Small businesses are always wary of legal costs but failing to consult a solicitor early enough can cost them money in the longer term.
Most legal firms offer fixed rate fees for small businesses, which helps you identify and manage your legal costs. It’s best to ask up front, and you have the choice to avoid firms which don’t provide that service to start-ups and SMEs.
Attempting to deal with legal matters yourself can be a minefield, and often ends in a firm retaining a solicitor in the end. The best way to keep legal costs down is to have legal input from the start – the Law Society website has a handy search function to find accredited solicitors in your area.
A number of law firms run drop-in sessions for small businesses to help their owners with legal advice. Some also offer free advice for non-profit companies. There is also a pro bono unit offering barristers for businesses who need representation in the higher courts.
Here’s how legal advice for your SME can help you avoid long-term legal costs:
Setting up your business
It’s vital your business is on a sound legal footing from the start. A law firm can advise you on the legal responsibilities of directors, and the legal liabilities sole traders face. That can help you decide between being a limited company, becoming a sole trader, or establishing a partnership. Legal advice is important when establishing the terms of a partnership, and the responsibilities of each partner. A lawyer can also advise you on the latest updates to the law, including changes to the minimum provision for professional indemnity insurance.
Setting up your website
A good lawyer can advise you on copyright law, data protection legislation, and what you need to include in your website’s terms and conditions, for example. They can also advise you on whether trademarking is necessary. This helps you avoid falling foul of the Data Protection Act or claims for the use of copy or images which are copyrighted to another person.
Photo credit: Charles LeBlanc
Drawing up contracts
This could end up being a minefield for a small business. Lawyers know what’s needed in a contract or legal agreement to make it binding, how those involved need to be identified in the document, and for exporters, how to ensure the document is accepted under the law of the relevant country. This can save a great deal of money in costly disputes later on.
Getting timely advice on legal disputes with customers
Rather than racking up court costs and other legal fees, timely legal advice could help end a dispute with an out of court settlement, or mediation. As well as helping to control your legal fees, it can also help protect your company’s reputation.
Dealing with legal issues posed by staff
HR issues can cost a great deal in lost productivity, or fees for tribunals. Your lawyer can give you legal advice on employee contracts, legal procedures needed to resolve employee disputes, evidence needed for misconduct proceedings, and mediation.
There are many ways that retaining a good lawyer can be a good return on your investment in the long run.