business

Choosing the Best Legal Structure for Your Business - Part 2

Whether in New York, New York or Durham, North Carolina, choosing the legal structure of a business is one of the most critical decisions every entrepreneur faces at the outset of a new venture. The effects of this choice reach well beyond whether you might face personal liability, will impact how much you pay in taxes, the level of paperwork and formality required, and even the ability to raise funding.

To help ensure that Durham entrepreneurs will make the right choice for their businesses, this article will cover some basic considerations with regard to some of the most popular organizational structures, including the Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, Corporation, and the Limited Liability Company.

See Part 1 of this post for information on Sole Proprietorship and Partnership

Corporation

A third, more sophisticated type of entity is the Corporation. Corporations are legal entities distinct from their owners and organizers, and can be taxed and held legally liable for their actions just like an individual. The greatest advantage of the corporate structure is avoidance of personal liability for the owners- it is extremely difficult to “pierce the corporate veil” and hold an owner liable for the debts and actions of the entity. 

The primary disadvantages, on the other hand, are the extensive cost and record keeping requirements of starting and operating a corporation. Unlike sole proprietorships and partnerships, corporations are required to pay taxes independent of those paid by corporate shareholders. This results in what is known as “double taxation,” because both the corporation and the shareholders must pay taxes on any earnings which are distributed. An S corporation structure—also known as a Subchapter S corporation—may be utilized to avoid this issue in lieu of a regular C corporation. In an S corporation, earnings and losses may be passed through to the tax returns of shareholders as in a partnership or sole proprietorship.

For those who perform personal services that requires a license from a North Carolina licensing board, the Professional Corporation is another option. In general, PC’s must be operated for a “single purpose,” meaning that all members must practice in the same professional field. Another restriction of PC’s is that only those licensed to perform professional services of the kind the business offers may own stock in the business. Like any other corporation, PC’s offer shareholders insulation from liability and owners may elect “S Corp.” status in order to gain the benefits of pass-through taxation. 

Limited Liability Company

Since its introduction in 1993, the Limited Liability Company, or LLC, has become the most common form of business structure in Durham, North Carolina. The LLC affords many of the advantages of the corporation and partnership business structures. Similar to a partnership, for instance, earnings and losses may be passed through to owners without taxation of the business itself. And similar to the corporation, the owners of an LLC are shielded from personal liability for the business’ debts and obligations.

In addition to the standard LLC, there is another option—the PLLC— for businesses which are deemed “learned professions” such as doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers. The primary difference between PLLCs and LLCs is that the PLLC does not shield individual members from malpractice claims against them. PLLC members are still, however, protected from the liabilities and obligations of the business, and may not be held liable for another member’s malpractice. This liability structure is often chosen by professionals as it is more conducive to a stable business where malpractice suits may pose a risk to the company as a whole.

One downside of LLCs in comparison to corporations, however, is that it does not have shares or stock certificates. As a result, it may be difficult to raise public funding and owners will have to decide whether each investor will be a simple member of the LLC, or a member-manager with authority to act on behalf of the entity.


While the considerations above are a great place for the entrepreneurs of Durham, North Carolina to start when deciding what type of business to form, the decision is ultimately much more nuanced. In order to ensure the best choice of form for your business, it is advisable to speak to an attorney as to your specific needs and goals. Indeed, while most entrepreneurs will tell you to seek legal advice when drafting Articles of Incorporation or Organization for your new Corporation or LLC, it’s just as important to get the first step right.

Michael E. Kohagen is an attorney with Crabtree, Carpenter & Connolly, PLLC, in Durham, NC.

Choosing the Best Legal Structure for Your Business - Part 1

Whether in New York, New York or Durham, North Carolina, choosing the legal structure of a business is one of the most critical decisions every entrepreneur faces at the outset of a new venture. The effects of this choice reach well beyond whether you might face personal liability, will impact how much you pay in taxes, the level of paperwork and formality required, and even the ability to raise funding.

To help ensure that Durham entrepreneurs will make the right choice for their businesses, this article will cover some basic considerations with regard to some of the most popular organizational structures, including the Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, Corporation, and the Limited Liability Company.

Sole Proprietorship

The most basic and most common business structure is a Sole Proprietorship. A sole proprietorship has no legally separate existence from the owner of the business. As a result, the owner may be held personally liable for all financial obligations of the business. Moreover, income and losses are taxed on the owner’s personal income tax return. Perhaps the greatest advantage of a sole proprietorship, however, is that there are extremely few formal requirements for starting and maintaining such a business, and owners therefore have greater control and flexibility in managing its operations. 

Partnership

Another basic form of business structure is the Partnership. Much like the sole proprietorship, a partnership is a very basic legal entity, and is most commonly defined as one in which two or more people agree to share in the management, or profits and losses, of a business. The primary disadvantage of a partnership is that each partner may be held personally liable for all financial obligations of the business. The primary advantages are again similar to those of the sole proprietorship: profits and losses pass through the company to the individual income tax returns of the partners, and starting and maintaining the business entails few formal requirements.

