Welcome to our weekly business basics post! This week we decided to explore a specialized legal entity called a professional corporation (PC). Now most of those who know a little bit about corporate law probably know that there are two, main types of corporations – S-Corps, and C-Corps. But in addition to these, there are a few other specialized structures that are important to keep under the belt of a small business, like the professional corporation.

So what is a professional corporation?

Like with a regular corporation, converting a sole proprietorship or a partnership into a professional corporation turns the business into its own, separate legal entity. However, unlike a regular corporation, the owner of a business being turned into a professional corporation must be licensed to offer a specialized professional service. In other words, the owner of the would-be PC has to be a doctor, or lawyer, or accountant, or architect; some sort of licensed profession.

Why would someone choose to form a professional corp?

Like a standard corporation, a professional corporation provides a certain amount of protection for the business owner, or owners, as a PC can carry its own debt and liabilities. It is important to note that a PC does not protect an owner from being sued as a result of their own negligence – a doctor that turns his or her practice into a PC, for example, can still be sued for malpractice. But if two doctors act as partners within a practice, forming a professional corporation can help protect one doctor from being liable for any judgement received from a lawsuit against the other doctor. So without that protection, one of the partners could be held accountable for the mistakes of the other one. Professional corporations, then, are very useful for any licensed professional running a practice with another licensed professional.

What do I have to do to form a professional corp?

First, you must be licensed to provide whatever service your practice offers in the state you do business in. Most states will want to see proof of relevant licensure at the time of incorporation, and the state licensing board will likely have to approve your articles of incorporation before you can move forward. Usually the licensing board will ask that the articles of incorporation bear special language and, depending on the state, PCs occasionally have to contend with certain laws after they are formed – for example many states ask that a professional corporation designate itself as such by including ‘PC’ or ‘Professional Corporation’ in the name of the practice.

Professional corporations take a bit more effort to form, but are extremely useful for practices run by two or more licensed professionals. After all, the last thing you want is to have to pay lawsuit that resulted from the negligence of your partner. And, like other corporations, a PC offers some protection from debtors looking to collect on a business’s liabilities. It is important, however, to check with your secretary of state and your state’s licensing board to clarify what, exactly, you must do to form a professional corporation and what special provisions you will have to contend with as a licensed PC.