If you are receiving a fee for assisting someone else’s company in raising money, then you must operate within the confines of securities laws. These laws provide three different ways in which one may legally raise money for another company for a fee. You can’t get a “commission” or “bonus” or anything of value for bringing an investor to another company or person unless you fit into one of these three categories:
Broker Dealer License
First, if you are licensed and are registered with an SEC registered broker dealer, you may receive commissions and other forms of compensation for raising money in public or private offerings (e.g. private placements). The newest form of registration from FINRA is designed to license and regulate those who operate as “investment bankers,” called a “Series 79 license.” This license allows a holder to collect commissions and other fees for raising funds for an offering of equity (e.g. stock) or debt (e.g. notes or bonds). In addition to passing the licensing test, you’ll need to associate with a broker dealer.
Second, if you take a limited role in the raising of funds and are paid a flat or hourly fee, as opposed to commissions based on funds raised, you may be able to be paid a finder’s fee for introducing investors to others. A finder’s fee can only be paid to a finder so long as:
- The finder isn’t involved in negotiations of the securities being sold.
- The finder doesn’t discuss the details of the securities.
- The finder isn’t paid based on money raised (e.g. no commission).
- The finder doesn’t perform “finding” services on a regular basis.
In sum, a finder’s fee may be paid but only to someone who makes introductions of potential investors, and the fee amount must be based on some factor other than compensation relating the persons or amount of securities sold to those introduced by the finder.
Director or Officer of Offering Company
Third, you may be able to assist in raising funds for another if you are an Officer or Director of the company whom you are raising money for. The SEC promulgated Rule 3a4-1 which is a Safe Harbor from enforcement and allows someone who serves as a paid Director or Officer to assist in selling the company’s securities. There are many ways to qualify under this Rule but the most common is to meet the following criteria:
- Be paid as a Director or Officer by salary or other criteria that is not linked to sales of securities made (e.g. be the CFO or Treasurer and offer financial consulting advice in addition to working with potential investors).
- Can’t be associated with a Broker Dealer and cannot have a prior SEC disciplinary history.
- Should stay on with the company following closing of the offering so as to show your purpose as a Director or Officer was not just for raising funds.
- Takes a passive and restrictive role in selling the securities and refers to the CEO or President for details and negotiations.
Failure to comply with the securities laws can result in civil and criminal action. In addition, investors who can claim a failure to comply with the laws outlined above are able to rescind their investment and can subject the company’s founders and the person soliciting the investment with personal liability for any losses.
President Trump’s private lawyer, Michael Cohen, recently had his home and office raided by federal agents. But wait, isn’t all of his information attorney-client privileged? If you’re confused at how a lawyer’s records could be raided, your instincts are right. We’ve all learned about the fourth amendment, which protects us against unreasonable search and seizure, and requires the government to obtain a warrant. But, lawyer records and client information is especially protected, and any old warrant won’t allow the government to search or seize a lawyer’s records. In the case of Trump’s private lawyer, Michael Cohen, the government was able to blow past attorney-client privilege by alleging and providing credible information that they suspected Mr. Cohen was part of criminal activity himself. So, what can upstanding business owners learn from the Michael Cohen saga? Well, quite a bit.
When planning your business and tax structure with your lawyer, it is important to understand what is privileged and what is not. Often times, clients divulge information to their lawyer and wonder whether that information is “attorney-client privileged” or not. Attorney-client privilege is an important legal protection offered to persons, companies, and organizations who provide confidential information and who seek counsel from their lawyer or law firm. Under law, an attorney cannot be required to provide attorney-client privileged information to a plaintiff in a law suit (e.g. creditor) or to a government agency (e.g. the IRS) except under limited situations. Here are a couple of common situations where you may lose attorney-client privilege and some tips to make sure your confidential information provided to your lawyers doesn’t run into the exceptions.
