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Courts Allow Fewer Excuses to Skip Jury Duty

March 22, 2006|Karen E. Klein | Special to The Times

Question: I'm a sole proprietor who recently received a jury-duty summons. My request to be excused for financial hardship was denied. Do I have to close my business and serve?

Answer: Due to a chronic juror shortage, the courts are no longer accepting financial hardship excuses. However, they are making several accommodations for potential jurors, says Beverly Hills trial attorney Eli Kantor, who represents employers in labor law cases.

If you are summoned at an inconvenient time, you can ask to be rescheduled. If the location is inconvenient, you can request to be transferred to a court closer to your home or work. You can typically make these requests through the courts' automated juror telephone systems.

You have to be available for only a five-day period, Kantor says. "You need to call in every evening and you will be informed if you are needed the next day. If not, you will be instructed to call in again the next afternoon. If you are not called after five days, you will be excused."

If you are questioned as a potential juror, the judge will know the approximate length of the trial and will ask questions about potential jurors' availability and whether their employers compensate them for jury service. "If someone is self-employed, courts generally will excuse them if the trial is scheduled to last more than five days," Kantor said.

While choosing jurors in a recent trial, Kantor identified an entrepreneur he thought would be sympathetic to his small-business client. However, the man asked the judge to excuse him because he couldn't be away from his business for as long as the trial was expected to last. The judge refused his request, but when the plaintiff's attorney asked the man whether he could be fair to the plaintiff, he said "No." The end result: The plaintiff's attorney excused him for cause.

By the way, all sole proprietors should make arrangements for temporary help in the event of jury duty, illness, vacations or personal emergencies, Kantor advises. "As a sole proprietor myself, I have made reciprocal arrangements with other sole practitioners so we can cover for each other when we are on vacation or in a pinch," he said.

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Charging for Consulting Takes Creativity, Testing

Q: I am running a new service business supplying consulting advice. Since I'm the product, how do I price my services?

A: Pricing is a creative effort that needs testing and trials. Done right, it can make your service a unique and highly differentiated success; done wrong, it can lead to serious troubles.

There are several approaches to determining what to charge clients of a service business, says David A. Walker, managing director of New Perspectives Consulting Inc. of Westlake Village. One way is to calculate the value that your customers will derive from the application of your recommendations. "For example, if your idea would generate $2 million in new annual sales at a 50% margin, perhaps paying you $100,000 would be seen as a good investment for them."

Another approach is to do a market analysis that shows what your competitors are charging. Then, based on your marketing plan and how you want to position yourself in the field, you can choose an appropriate rate.

A third way to set pricing, if you have a unique approach or skill set, is to determine your "perceived value." This differs from calculating a number value that you can bring to a firm, Walker says. Yours "could be a soft solution but one that the client totally buys into to solve their dilemma," Walker noted. Services such as management leadership training, facilitation of planning sessions or creativity development programs often fall into this category.

A favored technique for many service providers is to figure out their own costs and then simply charge enough to cover them, including take-home pay. Don't forget travel, office and marketing expenses as well as a percentage of overhead items such as taxes and debt repayment.

"Sometimes you may want to go in for less than cost if you sense that a new customer could become a major client," Walker said. "Just be aware of the risks you take," and don't undercut yourself too steeply, he added. Not every new customer will turn into a repeat client.

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Got a question about running or starting a small enterprise? E-mail it to karen.e.klein@ latimes.com or mail it to In Box, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.

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