I know from my experience of talking to clients that for most small, family or owner managed businesses, the prospect of picking up the phone and first talking to a solicitor is not something they relish. You might expect that cost would be the main reason that they dread that call but, in fact, it’s often different factors that come into play: things like not knowing which lawyer to select, not knowing where to start in explaining their requirements, and dreading talking to some pompous, stuffy desk jockey who knows everything about the law but very little about business.
Actually, I don’t blame them for being apprehensive. After all, lawyers don’t have the best of reputations. But, in my view, there are some great business lawyers out there and, if you select one of them, not only will you have a clear picture of what their advice will cost, but they will also take time to find out about your business before trying to offer any legal advice. And the advice they give will be practical and explained in plain English.
So, if you’re an SME and looking to appoint a lawyer to advise you on contracts, dealing with a dispute or buying a property what should you look for?
- First and foremost make sure they are an experienced business lawyer. Don’t assume that the solicitor on the high street who handled your house sale or divorce has the right knowledge and experience to provide good legal advice for your business needs. You’ll also need to make sure that they have experience in the relevant area of business law. Commercial contracts lawyers for example generally won’t be able to help with a dispute that’s on its way to court, and a commercial litigator isn’t the best lawyer to use to buy a new business premises. You need a specialist.
- When you speak to them, see if they are interested in your business. Do they ask how things are going, show concern about the challenges you face and generally demonstrate that they understand how your business works before they get into the details of your legal needs? Without an understanding of your business, how can they provide you with legal advice that’s right for your particular company?
- Ask about their experience of advising businesses like yours. If you are a family-owned business, have they worked with other family-owned businesses; do they understand the unique challenges and often the informality of the structure that comes with your type of business? If you’re run as a partnership or with a small number of shareholders, do they appreciate the decision-making dynamic that follows? Have they experience of advising directors? Are they used to dealing with a business where most of the decision making and management will be with an individual or a very small group of people? Business lawyers in large law firms may be used to dealing with in-house lawyers, heads of department or others with a good deal of legal knowledge already and the average SME just doesn’t have such knowledge.
- Look for a lawyer able to give practical legal advice. Someone who just quotes the latest case law at you without explaining what you need to do as a result is of little use to you. I’d suggest you check out any blogs and articles they have written as this will give you a good idea of how they interpret the law and relate it to business.
- You want someone who is available to you, who returns your calls, responds to emails and generally does what they say they will. Excellent standards of client service are a prerequisite in all areas of business, but I must admit the legal profession doesn’t have the best reputation in this area. What my clients tell me is that they value me as much for the fact that I return their calls and meet set deadlines as they do for my legal advice.
I’d like to think all the lawyers at Cousins Business Law share these characteristics and we certainly are always striving to improve our knowledge of small businesses so that the advice we give is relevant.
If you’re a business lawyer or know one who has all of these qualities, we’d like to talk to them as we have a few vacancies for business lawyers at the moment. Of course they have to be experienced lawyers used to working with SMEs.
This blog is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor is it intended to be a complete and authoritative statement of the law, and what we say might be out of date by the time you read it. You should always seek legal advice to confirm whether or how any information in this article applies to your particular situation. We offer a free telephone consultation to discuss your particular circumstances.