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The Legal Checklist Every Interior Designer Needs

If you’ve followed along with us for any length of time, you know we’re passionate about serving designers in nearly every area of their business. Whether it’s through our website templates, mastermind courses, or our weekly blog content, we consider no topic off-limits, including legal protection for interior designers. That’s where Alyce Zawacki Law of @attorneyforcreatives comes in.

We’ve worked with Alyce for years at IDCO Studio and have quickly become her biggest fans. Not only does she help us navigate the confusing world of contracts and fine print, but she writes everything in down-to-earth language that feels like a natural extension of our brand. Today, we’ve asked Alyce to talk about the importance of establishing legal protection for interior designers, and she’s even put together a ten-step checklist to help cover your bases.

 

Alyce Zawacki of Attorney for Creatives shares 10 steps to ensure legal protection for interior designers.

 

Tell us about the work you do at Alyce Zawacki Law, and why your firm specializes in working with creatives?

I work with a wide range of creatives (interior designers, graphic designers, artists, film makers, musicians, influencers; I even had a puppeteer client once!) to ensure they have all their legal ducks in a row. The main areas of law I work in are entertainment law, small business law, and intellectual property law, including copyright and trademark. I have a media degree and have always been interested in the arts but didn’t feel as though my creative talents were enough to make it a full-time job. So, I instead decided to focus on helping from a legal standpoint. It really is my way of staying involved in a vibrant community and working with passionate and talented people. I always say I get to do the fun law!

 

What we love most about working with you, is your skill at exemplifying our brand voice, even in legal documents. How can customizing a contract to fit your specific brand’s voice help establish a better client relationship?

There is a misunderstanding that contracts have to be drenched in legalese and confusing in order to be enforceable, and that just really isn’t the case. Yes, there is necessary legal language that needs to go into the agreement, but it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. When onboarding a new client it can be a turnoff to send a 10-page agreement that is hard to understand. Plus, it doesn’t do the brand any favors in terms of communicating to the client the expectations of the relationship because they are most likely not going to read it. Having a clear, concise, and legalese free contract is key to ensuring everyone is on the same page and demonstrates to the client that the brand is transparent about their processes.

 

What’s the #1 mistake you see creative entrepreneurs making when it comes to protecting their business?

Too often, I see creatives making the mistake of not clearing a brand or product name for use by checking for existing conflicts. A simple Google search isn’t enough to keep you out of hot water and just because you are able to register a business name in the state you are operating in doesn’t mean that you have trademark rights. Even though the trademark conflict search and registration process can be expensive and time consuming, it can save you thousands of dollars down the road. I have had many clients come to me that didn’t go through the correct clearing process, went ahead and branded with the name and then years later (typically just as they are finding success) receive a cease and desist from another company that was using the brand name first. At best, they’ll have to rebrand, and at worst they end up in litigation having to pay out damages to the other company, on top of court costs and legal fees. Pre-launch clearance and federal trademark registration is the best thing to do if you want to protect your branding and ensure future use.

 

Interior design office inspiration. Plus, ten important steps to ensure legal protection for interior designers.Interior design office inspiration. Plus, ten important steps to ensure legal protection for interior designers.

Photography: Madeline Harper

 

Do you have any advice for interior designers looking to rework the fine print of their contracts in light of the COVID-19 pandemic? (IE- back ordered items, project delays, etc)

In terms of timelines with interior design contracts, it should always be made clear that any delivery schedule is only an estimate and subject to change at any time simply because there are so many third-parties involved (retail companies, delivery companies, storage warehouses, movers, installers, renovation contractors etc.). This is regardless of COVID-19 but has obviously become more important in this past year where there have been so many project delays and shortage of items. Another provision that has been important this last year are force majeure clauses. These clauses are typically found at the end of contract and allow for a project to be suspended or terminated if unforeseeable circumstances occur that affect the services and are no fault of the parties such as workforce strikes, natural disasters, wars and, of course, epidemics and pandemics. Force majeure clauses have to be very carefully worded to make it clear whether money has to be refunded and how long an unforeseeable event has to continue before a party can terminate the agreement entirely.

 

Many of our followers are interior designers looking to expand their teams. What do you wish creatives knew before hiring that first employee, contractor or intern?

Understanding the IRS laws and your own state’s laws relating to hiring and firing can be complicated. In particular, there are strict rules regarding the payment of interns and who can be classified as a contractor. It is always best to get both legal and tax advice before taking on new team members. Also, every person involved in your business should sign a formal agreement addressing the main terms of their involvement, and you should develop company rules and policies in the form of a company handbook. Not having these written documents can result in misunderstandings with team members. 