Partnerships come in two varieties: the general partnership, and the limited partnership. In the former, each partner manages the business and assumes liability for the debts and obligations of the company. A limited partnership, however, is made up of a limited partner or partners in addition to a general partner or partners. Limited partners serve as passive investors and have no control over the company, with the advantage that they may not be subject to the same personal liabilities as a general partner. 

 

In Part 2 of this post, we will look at Corporations and Limited Liability Companies.

Michael E. Kohagen is an attorney with Crabtree, Carpenter & Connolly, PLLC, in Durham, NC.

You Should Know: Forced Arbitration Is Forced Injustice

Tia’s employment case against Circuit City was thrown out of court even though her boss sexually harassed her for months, once even exposing his genitals. Javier lost his job when he was deployed overseas despite federal laws protecting employment for members of the armed services. Alan and other small business owners were told they couldn’t take American Express to court for charging exorbitant exchange rates. Marjorie, Roberta, Richard, Dean, Frances, Beulah, Horace and Mary all suffered terribly and died from nursing home neglect, yet their families were not able to sue the nursing home companies.

How could injustices like these be allowed to exist in America where everyone has the right to take wrongdoers to court? It’s called forced arbitration, and you or a loved one may be next to lose your rights.

Harassed, Assaulted and Then Dismissed

Tia was sexually harassed by her boss at Circuit City for months. Her  story here.

Tia was sexually harassed by her boss at Circuit City for months. Her story here.

Tia thought she was taking a step forward when she became a manager-in-training at electronics giant Circuit City. Instead she endured months of sexual harassment by her boss, who at one point exposed his genitals to her. He was also captured on video grabbing Tia’s hand and parading her around the store as she tried to escape.

But the worst was yet to come. When Tia filed a sexual harassment claim against the chain, her lawsuit was thrown out of court because of a legal time bomb in her employment contract called a forced arbitration clause. Circuit City went out of business while Tia was in arbitration and her case was dropped.

A “Get Out of Jail Free” Card for Corporations

Dean Cole’s family tried holding a Minnesota nursing home accountable in court after he died of neglect, but they were forced into arbitration where the truth was hidden from the public. His  story here .

Dean Cole’s family tried holding a Minnesota nursing home accountable in court after he died of neglect, but they were forced into arbitration where the truth was hidden from the public. His story here.

Tia is among a growing number of Americans learning about forced arbitration clauses the hard way. Thousands of businesses, from credit card companies, banks and investment firms to cell phone providers, schools and nursing homes, are inserting legalese into employment contracts and service agreements called “forced,” “binding” or “mandatory arbitration.” When something goes wrong – and in some cases terribly wrong – the customer, renter, homeowner, resident, patient, employee, etc., is forced into arbitration. And that’s when the bomb goes off!

Individuals almost always lose to businesses in arbitration (97 percent of the time according to a 2007 Public Citizen report) because arbitrators are hired and hand picked by the offending businesses. Decisions from the arbitration proceedings are secret, and there is no appeal. Most forced arbitration clauses also include a ban on class-action lawsuits as well, preventing consumers from joining forces to fight wrongdoing. A recent investigative series by the New York Times called forced arbitration “a far-reaching power play orchestrated by American corporations,” and quoted state judges who called it a “get out of jail free” card.

A Short But Disturbing History

The use of forced arbitration clauses is a relatively new tactic developed by a Wall Street-led coalition of credit card companies and retailers. Their goal, according to interviews with coalition members and court records, was simple: find a way to legally insulate businesses from lawsuits. Consumers and advocacy groups eventually cried foul and challenged the use of forced arbitration clauses and the ban on class-action lawsuits. But in 2011 and again in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld forced arbitration. With the floodgates now open, the use of forced arbitration clauses exploded far beyond the financial services industry and is now found in everything from daycare and dog sitting services to cable television and funeral homes.

How Do You Fight Back?

You can learn how to identify arbitration clauses before you sign a contract or click the little box next to “I agree to these terms and conditions.” You can then take your business elsewhere. However, this option isn’t always practical if you want cell phone service, for example, or need a new job. Your other option is to support efforts by some lawmakers, government agencies and consumer advocacy groups to stem the tide of forced arbitration. Here’s a few:

  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a government agency that protects consumer rights in the financial services industry. The CFPB recently announced a proposed rule that would ban class-action waivers in service contracts for credit cards, checking accounts and other financial services. Right now the CFPB wants to hear from the public on this proposal. Go here to add your comments and support the ban on these restrictive waivers.
     
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is also working on a similar provision, which would forbid mandatory arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts.
     
  • The Department of Education has recently announced it’s considering a proposal that would prohibit colleges from including mandatory arbitration clauses in their enrollment contracts with students.
     
  • U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) have introduced the Arbitration Fairness Act, which would do away with forced arbitration clauses in contracts that ban class-action in employment, consumer, antitrust or civil rights disputes. To voice your support of this legislation, sign our petition at Take Justice Back.

 This article appeared in our May 2016 "You Should Know" e-newsletter.