This article looks at the importance of having good legal advice as a business owner and how to go about selecting the right adviser for you.
Why do I need a legal adviser?
Most businesses will need legal advice at some point. Some may need advice even before they have started to trade.
For example advice may be required when:
a business takes over the running of an already established business. It is wise to have an agreement in place drawn up by a solicitor
you are taking on staff. You will want to have employment contracts in place before you take anyone on.
There may be occasions where you feel you can do your own research or ask contacts for advice instead of paying a solicitor.
For example, you may have had a dispute with an employee or a supplier. You need to consider whether your time as a business owner is better spent trawling the internet trying to find solutions yourself and asking people you know for advice who have been in similar situations, or would it be more cost effective to instruct a legal advisor to deal with the case while you carry on working and have clarity over the advice given?
Taking legal advice early can be crucial to the success and continued growth of your business.
Having detailed contracts in place with employees, landlords, suppliers and customers from the start means that you are in a much better position should any disputes occur.
You can of course always seek legal advice after a dispute however without any written agreements in place your representative faces a much harder task trying to win your case. Not only that, but it will require a lot more of their time which will be much more expensive for you!
What types of legal advice may I need?
There are a number of events during the course of running a business which may require you to seek legal advice. And some are more straightforward than others.
How much do legal advisers charge?
As with any other company providing a service this varies. Traditionally, solicitors charge their time by the hour, however if you feel you may need advice on a regular basis it may be more beneficial to negotiate a fixed monthly fee which allows you to seek advice as and when you need it. You can stop this arrangement, or at least reduce the monthly fee, once you start to need less input from your solicitor.
Do not be afraid to discuss fees with a solicitor before you agree to use them. You wouldn’t buy goods from one of your suppliers without first agreeing a price, so using a solicitor or any other professional organisation should not be any different.
A good solicitor will be transparent from the outset about what they will charge and how much the whole assignment is likely to cost. It is not always possible to put an exact figure on a case until it is known how much work is required, but by asking before the work starts you will at least have a rough idea.
The type of work and the skill levels involved will have a bearing on the fees. Some work which can be done by junior staff could cost around £75 per hour, more complex cases which require the expertise of more senior staff, or even partners, could be in excess of £200 per hour.
As with choosing any other supplier it is often a good idea to ask around amongst friends, business contacts and those in the same industry as you to see if they can recommend anybody. This can often be much better than simply searching online and using someone you know very little or, if anything, about.
You also need to consider the type of service you require. You may be looking for advice in a specialist area, in which case you may need to do more research to find the right company.
Many established businesses have a firm of solicitors with whom they have built up a relationship over a number of years. But every relationship like this has to start somewhere so be sure to spend time finding the right firm. You may arrange meetings with a few different firms and then decide which one best suits the needs of your business.
Although you may build up a good relationship with one company, there may be times when you feel that the work you require needs more specialist advice which you can get elsewhere. It is worth looking at each piece of work and choosing the firm you feel is best equipped to do that work.
Location is important, although it is more common now for less work to be done face-to-face. You may only communicate with your advisor by phone or email in which case it doesn’t really matter where they are based as long as you are receiving the right service.
To find a solicitor visit the Law Society’s website here. There Find a Solicitor is a free service for anyone looking for information about organisations or people providing legal services in England and Wales that are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Checklist: Choosing a legal adviser
Following the points in this checklist will help guide you towards finding the most suitable legal advice whenever it’s needed. Login to save this checklist to your profile for future use – as you work through the list, any checkboxes that are ticked or unticked will be automatically saved to your profile. (To register to join and enjoy the benefits of membership click on the link at the top right of the page. It will only take a few minutes to create your profile).