I will be participating in the New England Chapter of the Association Conflict Resolution regional conference in June along with Jessica Nagle Esq. discussing the Utilization of ADR in Medical Billing Disputes. We are both excited to talk about a topic we are passionate about—namely Alternative Dispute Resolution.
For those unfamiliar with ADR, it is when conflicts are resolved in a method that does not involve litigation. I would say that all of you have signed an arbitration agreement—cellphones, software and credit card agreements all have arbitration clauses. Many of you though may not be familiar with mediation.
As a mediator, I can tell you that this should be a go to choice for small businesses and for any time there is a conflict where you are unable to negotiate a resolution. A mediator serves as a facilitator. Both sides get to tell their side of the conflict and really understand what the issues are to try to come to an agreement that is mutually beneficial. I have seen relationships where both parties were angry, then at the end of mediation conclude with a written agreement and the parties walking away on better terms.
With mediation you can have a lawyer present or not, since most people feel comfortable discussing from their perspective what is the nature of the issue. If you do not come to an agreement with mediation, you can still go to court, but what was discussed in mediation cannot be used.
If you are in Sturbridge June 14th and 15th, then you are welcome to attend the conference or if you would like more information in our proposal, please feel free to contact me.
April 8, 2013
I missed a month of writing my blog. Clients needed my attention, and I was unable to carve out the time to make the blog a priority. Was this a mistake? Yes. What is the impact of this? I lost opportunities to gain more clients, to sell books and videos. Have you done this when it comes to your business?
In working with my clients we form contracts that spell out what I will do for them. This is called the scope. What happens when this scope gets changed or added to? My client is being served, but am I being served by allowing what in project management is called creep?
When you are working with a client and focusing on your business make sure that you are staying within the scope so that you have time for your business. Your clients will also appreciate that you explain what you are doing for them, and then reviewing if they have additional needs.
Remember your clients are your priority, but so is your business. Stick to your scope and your business activities, and do not allow creep to skew your results.
Link to our YouTube Video
January 28, 2013
Many companies because of their size are able to bring to their employees different opportunities ranging from health and wellness initiatives to financial planning assistance. You may even be jealous when you hear your friend talk about their employer sponsored Zumba class or free insurance analysis program. If you are a small company or even solo entrepreneur, then you can feel that you do not have the ability to have any sort of program because you are just too small.
However, it is a matter of leverage. For example, my office is located on a floor with 5 other small businesses with at maximum three employees. We often would see each other in the hallway, but rarely understood each other’s businesses or even knew the other person’s name.
Yet, now we have started to leverage our small business status and take advantage of bringing in speakers, giving referrals, and being friendly. It is a win/win situation. If you work from home, then you can do the same with others that work from home, too.
Think about joining forces and bringing in people who can help your businesses improve. It is cost effective, a good learning environment and spurs creativity. True North Business Consulting offers classes that can be brought to your work situation. Having a small business doesn’t mean you have to think small. You can leverage and be like a large company, and have the potential for success too.
The most popular True North Business Consulting newsletter and video is on the topic of charities. The holiday season is a good time to revisit the topic and update it. First, as a business you may want to choose one or two charities to support- a local food bank, a larger organization or something personal. When you choose a charity to support you want to do some homework.
First, check the grade of your charity. Charity Navigator (http://www.charitynavigator.org) provides information on where funds go in each charity. For example the American Red Cross gets 3 out of 4 stars versus Feeding of America gets 4 stars. Why the difference? Possibly expenses or salaries could be an issue.
Second, make sure you agree with the mission of the organization. You may be a pet lover and want to link to an animal shelter, but you should see if it is a no-kill shelter if you believe that is important.
Charitable giving can also be to your benefit. Not in the way that is makes you feel that you are helping others, but it may help your business. Try to choose a charity with an active website or social media program that is willing to recognize your business as a contributor (a link back to your webpage would be great). If the charity has a newsletter, then ask to be featured. This may be easier with a smaller organization than a larger organization.
A few times a year, usually when the seasons change I take the time to organize. This time I was ruthless in my cleaning leading to bags of trash and donated clothing. I then decided to do the same with my office.
