It is the beginning of a new year. Most of us make resolutions, and set goals in our personal lives, but not many of us do the same in our professional lives and firms. People figure that when business is going well, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This article aims to highlight just a few areas of your business to take a fresh look at in 2017; they may be “broke” and you just do not know it yet.
Do you use a standard contract for your architectural firm? When was the last time you sat down and reviewed such contract? Do you understand the terms and conditions set forth in your contract? When was the last time you updated the terms and conditions?
The questions above are just a few of the things you should ask yourself at the start of this New Year. If the answer to any of these questions is no, you should consider taking steps to change all the answers to yes.
First, it is important to ensure that there is uniformity in your contracting practices. It can be dangerous to agree to different contract terms with every contract. One example would be differing billing cycle requirements, wherein one contract requires that your firm bill monthly by the last day of the month, and another contract requires that your firm bill by the 25th of the month. If you miss submitting your invoice for payment by the 25th of the month because you are not aware of the unique contract terms to which you agreed, you may be waiting a month or two or more for payment.
Second, it is important that you review, understand, and update your contracts on a regular basis. It is somewhat unrealistic to expect you to review and update your firm’s contracts every six month, or even every year; however, it should be a goal to review and update your firm’s contracts on some regular basis, for example every other year. Changes in the law, and your experiences with certain clients or projects can provide direction for updates to the terms and conditions.
HR Policies and Regulations
Does your firm have an employee handbook? Does your firm have its employees sign a confidentiality agreement, non-compete or non-solicitation agreement? When was the last time you dusted off the signed agreements to analyze their enforceability? When was the last time you confirmed all current employees have a signed employment agreement in their employee file?
Every firm, large or small, should have an employee handbook and employment agreement. Further, every firm should review and update its employee handbook and employment agreement on a regular basis in order to confirm it remains enforceable. Statutes and case law relating to employment agreements and policies often change. Therefore, a non-compete provision in an employment agreement that was enforceable when signed five years ago, may no longer be enforceable today. If that is the case, it may benefit your company to have all its current employees sign new employment agreements that comply with the present state of the law.
Increasingly, employers deal with more HR regulations, filings, and compliance—which force your architectural firm to stop designing and start administering. You may want to consider a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), often referred to as an HR outsourcing company, to help your firm to manage the employment life-cycle by handling time-consuming functions such as: payroll, benefits administration, human resources, workers’ compensation, regulatory compliance, hiring management, and 401k administration. To learn more about PEO’s, read the AIA Trust newsletter article, “Could Your Firm Use a PEO?” by clicking here.
Does your firm have a document retention policy? Do you follow the document retention policy? Do your employees follow the document retention policy?
It is important to establish a document retention policy and then implement the policy for all your projects. A document retention policy establishes the guidelines for (1) what files, documents, and communications will be retained, and (2) how long such files will be retained. Once a policy is established, it is important to follow the policy, not only for overall file management, but also for accounting and legal reasons.
For more on these policies, read the AIA Trust newsletter article, ‘To Shred or Not to Shred’ by clicking here. It is also important to be aware of important issues raised by electronic data and proactively manage its storage with policies on how data is created, exchanged, retained, disseminated, or destroyed. This includes metadata, the hidden data that may contain information detrimental to your firm if used in the event of litigation. For more on this topic, read: The ABC’s of E-Data by clicking here.
The topics and questions set forth above are only examples of issues you should be thinking about in order to begin 2017 with a fresh start. It is important to look forward and make a plan to achieve defined resolutions and goals to keep your business affairs organized and current. Just as with your firm, the business and legal environments are constantly evolving, and it is important that you stay up to speed. Keep an eye out for future articles that will go into further detail on each of the above topics. In the meantime, best wishes for a successful start to 2017!
Alison Mullins is Senior Counsel at Protorae Law, PLLC, a Professional Affiliate Member of AIA DC, and an Allied Professional Member of AIA Northern Virginia Chapter. She focuses her practice on all aspects of construction law and often represents architects, engineers, and others involved in the construction industry.
This article is not intended to provide specific legal advice, but instead as general commentary regarding legal matters. You should consult with an attorney regarding your legal issues, as the advice you may receive will depend upon your facts and the laws of your jurisdiction.