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Learning Legalese - AvNetwork.com

Learning Legalese

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After years of denial, I'm finally coming to grips with my lot in life-I'm an AV guy by trade, and my wife is an accountant. There's no escaping it. I am, by definition, a nerd.

I revel in discussions of lumens and contrast, dB and Hz, foot-candles and Kelvin! Each time a new demo product arrives, my heart races as the packaging is ripped open with the wild abandon of a child on Christmas morning. Well, maybe not quite so much these days, but I like to think that as integrators we're all alike in this regard.

So now I find myself in a conundrum: if I am the AV nerd that my friends and family accuse me of being, how is it that I end up spending all of my time on so many things unrelated to sound, video, and lighting?

I guess at some point all successful integrators have to grow up and accept that the technology only constitutes half of the equation. While the wires and knobs may have been enough to woo us to this industry, it takes a lot more than that to keep us in business for any extended period of time. As such, I find myself wearing a variety of hats that don't quite fit.

Hat #157: Attorney
It wasn't long after we started our little company that I realized how many legal issues existed that I had never considered. Never mind the need for different contracts and licenses, but the simple act of being a business unleashed a host of legal questions that must be addressed by any business that is in it for the long haul.

While it would be a lot easier to just "call the man" and have my faithful attorney sort it all out, the truth is that no one is as interested in the survival and success of my business than I am. A good attorney will give you what you ask for; a great attorney will give you what you really need. Unfortunately, great attorneys are hard to come by, and without some knowledge on your part, you'll never know the difference.

And so my education began. Navigating the treacherous waters of a thousand whereases and herebys, like the green gibberish on the display screens aboard the Nebuchadnezzar. And somehow, it all started to make sense. With a little effort, I too could see the Matrix!

Once I understood what the law and my contracts were yammering on about, I found that I had a great deal more negotiating power with my clients and vendors. At the same time, I realized the full implications of operating a company above-board. Licensing is shamefully overlooked in our industry. Many companies with which I have interacted aren't even aware that most states require a general contractor's license if the contract is over a certain amount. Low-voltage licenses... forget about it. Many choose to fly under the radar, and hope for the best. This is a dangerous proposition.

One of my first business mentors used to always say, "I may move slowly, but I never back up." At first I chocked his words up to the four cups of coffee he had consumed every morning for the last 20 years, but over time, and with experience, the beauty and truth of what he was saying became clear. If I want my business to be here in 20 years, I need to protect my people and my assets.

My first priority as a business owner is to be a good steward of the trust that has been bestowed upon me by my employees and customers. My obligation, as it relates to wearing the attorney hat, is twofold: to know and follow the law and to limit the extent of liability and loss that my company faces on a daily basis from avoidable legal issues related to contracts and licenses.
With a little study and hard work, it's easy to begin the process of understanding what's written in the fine print. As my head grows and the hat begins to fit, I can only hope that I look a little less nerdy in it.

Ken McKibben oversees operations for MediaMerge, a systems integration company specializing in design, installation, service, and support for sound, video, and theatrical lighting systems in churches. He also has a great attorney.

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