to what are called “discovery” requests, and so on. The more you are able to do, the less your lawyer has to do. But this one comes with a big caution sign: Always coordinate with your lawyer before trying to do something yourself, otherwise you could hurt your case.

7. Consolidate and Organize Your Emails. If your lawyer asks you for certain electronic documents that are sitting in a dozen different emails in your Inbox, do not simply forward to him each individual email with its attachment. Instead, download all of the attachments to your computer, and then send them to your lawyer in a single email (if you do not take the time to organize them, he will have to). And if your lawyer sends you an email with a numbered list of questions, answer them in a numbered list, maybe even below each question. Do not give your answers in one long paragraph that will take longer to parse.

8. Avoid Venting to Your Lawyer. Venting is sometimes inevitable, and is certainly understandable in many stressful situations and disputes, such as in emotional divorce and child custody cases. But a lawyer has a limited number of hours per day, and even if he genuinely sympathizes with you (and he probably does), he has to bill for the time he is using although the time spent is not doing much to help your legal case. In most cases you will find that a good friend, a spiritual leader, or a therapist not only makes more sense financially, but is also better equipped to discuss the emotional aspects of your situation with you.

9. Ask Questions as Soon as You Have Them. Sometimes you might be too embarrassed to ask a question, or for any other reason might avoid telling your lawyer that you don’t understand a certain aspect of your case. But your lawyer has no way of knowing this, and will proceed on the assumption that you understand the plan. Asking questions as soon as they arise will be far more cost-effective than asking “around” the question for weeks and months, or letting the case go in a direction you may not fully understand.

10. Use Your Phone Calls Efficiently. If you can send a brief email update or response to your lawyer, there is no need to initiate a phone call, which will likely be more time-consuming for the lawyer than reading your email. And when on the phone, don’t force your lawyer to repeat a question because you answered on a tangent the first time. When your lawyer is asking you specific questions that don’t seem to deal directly with your biggest frustration, answer the questions – your lawyer knows the issues and wouldn’t have asked the specific questions if he didn’t a good reason to do so.

Of course, the one thing that could save you the most in legal fees is the settlement of your case on acceptable terms, if possible. The earlier the settlement, the more you stand to save in billable hours. With that said, it was not included in the list above because settlement is an immense, substantive step that you will necessarily discuss with your lawyer as a possibility, and that will vary wildly from case to case.

Our attorneys here at PJI Law are always happy to answer any questions our clients have about how to reduce legal fees on a case-by-case basis. We hope that this list can serve as a good start!

This Is How We Can Help You

Welcome to the PJI Law website, and to our brand new blog. For one of our first blog posts, we would like to briefly introduce ourselves and explain the specific ways in which we can help you. Yes, our website has our attorneys’ bios and a list of our practice areas, but here on the blog we will explain things a little less formally and a bit more practically.

First of all, our firm has two full-time attorneys who work on most matters together. Although one of them is likely to be the primary attorney on your specific case, the other attorney will be well positioned to proceed with your case without any hiccups should the need arise – in case of sickness, vacation, or emergencies, for example. For this reason, and in order to ensure the reasonable availability of at least one attorney for your case on every business day of the year, our attorneys adhere to a strict policy of not taking time off simultaneously.

We also believe that the quality of our staff is as important as the quality of our attorneys. Our receptionist, for example, knows every single retained client by name. She knows what their case is about, which attorney they are primarily working with, and understands the nature or urgency of their calls.

That is who we are. Now, this is how we can help you:

Family Law

If you’re about to get married and need a prenup, we can draft one that honors your specific wishes. If you’re already married and are contemplating divorce, we can serve you. We have seen it all – heartbreaking divorces involving children, the end of marriages that had lasted for decades, and even legal separation that began on the first day of marriage – literally. By definition, none have been happy stories, and we cannot change that fact. But in such a time of emotion and uncertainty, we can navigate the law on your behalf, ensure that your rights are protected, and pursue the results you deserve. And whether or not you’re married, we can assist you with the very important issues of child custody, child support, and spousal support. If you’ve already obtained a court order and it is not being honored by the other party, we can help you to get it enforced.

Personal Injury

If you were injured in a car accident, you do not want to talk to the other party’s insurance company on your own. There is simply too much about the process that you don’t know. We have the education and experience to guide you through the loopholes and maximize your recovery. The same goes if you slip and fall, get bitten by a dog, or are otherwise injured in various or unusual ways due to the negligence of others. For example, we recently represented a client who suffered severe burns from sizzling soup spilled by a careless restaurant employee. We can also assist if an incident was even more tragic and resulted in the wrongful death of a family member.

