If you wake in the night worrying that you've missed a step in setting up your business or that not having the right contracts in place is putting your organisation at risk, then you’re not alone. Business law can be daunting and it’s very common for small business owners to have concerns, or even anxiety, around accountancy and/or the legal aspects of their business. After all, these are specialist areas that lawyers and accountants spend years training to do, so it’s no wonder many company founders decide to outsource this part of their businesses to a professional.
There are many advantages to finding the right commercial lawyer for your small business. These include:
Being assured that your contracts and agreements are legally binding and professional
Making business transactions, including employment, supplier and client agreements, simpler
Support and expertise in the case of legal disputes
Professional advice that could save you money, better protect or further develop your business
Ensuring your intellectual property (such as copyright and trademarks) are protected
The right commercial lawyer for your small business can provide peace of mind. But, how can you ensure you hire the right person or firm for your business needs?
Here are 6 things you should consider when finding a commercial lawyer for your small business:
What Legal Support Will Your Small Business Need?
Before you can find who you need, you should have an idea of what you need. This way you can be sure that any firms or self-employed solicitors you are considering, have the right capabilities.
Commercial law is broad and for small businesses, most of what you need will typically be quite standard. Therefore, most commercial solicitors will be able to draft a range of commercial contracts and advise you on various business-related legal matters.
Common legal services for small businesses may include the following:
Non-Disclosure Agreements / Confidentiality Agreements
Business Terms & Conditions (especially for your clients/customers)
Master Service Agreements
Media Buying Agreements
Creative Services Agreement
Publishing and Co-Publishing Agreements
Knowing what legal services you need is essential to finding the right commercial lawyer for your business. It can also help you to gather and compare quotes.
Does Size Matter?
Since most small businesses will not require an in-house lawyer, I’ll assume you’re seeking a law firm or independent commercial lawyer.
Some small business owners prefer to work with medium to large firms whereas others prefer the more personal working relationship that can be formed with a self-employed lawyer. Larger firms can often offer more diverse expertise and cover more specialist areas of law. However, the fee structures can be less transparent and you may find your needs are serviced by various solicitors (at a much higher price). An alternative is to work with a self-employed lawyer who specialises in commercial law. Advances in technology mean that you would not necessarily need a local lawyer either, being that video meetings are now commonplace and effective.
Many freelance lawyers, including myself, relish working with small businesses where we can really make an impact and develop a productive and enjoyable working relationship. Furthermore, self-employed lawyers are also small business owners themselves.
More important than what size firm you use is what size client they’re used to dealing with. Selecting a law firm that deals mostly with larger clients can mean your business is not a big priority. However, if you’re a growing organisation, it may be wise to select a lawyer who has experience in working with both small and larger businesses so that they may continue to service your needs as you expand and scale up.
Most commercial solicitors will work across a wide range of sectors. Generally, the fundamentals of the law is the same regardless of the sector you operate in - there will just be some industry specific points to consider and factor in to the legal work. Therefore a business lawyer doesn't have to have direct experience in your particular industry. However, there are related factors you might consider when finding the right commercial lawyer for your small business. For example, if you operate an online or e-commerce business then you will need a commercial solicitor who is experienced in helping companies ensure they are GDPR compliant. Or, for instance, if you are manufacturing unique products and intend to apply for patents, then you may seek a patent lawyer.
More important than sector experience is whether a lawyer has worked with your type of business before - start-ups, charities, not-for-profit organisations, franchises, etc. This will likely have more influence on the legal guidance you will need.
As with any spending in a small business, legal costs must be budgeted.
Different firms and self-employed commercial solicitors structure their fees in various ways. Whilst some will charge by the hour, others may offer fixed-fee contract drafting and/or start-up business packages. The latter can be an excellent means of acquiring fully costed legal services but may limit flexibility so be sure you understand what is and is not included in any package.
The fee structure that is right for you will be dependent on your business and on the services you require. How bespoke your requirements are, or how tailored your contracts might need to be, may also be reflected in the quotes you receive.
Transparency will be very important when conversing with a small business lawyer. Unfortunately, there are cases where a business owner has not fully understood how fees are charged or the lawyer has not kept the client up-to-date with charges, and the final bill has far exceeded estimates. At Aubergine Law, it’s important to me that clients can properly cost and budget for their legal services, so having an open discussion about fees is essential.
Red flags should go up when talking to any service provider who is less than completely transparent when it comes to fees.
Communication, Trust and Professionalism
Business lawyers are generally passionate about helping companies and entrepreneurs succeed, particularly those who specialise in working with small businesses. Furthermore, there’s a sense of purpose in being able to help others navigate what can feel like a minefield of legal terminology and compliance.
On the search to find the right commercial lawyer for your small business, make sure you meet (perhaps over Zoom to save time) any lawyers or firms you’re interested in working with. The person taking lead on such an important part of your business must come across as professional, efficient and trustworthy. It’s not a bad idea to check reviews too and see what their former clients have had to say. Not only will this give you an idea of their competence but also of whether they have worked with businesses similar to yours.
Lastly, don’t underestimate likability. Maybe your commercial solicitor will just be there to deliver one contract, draft your terms and conditions or even put together a legal start-up business package for you, but it’s important to have a rapport with those we work with. This makes it easier to trust one another and communicate and it often makes it easier for your lawyer to better meet your professional needs.
Need a commercial lawyer for your small business? I’m Clare Veal and I specialise in commercial, intellectual property, e-commerce, consumer and data protection legal disciplines. I deliver various commercial legal services and also offer a comprehensive legal package for start-ups. Get in touch to find out more.