Legal problems arise in business all the time and the temptation might be to run to a lawyer every time to get them to sort the problem out for you. There is no doubt that in some situations a lawyer is extremely useful – the law is a complex beast and there are many pitfalls for the unwary and/ or the untrained. Lawyers (the collective name for solicitors and barristers) can:
Deciding whether you need a lawyer is largely a matter of common sense – just be aware that like a medical problem which seems trivial and painless initially but which actually turns out to be a cancerous growth, some legal problems, unless tackled early and properly, can cause no end of grief in the long run.
For example, if you or one of your employees is accused of discrimination of some kind, the financial and PR consequences to a company can be devastating if you lose such a case. Even if you think the accusations are spurious therefore, it’s a good idea to call in the lawyers who will advise you of the procedures you need to go through and put a case together for you for a tribunal hearing if need be.
At times the need for a lawyer is blinding obvious: if you’re being investigated over suspected criminal acts; if one of your products has caused someone serious harm; or if your business wants to buy/sell/ lease property.
On the other hand, most people might think that lawyers are essential if you need a contract drawing up to allow you to do business with other companies or individuals. However, standard form contracts are widely available which give you an idea of the sorts of terms and conditions you need to include and you can doctor them for your own purposes.
Then there are issues like chasing debts – there is no doubt that a solicitor’s letter can be very effective in persuading reluctant debtors to pay up and if the amounts are very large, it might be advisable to get a solicitor on the case. However, there are a number of things you can do before you get to this stage – chasing the debt yourself, selling the debt to a factoring company, or if the matter is fairly straightforward and the cash involved fairly small, you can take the matter to the small claims court yourself.
If you’re not feeling totally confident with your DIY efforts, you can always draw something up and then take it to a lawyer to check over to make sure you haven’t made any glaring errors. This will be a lot cheaper than asking them to e.g., draft something from scratch and can be a good solution for a number of legal problems.
There are a huge number of self-help resources – books and software products most of which will be available to buy or sometimes even free online – which can guide you through a variety of legal issues and the steps you need to take to complete a task, which can save you huge amounts of money in legal fees.
If you decide you do need a lawyer, you need to determine what sort of law you need advice on and your first stop should be a solicitor – the Law Society in your region will have lists of law firms and the areas of law they specialise in. A solicitor will be best to advise you about whether your problem requires the services of a barrister – they may be called in to give very specialist advice or to provide advocacy skills in court or at tribunal.
Just as many legal problems don’t require a lawyer to sort out, so too all legal disputes do not need to end up in court.
Negotiating with the other side – whether this is done yourself or through a lawyer – should always be your first step but even then, if no agreement can be reached there are other options.
Mediation, for example, has you sitting down with the other party and a trained mediator who will help you talk your way through your problems and attempt to reach some sort of consensus.
Many commercial contracts contain an arbitration clause, which means that if a dispute arises, rather than going to court, the matter will be settled by the decision of an arbitrator – an independent third party - in the jurisdiction specified in the contract. This can be a cheaper and quicker alternative to court.
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