Business Law

What’s the difference between an LLC and a C-Corp, and why is one better than the other for your particular situation? What’s a Registered Agent, and is every single business entity in Virginia required to have one even if it’s a one-person company that made eighty bucks last year? (Yes). Does this two-page commercial lease look good? (No). Business law is not just for Google and Exxon. It is extremely relevant for even the smallest business with the smallest budget. And in fact, we like to focus on both establishing small to medium businesses and completing small to medium business transactions – no business is too small for us. We also help both businesses and individuals collect money they’re owed, whether or not they already have a judgment from the court. We represent both commercial tenants and commercial landlords and offer them “a la carte” options – some want us only to review their lease, others ask us to negotiate the whole deal. Of course, we handle a wide variety of business and contract disputes, whether out of court or by litigating it all the way to trial. This includes representing you in whichever side of a mechanic’s lien you might be on. And since all Virginia businesses are required to have a Registered Agent, we are pleased to serve as your Registered Agent so that you can have the peace of mind you need.

Estate Planning

Everyone knows what a Will is, and we can certainly draft one for you. But fewer people know what Advance Medical Directive / Living Will is, which is why we are proactive about explaining it to our clients. Such a document allows you to make decisions about your medical care in some situations where you wouldn’t be able to express your wishes (i.e., if you are in coma). It also allows you to designate an agent to speak to the doctors on your behalf in certain situations, such as the middle of a surgery. And even fewer people know about the need for a General Financial Power of Attorney, which allows a trusted or loved one to make financial/legal/property decisions on your behalf if you are mentally incapacitated or otherwise unable to make such decisions. Falling into such a state without leaving your family with the means to manage your assets on your behalf could significantly complicate their lives in what would already be a difficult time. In short, this is the one area of our practice that it is applicable to 100% of the population – everyone should have these documents.

Other Areas of Practice

In addition to representing both commercial landlords and commercial tenants as discussed above, we represent residential landlords in various ways. However the most urgent need residential landlords tend to have arises when tenants fail to pay their rent or vacate, in which case we swiftly step in to proceed with an eviction process that minimizes the landlord’s losses.

We also take on Lemon Law cases, which arise from repeated problems with new cars. In such cases we reach out to the car manufacturers directly to resolve the matter, and if that fails, we invite them to meet us in court.

Our firm also engages in civil litigation regarding a variety of topics, including property damage, conversion, detinue, fraud, and other areas too numerous to include in this post.

There are many more unique cases that often don’t fall into a specific practice area, and we handle many of them. If you are not sure, please ask us – we are always happy to hear from you even if it turns out that we cannot accept your case. And if we don’t, we will likely be able refer you to a specific attorney who is more appropriate for your case.

So, this is who we are and how we can help you. And when you find yourself in need of the services above, we will be ready for your call.

What Types of Businesses Can We Serve?

Within the Business Law portion of its practice areas, PJI Law’s focus is on small and medium businesses. We embrace both the newcomer who wants to launch a business from scratch, and the established business that is undergoing changes or completing a transaction. Our business clients are so diverse that we figured we would share this alphabetical (and incomplete) sample list of the types businesses we have represented in formation, transaction, litigation, dissolution, as registered agent, or in other ways:

  • Art Producer
  • Auto Dealership
  • Boarding Kennel
  • Chiropractic Clinic
  • Church
  • Cleaning Service
  • Commercial Landlord
  • Compounding Pharmacy
  • Consulting Firm
  • Contractor
  • Day Care
  • Deli
  • Dental Practice
  • Dog Breeder
  • Dry Cleaner
  • Event Planner
  • Financing Company
  • Food Franchise
  • Hair Salon
  • Hydroponic Farm
  • Landscaping Service
  • Law Firm
  • Marble & Granite Provider
  • Nail Care and Spa
  • Non-Profit Organization
  • Painting School
  • Pizza Joint
  • Photography Service
  • Real Estate Service
  • Residential Landlord
  • Restaurant
  • Shipping Service
  • Souvenir Shop
  • Technology Firm
  • Telecommunications Contractor
  • Urgent Care Clinic
  • Wine Importer

Do you own, or wish to establish, any of the businesses above, or any other type of business in the northern Virginia or DC areas? Whatever you need assistance with, chances are we’ve already seen it. And we are ready and happy to guide you through it.