 

How can interior designers protect themselves from mistakes a builder/contractor makes during a project?

I have a pretty strict policy that my interior designer clients should not be the ones directly hiring builders and contractors on behalf of their client. Not only does subcontracting these third parties open the interior designer up to potential liability for mistakes that they make, depending on the state that they are located in, they legally may not be permitted to hire builders and contractors without construction licenses to follow construction laws. I understand it can be frustrating having clients sign multiple contracts with different contractors, but this really is the easiest way to ensure that the interior designer is protected. Additionally, there should be clauses within the interior designer’s service agreement making it clear that they are not responsible for any of the work conducted by a third party contractor.

 

What would you say to an interior designer who is trying to DIY the legalities of their business? Why is hiring a professional firm worth the investment?

I understand that this can be very tempting, especially when starting a new business as legal fees can be expensive. However, it’s important to remember that not setting your business up for success properly from the get-go can result in more expenses further down the line. While there are a number of online resources that may be able to help you with the legalities of your business, there is a lot of misinformation out there. If you do choose to DIY legal documents for your business, I recommend that you use templates that have been specifically drafted by an attorney and to then have your own attorney review them for you to make sure they fit your specific business circumstances. This can save you money, as it is more expensive for an attorney to draft from scratch, and still gives you peace of mind that major errors are going to be caught before you start using the documents or following the advice.

 

Interior design office inspiration. Plus, ten important steps to ensure legal protection for interior designers.

Photography: Madeline Harper

 

10 Ways to Establish Legal Protection for Interior Designers

 

from Alyce Zawacki Law

 

 

one

Check if you need any licenses or qualifications to be an interior designer in the state you plan on operating in. If you plan on working on renovations, also check licensing requirements for project management type services.

 

two

Come up with a brand name and have an attorney conduct a comprehensive trademark search and register that brand name with the USPTO.

 

Website Templates for Interior Designers | IDCO Studio

 

three

Decide what type of business structure you want to operate under by speaking with an attorney and accountant. An LLC is typically the most recommended to ensure your personal assets are protected from your business assets. 

 

four

Have a service agreement drafted that outlines your services and client expectations.

 

Interior design office inspiration. Plus, ten important steps to ensure legal protection for interior designers.Interior design office inspiration. Plus, ten important steps to ensure legal protection for interior designers.

Photography: Madeline Harper

 

five

Follow employment and contractor laws if you intend on having people work for you and have the necessary documents drafted.

 

six

Have a terms of use document drafted for your website, especially if you sell any items online.

 

Interior design office inspiration. Plus, ten important steps to ensure legal protection for interior designers.

Photography: Madeline Harper

 

seven

Have a privacy policy drafted for your website to let users know how you deal with their personal information. Even if you don’t think you are collecting personal information, you probably are. If you have a “contact us” form, allow for people to sign up for newsletters, or use Google analytics you legally require a privacy policy. 

 

eight

Legal protection for interior designers is important, so get insurance to protect your business. 

 

Creative office space with West Elm desk chair.

Photography: Madeline Harper

 

nine

Work with a CPA to ensure that you are following tax laws and know how to correctly file your taxes.

 

ten

Have an established relationship with an attorney that you can call and rely on in the event you have a dispute with a client. 

 

Legal steps to protect your interior design business.

 

A huge thank you to Alyce for sharing her incredible insight around legal protection for interior designers! We’re so thankful to work with her at IDCO Studio, and if you’re looking for representation, we can’t recommend Alyce enough.

 


 

For more industry-related interviews, check out these posts:

 

IDCO Studio is a full-service creative studio for interior designers and boutique lifestyle brands. Offering bespoke branding, web design and social media content creation, we help brands built around beautiful living elevate their digital presence to represent the physical spaces they design. Our recently launched limited-release website templates are the perfect way for interior designers to get a luxury website on a budget. These templates allow designers to maintain control of their content. Want to work together? Shoot us an inquiry here.

 

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  1. Carolina Davila says:

    Thank you for this amazing piece of information. As I’m looking to start my business this year, this has definitely given me perfect guidance and understanding of what this topic entails. Thank you for always providing such invaluable information!
    Carolina
    Catalina Interiors & Decor

    • Stephanie Weers says:

      Hi Carolina! We’re so happy to hear your found this post helpful. Alyce has such a wealth of knowledge, and we’re grateful she could share with us.

      Stephanie of Team IDCO

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