Exceptions to the Attorney-Client Privilege Rule
1. Third-party non-lawyer present
Was a third-party present with your lawyer when the information you want to be privileged was discussed. For example, was your accountant or financial adviser present when discussing information you want to remain confidential and to privileged? Keep in mind that if a third-party is present in a meeting or on a conference call then that third-party may be required to provide information or documents from the meeting and that your accountant, consultant or adviser can’t raise the attorney-client privileged defense for you unless they’re actually your attorney. If a third-party professional does need to be hired (e.g. an accountant or CPA), that third-party can be hired or brought into the matter by the attorney and the privilege may remain intact. This is known as a “Kovel” hiring of the accountant, and stems from a case where a lawyer engaged an accountant for the client, and the accountant’s work was therefore covered under the lawyer’s attorney-client privilege.
Tip: For sensitive matters where you want information to remain confidential and privileged, do not involve outside parties as those outside parties or non-attorney advisers cannot raise the attorney-client privileged defense.
2. Only legal advice is attorney-client privileged
Only information exchanged when seeking legal advice is attorney-client privileged. This is especially tricky for companies who have their own “in-house” legal counsel who also offers business advice. Only the information exchanged that pertains to legal advice would be privileged. For example, was an organization chart of the company’s holdings “privileged” when provided to the company lawyer who also manages those assets for the business? Also, what if that lawyer disseminated that organization chart to accountants, property managers, or other non-lawyers? If they did, then that information is no longer attorney-client privileged.
Tip: If you have sensitive documents or information you want to keep in communication only with your lawyer, ask your attorney to identify the document as “Attorney-Client Privileged” and do not provide it to non-lawyers.
3. If the lawyer is on the crime, it is no longer attorney-client privileged
This tip comes compliments of the Michael Cohen case outlined at the beginning of this article. You may also think of “Breaking Bad’s” famed lawyer, Saul Goodman. Or maybe you’re “The Godfather” kind of person, and you think of the mafia lawyer, Tom Hagen. In the case of Goodman and Hagen, they were lawyers who were part of the criminal enterprise of their bosses. As a result, their records are not protected by attorney-client privilege.
Tip: While this third scenario is less likely applicable to our readers, I hope, it’s more fun to talk about than when your accountant can receive incriminating information.
Remember that not all information provided to your lawyer needs to be attorney-client privileged. Keep these tips in mind when communicating highly-sensitive information to your attorney, and let your attorney know before you provide the confidential information that you intend it to be privileged, so that they can ensure that your information is properly handled and so that non-lawyer third-parties are only involved when the privilege can be maintained.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin Harrington on our Refresh Your Wealth podcast last week. Kevin was an original shark on the hit TV Show Shark Tank and appeared on 160 episodes. He is also the founder of the infomercial, a pioneer of As Seen On TV, and a co-founder of Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO). He also took a $500M company public on the NYSE. In short, he’s the perfect person to ask on how to pitch your business, product, or investment. In the podcast you can hear Kevin provide his Top 9 tips for pitching your deal, business, or product. I’ve noted the Top 9 list below and you can check out the podcast here.
- Get Their Attention. Start strong and don’t get too far into the details.
- Show Problem. Why is your deal, product, or business needed?
- Show Solution. What is your solution to the need?
- Why are You Unique to Solve. What makes you so special? Why are you the person or company to solve this problem?
- Magical Transformation. Show me how this works. Wow me with how cool this is.
- Have Testimonials. Have testimonials of people who’ve experienced your company, product or service.
- Irresistible Offer. Make an irresistible offer. In the case of courting an investor, make me feel good about getting my money back first. Provide a term that I get paid back my cash investment first before you take any profit. For a product or service, give me a call to action.
- Use of Proceeds. If I’m investing money, tell me how the money is going to be used. Is it buying a property, inventory, funding R&D, or paying your salary? That makes big difference.
- Create an Invest or Buy Now Incentive. I may be interested but why should I do this now while you have my attention. Close the deal and give me comfort that this will be okay (money back guarantee, warranty, personal guarantee).
I’ve listened to plenty of clients explain their deal and/or business and found this list to be very insightful and practical. Enjoy!
You can find this interview as well as hundreds of other episodes on iTunes under Refresh Your Wealth or at refreshyourwealth.com. Pleas subscribe and tune in weekly for new episodes.