I had certificates from completing mediation courses, collaborative law and as an e-learning instructor. I went to my local frame shop, purchased some frames and hung them up. Because I have taken these courses I can put myself out as a professional- a mediator, a lawyer and educator. This also means that as a professional I need to meet a standard of care that is above those who do not have the same knowledge.
This is why insurance is important.
If you are in the same circumstances where you are a professional, then you need to make sure that you have the right kind of liability insurance. Once you have insurance you should also make sure that you acknowledge it in your contract with your clients. It lets them know that you are a true professional in your field.
If you work with someone else in a contractor or subcontractor relationship, then you need to make sure that they carry insurance, too.
Insurance and law go together. Where one is not able to help you, the other can.
I believe in alternative medicine because I do not consider it alternative. Acupuncturists, Massage Therapists and Naturopaths have all helped me. Both Acupuncturists and Naturopaths have graduate level degrees, which mean that they more than likely have student loans to pay. What bothers me is that their education is limited on business and I wonder how they are expected to pay back those loans plus earn a living? For every business it is about earning a living, making ends meet and then growing.
True North Business Consulting wants to support health and wellness professionals by offering business classes and the True North Guidebook. Labor Day weekend is the unofficial end of summer, but the official beginning of the school year for many New Englanders. It is a good time to focus on short video seminars that are easy to access and cost effective. True North’s program covers topics such as marketing, insurance needs and legal needs. There are other important topics like retirement planning, a must for any business owner to consider.
These video classes are not just limited to health and wellness professionals but any business owner that needs some guidance. You may be an expert in your field, but you have apprehension about running a business. The True North program is designed for you. Take advantage of it today.
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As a mediator I facilitate conversation and help people reach agreements. I also see the same mistakes repeated and want to share how you can avoid disagreements and court in general.
1. Do no buy anything together unless you are married
You think you will be together forever and therefore want to buy that car or house together because with both of your incomes you can afford it. However, time passes and you do not get engaged and married as you once thought. In fact, you break-up. Now what?
Recently, I had a case where a former boyfriend and girlfriend bought a house together. Two years later they were no longer together and the mortgage was in arrears, but the girlfriend wanted to stay. She was willing to buy him out, but to come up with a number to buy him out was an issue. He had put work into the house, helped update it along with paying part of the mortgage and down payment.
In the end they came to an agreement, but it was made difficult because if they had been married then probate laws would have applied. Instead they had to create their own agreement where one person still felt as if they didn’t get enough money and the other person was taking on significant debt.
2.Pay your rent and recurring bills
You may think that the landlord is the bad guy and rich for that matter too. However, most have mortgages on their property and have to pay each month too. So when a tenant does not pay their rent this is an issue. Then the tenant continues to stay without paying rent, and the eviction process gets started, then court. In the end months have passed without rent. Most landlords know they will not get the back rent, and would rather come up with an agreement where the nonpaying tenant leaves right away so they can clean the apartment and rent it to a paying tenant.
I had another case where a couple was living together, and then one left. They had always been late with the rent, and then the person left with the apartment stopped paying. They were given 3 months to find a new place, and did not even look and then came to court to beg for another week. Needless to say the landlord was not in a giving mood and the original execution remained.
If you have a recurring bill, then the same rule applies. You should keep an eye on your budget and make sure you have enough money. Job loss and other hardships happen. Try to save money so if something does happen you can pay your bills, and if not then try not to make the situation worse
3. Keep all receipts and get things in writing
I know I have said this repeatedly. If you are trying to reach an agreement, but bring no proof, but the other party has documents, then who do you think will win? Who deserves to win? It is the evidence, the documents; the receipts showing your side of the story that will help you come out on the winning side. There is one caveat: pictures taken on your cellphone, iPad or smart phone need to be developed.
In a case about damage to property, the party with the property damage did not bring in estimates of the damages. They couldn’t come to an agreement, because there was no number to work from.
You may believe these are uncommon stories. They are not. These cases involve what I would consider to be normal, average people. Mediation is always an option to solve disagreements, but the disagreements may be avoided all together by being aware of the 3 most common mistakes.
