When setting up your own business, finding a lawyer isn’t usually top of your to-do list. Yet getting the right legal support – from setting up the right company structure to initial employment contracts – can prove vital in the early stages of a start up. Knowing how to find a lawyer can help you avoid legal issues as your business grows.
Many small business owners initially take a do-it-yourself approach to legal issues. Using off-the-shelf templates for business contracts can be a cheap way to get started. However, trying to understand or solve legal issues by yourself can cost more in the long run than seeking professional legal help. According to an Legal Services Board report, small businesses lose around £9.8bn each year due to legal issues – many of which are avoidable.
Why you should find a lawyer for your business
A lawyer can help your business in a number of ways including:
- Setting up your business – Legal advice is important in the early stages of a business start up, such as choosing the best structure for your business. Contractual agreements between shareholders should be professionally drafted.
- Trading licences – Business owners can apply directly for licences covering street trading, selling alcohol and operating food premises. However, certain licences, such as overseas trading and gambling licences, require advice from a specialist licensing lawyer.
- Property and premises – Legal advice when signing rental leases or buying or selling premises is essential. Commercial property law can be complex, so get a solicitor to look over any contracts you sign.
- Hiring employees – Employment legislation is extensive, with hefty penalties for getting it wrong. A solicitor can help draft employment contracts and ensure you’re aware of your legal obligations as an employer.
- Contracts – While it can be tempting to repurpose existing contracts or simply sign contracts with suppliers or clients, it’s worth getting legal advice to ensure your business isn’t left open to unacceptable liabilities.
- Franchises – Entering into a franchise agreement or franchising your business requires legal advice. Understanding your legal obligations and putting in place favourable terms when franchising is essential.
- Raising capital – Many start ups and small businesses need capital to grow their business, either through debt or equity financing. If the latter, then you’re likely to need a lawyer when issuing equity shares to investors.
- Protecting your business – It’s important to find a lawyer to ensure that your business and brand are protected or defend your business should it be subject to legal action. Obtaining patents or trademarks may require the help of an Intellectual Property (IP) lawyer.
How to find a lawyer to represent your business
While heading straight to the nearest high street solicitor is tempting, it pays to look for an experienced corporate lawyer. Many solicitors specialise in specific industries or types of legal issues, such as employment law and corporate contracts.
Referrals and recommendations by business associates and your local British Chamber of Commerce is a good starting place. Your accountant may also be able to recommend a lawyer. Many accountants have professional relationships with law firms that they can introduce to business clients. Alternatively, the Law Society offers two ways to find the right solicitor for your business.
- Online directory – If you live in England or Wales, head to the Law Society’s Find a Solicitor website and search under ‘Company and Commercial’ to find details of your nearest business solicitor. The Law Society has a database of over 175,000 legal professionals to choose from. Alternatively, use The Law Society of Scotland or The Law Society of Northern Ireland.
- Lawyers for Your Business – The Law Society runs a scheme for small business owners that puts you in touch with a local solicitor who will talk through your legal issues in a free 30-minute consultation. You call the helpline on 020 7405 9075 or email firstname.lastname@example.org including details of your postcode or town/city to receive a list of firms in your local area who are members of the scheme and can help.
Find a lawyer checklist
Once you’ve identified suitable candidates, you’ll need to hone your choices. It’s worth ensuring a good match with your business needs, although you can always change law firms later if the arrangement doesn’t work out.
- Expertise – Make sure the solicitor has the expertise you need. Corporate lawyers will be able to help with most aspects of running a business, but you may require a specialist in employment or IP law.
- Reviews – Read online reviews of the law firm or individual solicitor.
- Testimonials – Look on their website for testimonials from similar clients. Ask what types of clients they have and if they can provide any testimonials.
- Pricing and outcomes – Find out their pricing structure and estimated costs of resolving a particular legal issue, such as the typical cost of creating a contract. If discussing a particular issue, ask them to provide a range of options for resolving the problem and your chances of achieving your desired outcome.
When finding a lawyer, it’s a good idea to arrange a face-to-face consultation. Some law firms offer cheap or free initial meetings so that you can find out whether they can provide the right help for you.
To help your decision when choosing between two or more solicitors consider how helpful they’ve been in giving information and advice. Check that they fully understood your problem and assess how confident you feel in their handling of your business.
How much will a lawyer cost?
As with most services, legal costs depend on what services you need and how complex they are. Ask upfront what the likely fees are going to be. Solicitors legally must provide an estimate of likely charges and keep you informed of any changes in that estimate.
Most solicitors charge by the hour, usually broken down into ten-minute intervals. Alternatively, you may be charged a flat fee for work such as reviewing a contract. Some lawyers will offer fixed price or monthly retainer options. Solicitors’ fees should be ‘fair and reasonable’, so ask for a breakdown of costs if you don’t understand a bill.