If I Lie To My Lawyer, Will It Save Me Money?

Not a chance. Even so, I occasionally find a client or prospect holding back important information, presumably because they think it will complicate the project and cost them more money. But that’s exactly why it should cost more money – because it makes things more complicated. Let’s see it in action…

First Call

Prospective Client: Hi, I’m working on a startup with a cofounder, and we are ready to move forward. We think the idea is viable. We formed an LLC about a year ago, and now we want to form a Delaware corporation. What will it cost to incorporate with two cofounders?

Lawyer 1: You’ll need to convert the LLC to a corporation. If you are lucky, and you formed the LLC in a state that allows conversion, forming a new corporation and converting the LLC into it will cost $2000, plus about $350 in filing fees. If you formed the LLC in a state that does not allow for conversion, we’ll have to do a merger. That will cost between $2500 and $3000, plus about $500 in filing fees.

Prospective Client: Wow, that’s a lot of money. We’ll have to discuss it and get back to you.

Second Call

Prospective Client: Hi, I’m working on a startup with a cofounder, and we are ready to move forward. We think the idea is viable. We want to form a Delaware corporation. What will it cost to incorporate with two cofounders? [Notice how the client left out that information about the existing LLC?]

Lawyer 2: It will cost you $1500 to incorporate, plus $150 in filing fees.

Prospective Client: Sounds good, let’s do it!

Now let’s flash forward 6 months, when the startup is trying to raise money from investors. They’ve signed a term sheet for an $800,000 investment, and the investors are doing their due diligence check on the company. During the due diligence, the investors discover that a year and a half earlier, the cofounders had formed an LLC, which they neglected to mention to Lawyer B. They also discover that there had originally been three cofounders, and one of them left on bad terms within the first 3 months. Now she’s moving around various hippy beach communities in Thailand, and doesn’t even have a cellphone. Even worse, it isn’t clear whether everyone signed intellectual property assignments, and Gone Girl happened to have developed the most important part of the code that is the startup’s product. Making a bad situation worse, the cofounders used Legalzoom to form their LLC, and even if they got an operating agreement, there isn’t a chance in Hell that it contains vesting provisions that would allow them to recapture Gone Girl’s unvested ownership interest in the LLC.

Here’s what it all adds up to:

  • The corporation doesn’t own most of the software code and other IP that is the core of the business. That belongs, at best, to the LLC, if everyone signed IP assignments.
  • If everyone signed IP assignments, that’s not going to help much, because they still need to convert (or merge) the LLC into the corporation. But they need Gone Girl’s approval to do so, and she was last seen on a beach in Bora Bora, smoking weed with an actor who may or may not have been in Titanic.
  • If there are no IP assignments, then it really doesn’t matter whether they can convert the LLC into the corporation, because Gone Girl owns the core of the business. And when word gets out that the business is worth $1.2 billion, guess who’s going to show up with some very mean lawyers in tow?

Of course, the truth of the matter is, that company will never be worth $1.2 billion, because the cofounders were too cheap to do things right. They thought that if they withheld important information from their lawyer, they could save a few hundred dollars. Instead, that little lie is going to cost them $5000 to $10000, at best, in legal fees to try and sort out the mess. At worst, the lie will cost these guys the $800,000 they were hoping to get from the investors, who are now walking away and looking to invest in a business run by someone with brains.

So the moral of the story is, keeping information from your lawyer will not save you money, it will cost you much much more.

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