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I just returned from vacation. I was on a tour bus visiting the west coast. It was a lot of fun, and when the forty other people on my bus found out I was a lawyer I got legal questions. I am always surprised by this, since there are so many lawyers in the world, but people have questions and I try to answer the ones that I know. However, the most important question that should be answered is: when do I hire an attorney? Sure, this may sound self-serving, but I am going to create a short list.
- When you are starting a new venture.
This will surprise you, but I am a fan of Legal Zoom. I believe that they can be of great use for an entrepreneur. However, Legal Zoom does not tell you what you need. You have to know what you need ahead of time. A consultation with a lawyer will give you access to the lawyer’s expertise so that you understand what you need – employment agreements, confidentiality agreements and more.
- When you are forming an agreement.
You do not need to contact a lawyer when you are buying a car, but if you are buying a home, then yes, hire a lawyer. The bank’s or mortgage company’s attorney is NOT your attorney. They are watching the interests of the bank and mortgage company. Also, there are certain contracts that need to be in writing- prenuptial agreements, goods over $500 and ones that will take more than a year to complete. You need an attorney to make sure you are protected and you do not face a liability exposure or something you cannot afford.
- When you are about to sign a document and you don’t understand it.
Many people sign documents they do not understand. Unfortunately, in a court of law ignorance is not a defense; neither is saying that you didn’t read it. If you do not want to take the time to read a document or do not understand it, then hire an attorney to protect you.
- When you feel that a wrong has been committed against you.
I recently had a long talk with a family member about their friend whose child was being bullied. This is not my area of law, but I understood enough to know there was a wrong being committed and that legal assistance was needed. I do not believe that every matter should go to court or result in a lawsuit, but if you feel a right has been violated or you are being stopped from doing something then a legal consultation may be a good idea.
- When you get a complaint.
Many people show up to court by themselves without an attorney present after they have received a complaint. Can you represent yourself? Yes, you can. Is it a good idea? No, not at all. The complaint gives you enough time to hire an attorney so the attorney can reply to the complaint. There is a process involved that a lay person does not know about, but an attorney does.
Next month we will discuss how to find the right attorney for your needs.
I was recently asked by a client to review a contract. They were booking a location for a special event. My first question after my initial review was,
“Was there anything you discussed because I need to make sure it is in the contract?”
As usual, the answer was in the negative. My client said it was all just standard. I made my recommendations based on that information, because even a standard contract still needs to be changed. However, the situation was not just standard because 1 month later the client found out that some verbal promises had been broken.
When it is not written down, then there is no record. If it is not in the contract, then even an email can help to show intention, but my client had no emails either.
The other party said there had been no breach of contract, and there were a few conversations that needed to take place to satisfy my client. My client concluded that changing locations and getting the deposit refunded was the best choice.
This didn’t have to happen at all, and time and money was lost. Remember that everything you discussed needs to be in a contract or it is as if it didn’t exist. It is difficult to go back and change a signed agreement since both parties need to agree to the change.
True North Business Consulting provides contract review for businesses of all sizes.
It was time for an update at True North Business Consulting. We are still providing contract review and creation, mediation services and educational seminars on business topics. Is it time for you to look at the legal side of your business?
A Perfect Example:
Partners in a business recently came to me. They have been in business for 10 years and are in debt. They do not know if they should continue. They had created an S-Corporation, which means they created a separate legal entity with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. They did this to protect their personal assets. However, they never created a partnership agreement, which would give them guidance on what to if they decided to split up. A contract of this kind should have been the first step. Instead they are confused and do not know what to do.
Clients Are Impacted:
Whether the business continues with one person, the partners or is dissolved, there is going to be an impact with their clients. They had not changed their client contract since they started their business. There was some updating needed but their main issue was they cannot assign the contract to another business who may buy them. This means that they have to honor each of the contracts, even though they may sell the business!
Mediation Can Help Them:
Are they heading for court? No. They want a quick resolution, and most civil cases can take up to two years to get to litigation. This is after a large investment of money, which neither can afford. They also may not be happy with a judge or jury’s decision. Mediation provides an alternative where they can come up with their own solution, and still remain good friends.
When was the last time you updated your contracts? Are you involved in a dispute and it is heading to court? True North Business Consulting can help you.
Need a place to start, then start with our free videos at: You Tube Channel or browse through this blog for helpful hints.
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