VOL. 129 | NO. 141 | Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Biller Looks to Minority-Business Law Practice
By Bill Dries
After 45 years practicing law in big firms, medium-sized firms and his own small practice in Memphis, Stephen Biller watched as the issue of minority business development and minority contracting surfaced again locally this spring.
The renewed effort to include firms owned by African-Americans, Latinos, other minorities and women to a greater degree not only in government contracting but also in the business of Memphis in general coincided with Biller’s own thoughts about his law practice.
“I’m a small business, and I know that there are not too many lawyers out there … who would make themselves available to field questions and give advice for less than the high hourly going rate, like $350 to $400 an hour,” Biller said. “I should go on out there and let these people know that they don’t have to pay high dollars. … I can provide a service to them in many fields at a reduced rate. If there’s a service that I can’t provide, I have other attorneys I work with who specialize in that particular subject that they want advice on.”
And that kind of coordination is what Biller wants to continue to oversee beyond a regular referral.
“I have people I make use of. I don’t just send a client off to these people,” he said. “I monitor the whole thing. I’m responsible so they don’t lose contact if they have more questions or are not satisfied with the answers that are given.”
For the last three to four months, Biller has been developing contacts with organizations that work specifically on minority contracting issues.
“I think it’s very vital and contributes probably way beyond their numbers or their gross business or what have you. But they are almost like a ship without oars,” Biller said of the coalitions around the issue. “They got themselves together to have a voice. But those organizations themselves need advice as to what information they have to pass on to their members so they can have a viable organization.”
Some small-business owners have long complained that particularly with government contracts, the programs for minority businesses are too complex and have too much red tape for any small-business owner to have the time to undertake while keeping their business afloat.
“They are multitasking under the best of circumstances,” Biller agreed. “It’s very difficult.”
Apart from issues unique to minority businesses, Biller said he sees his legal practice as also undertaking the issues that all small businesses encounter.
“It’s more along the lines of small-business needs, but knowing people who know their way around the city maze or the county maze or the federal maze,” he added. “I want to become an ombudsmen for them in those particular areas – get to the source, get it going. Who do you contact? How do you do it? Things of that nature that they don’t have time to investigate or do.”
In his experience, Biller said, the most common issue for many businesses is what type of business to become – a corporation, a limited liability corporation or a sole proprietorship.
“You’ve got to look at the business, the nature of the business. How many people are involved? A corporation may be the best thing, not necessarily from a tax standpoint but from an operational standpoint. … LLCs are a little more expensive than corporations because of the reporting requirements,” he said. “Sole proprietorship – yes, it’s risky. But that’s what you have insurance for. A lot of people use a single-member LLC. But you’ve still got to file two tax returns. It’s a matter of not just running out the door and getting a form and saying, ‘I’m going to incorporate.’ There’s ways of protecting your name without incorporating, both at the federal level and the state level. There’s all these moving parts that need to be considered and not one solution for all people.”