False Economy: Why Saving a Few Dollars on Legal Fees Now Can Cost You Big Later

A. Thomas DeWoskin

By A. Thomas DeWoskin



  • You’re about to sign a lease for your company’s new premises. Should you have a lawyer review it, or save the money?
  • You’re about to sign an employment agreement with your new employer. Should you have a lawyer review it, or save the money?
  • You and your best friend are going to start a new business. Should you have a lawyer advise you, or get the forms off the internet and save the money?

Both in jest and with some seriousness, business people, especially entrepreneurs, tend to view lawyers skeptically. Their perception is that lawyers run up fees, make simple transactions complicated, and sometimes cause deals to fall apart completely with all of their questions.

This is a short-sighted view of how attorneys can help you and your business. Experienced business minds understand that lawyers, when properly used at the beginning of a transaction rather than later after problems have developed, can be problem avoiders. And a problem avoided can be big money saved.

In the lease situation above, for example, your lawyer would be sure that you signed the lease in such a way that only your company, not you personally, would be liable. She might negotiate a provision that you don’t pay any rent while the space is being readied for your occupancy or for reduced rent if the landlord doesn’t provide promised services. An experienced attorney has seen a lot of leases, and knows the traps they often contain.

Lawyers aren’t deal breakers. Their job is to point out the potential risks in a transaction so you, the client, can decide whether those risks are worth the potential benefits of proceeding. If the risk/reward ratio isn’t to your liking, then YOU break the deal. If the risk is acceptable, then you proceed. In either event, you have made the decision in an informed and practical manner. You are in control; your lawyer, like all of your professional service providers, works for you. Your attorney’s role is to provide advice, share wisdom and insight, and help you make the business decisions. Continue reading »

Is This by Consent? Changes to Missouri Supreme Court Rule Affect Use of Non-party Subpoenas

David R. Bohm

By David R. Bohm

Part of a series on issues related to Manufacturers, Distributors and International Trade

A major change involving subpoenas to non-parties has hit the business world in the state of Missouri.

A new amendment to the Missouri Supreme Court Rules now requires non-party record custodians to physically appear at deposition to produce subpoenaed items, unless all parties to the litigation have agreed that the subpoenaed party may produce the items without appearing.

The amendment changes the prevailing practice where parties send out subpoenas to third parties with a letter explaining that they will be excused from appearing at deposition if they produce the requested items along with what is known as a business records affidavit.

Rule 57.09, as amended, now requires parties to first obtain consent from all other parties to the litigation before a subpoenaed witness may produce documents without attending the deposition. This agreement must be communicated to the witness in writing. Absent this agreement, a witness must appear to produce subpoenaed items at deposition.

What does this mean to you? If you receive a subpoena, you may only produce the documents to the party serving the subpoena without appearing at deposition if that party represents to you in writing (e.g., in a letter) that all other parties have consented to production of the docume

nts without need for you to appear at the deposition. Such a letter should protect you from allegations that you improperly produced records by mail, instead of bringing the documents to the deposition. You do not need to see the actual agreement. If you have any questions as to whether you can simply mail the documents, instead of appearing at deposition, you should either call your attorney for advice or simply wait and bring the documents at the time and place designated in the subpoena.

Continue reading »

Protecting Against Preference Demands in a Bankruptcy Case

A. Thomas DeWoskin

By A. Thomas DeWoskin

I just came across an article on guarding against preferential transfers. If you own a business and one of your customers files bankruptcy, not only are you likely to lose the money the customer currently owes to you, but you might also have to give back some money you’ve recently collected! The bankruptcy laws may deem those payments to be “preferential payments” or “preferences,” which have to be returned to the bankrupt company or to its Trustee. The bankruptcy laws on preference recovery are some of the most unfair laws around because there is no “preferring” requirement to a preference. It’s all just a matter of timing.

If you receive a demand to return a preferential transfer, see a qualified business bankruptcy lawyer immediately. This is not a matter for a consumer bankruptcy lawyers who file cheap bankruptcies for people that have too many credit cards.

There are several defenses to a preference demand. The most common involve “new value” and the “ordinary course of business.”

The “new value” defense is pretty simple – if the debtor paid you an old $10,000 account receivable before it filed bankruptcy, the payment might be recoverable from you as a preference. If, after you receive the money, you extend $10,000 in additional credit, the “new value,” to the debtor, they cancel each other out. Obviously, that defense is a matter of luck, since you don’t know when or if the customer is going to file bankruptcy.

The “ordinary course” defense, however, is something you might be able to prepare for. The bankruptcy laws provide that payments in the ordinary course of business are not recoverable preferences. If you regularly bill your customers on thirty-day terms and it regularly pays according to terms, those payments are being made in the ordinary course of business, the payments you received before the bankruptcy filing generally are safe.

But suppose your customer starts to pay more slowly, or only makes partial payments. You, being a good business person, react to protect yourself. You put the customer on fifteen-day terms, or demand that it provide collateral for future shipments, or take some other action to insure collection. You’ve done the right thing, but future payments are no longer being made in the ordinary course of business! By taking responsible action, you’ve made yourself liable to a preference demand if your customer files bankruptcy.

So – what to do? You try to turn the “out of the ordinary” into the “ordinary”:

  • First, make your best efforts to keep the customer as close to ordinary terms as possible for as long as possible.
  • If these efforts are not successful, at least try to keep the customer within industry standards.
  • If neither attempt works, institute the new terms at the first sign of trouble. If enough time passes before the bankruptcy filing, the new terms will have become the ordinary terms.

As an additional option, you could enter into a new contract with the customer. The new contract could set out the new terms, and provide that you are not obligated to sell to the customer at all. If you choose to sell, however, these are the new ordinary terms of the arrangement.

Being forced to return substantial preferential payments can send your business into bankruptcy itself. Be sure that your accounts receivable staff is sensitive to customer behavior, to the industry’s rumor mill, and anything else that may suggest coming trouble. Review the situation with a bankruptcy attorney to discuss what strategies your company could take, and stay off the receiving end of preference demand letters.

The content of our blogs are never to be construed as specific legal advice and blog-related correspondence never implies the existence of an attorney-client relationship. Please refer to our Disclaimer for more information.

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