Question: Do you really need to hire a lawyer?

It’s a question many people ask when they are involved in business. Do I need a lawyer? When should I get a lawyer? The question does not always have a simple answer…

In some circumstances, the answer to this question may be a resounding “yes”, but it often falls down to considering many factors. If you own your business and you have these questions - don’t worry, you are not alone! At Gerrish Legal, as your legal business partner, the success of your business is our passionWe want to make sure your business thrives and we pride ourselves on being upfront with our clients, which means that we act when needed, but we don’t really agree with providing unnecessary advice (or having you incur legal fees) when this can be avoided.

As this is a key question which faces businesses over and over again, we thought we would share our top insights on deciding whether (and when!) a lawyer is the best option for your company. 

When you definitely need a lawyer

For any large or crucial issues it will be obvious that you need a business lawyer. Perhaps a supplier may be complaining for non-payment or non-fulfilment of a contract, or you have received court papers which have been filed against you. Maybe a local authority accuses you of violating certain laws or perhaps you are operating in a sector which is becoming more and more regulated (for example, the world of online marketplaces and digital platforms) and it’s hard to keep up to date with the various changes. Obviously, this will have a serious effect on the reputation and the future of your business.

Alternatively, it may be that you wish to sue someone over a dispute. Perhaps you allege that they have stolen your intellectual property, or they have not held up their side of an agreement, or maybe just simply not paid your invoices for work they asked you to carry out. Maybe you stand to lose a lot of money or you know a party you have a disagreement with has a lawyer. For any of these serious occurrences it is usually best to go to a lawyer for advice. 

Really, we think as a rule of thumb, any time you feel in over your head about the legal issues for your business the way to go is to speak to a lawyer. This will vary for different business owners and it is a decision only you can make. If you are concerned or confused about the next steps to take for your business, a commercial lawyer is the first way you should go.            

When you definitely don’t need a lawyer!

At Gerrish Legal we will always be honest with you. You can always ask a business lawyer anything for their personal advice, but some things aren’t in their professional capacity. There are enough expenses involved in business so why pay for what you don’t need? 

Things that don’t need legal expertise include writing a business plan and conducting market research. There are great resources online for writing a business plan. Conducting market research, which is an absolute must when setting up a company, can be done by you or can be commissioned from market research companies. At Gerrish Legal we will always be upfront with you and give you our most honest advice - in our professional and personal capacity. 

When you might need a lawyer

A specialised business lawyer can help identify future legal problems and advise you what to do to prevent them happening. We do this every day, so we know what will work and what can go wrong!

 Are you just starting out?

Setting up a business is an exciting time but without the right advice it can also be a legal minefield. If you are starting a business, your lawyer needs will depend on the size of your company or the field in which you are operating. Small companies or micro-entreprises with a sole trader tend to be the simplest form to set up. In the UK, companies can be set up and registered with Companies House online and in as quickly as 24 hours! Even so, there are certain mandatory procedures and applications you must file and other points to take into account from the outset (such as GDPR, contracts, IP…. check out our other article here for some tips on how to guarantee the success of your start-up) to make sure that you are building your company on the most solid foundations.

Data Protection (GDPR)

The world's most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data. The General Data Protection Regulation, otherwise known as the GDPR is a key new piece of legislation placing obligations on data controllers and processers both in Europe and beyond when they offer goods or services to EU residents or process their data. If you hold any personal information relating to your customers, employees or suppliers, it is likely the GDPR applies to you. Furthermore, even if you are based in the UK or make transfers to and from the UK from the EU, it is still likely that you will need to adhere to the GDPR principles, even in light of Brexit, as we explain in our recent insight.

Failing to comply with the GDPR has massive consequences for businesses, both financially and reputation wise. A lawyer can make sure you have the correct processes in place and all parties understand their obligations. Are you sure that your data processes are correct? Are you ready to handle a data breach?  Are your data processing contracts up to scratch? Perhaps you are transferring data from the EU internationally and need to rely on specific mechanisms such as the latest Japan adequacy decision or the EU-US Privacy Shield. In these cases, it is usually worth engaging a lawyer to look over your processes ASAP, since a bit of timely legal advice can save a lot of pain later on.

Protecting your ideas

Intellectual property includes inventions, art works, designs, symbols, logos, names, images, technology…and lots more! All of these are creations are protected by law. A lawyer specialized in intellectual property matters can help you protect these ideas from any competitors who may want to steal them and help you to exploit any works you have which are protected, which can help you to control your image and reputation and also help you make money when anyone uses these ideas with your permission. 

Do you use contracts?

Contracts can seem really tricky if you are not well versed in them. The best way to protect your business is to make sure you have effective contracts. We recently set out our top 5 tips you should follow to make sure your contracts are legally sound and protect your business, and while you don’t need a lawyer to draft your contracts for you or review contracts that your suppliers or business partners are asking you to sign, if you are unsure on any aspects of your contract, a lawyer will be the best option to make sure you are protecting your business, to ensure that any contractual terms are acceptable and also to let you know of any risks in going ahead with any given contractual deal.  

What technology do you use?

Tech and web based businesses are now huge players in the corporate world. More and more companies nowadays, for example, are using cloud software solutions. Of course, with this domination comes risks, especially in terms of consumer rights, data processing and cyber security.

If your company relies on technology to provide its services (from hosting data on a cloud through to using a CRM system) or is in the business of developing and selling or licensing technology to your customers, it is usually a good idea to get advice from a commercial lawyer to ensure that your use of new technologies is compliant. A lawyer in this field can help you comply with the right laws while you keep up with the latest developments and stay ahead of your competitors.

Prevention not cure 

These are just some of the reasons you might want advice from a lawyer, but not all! 

The best general advice we can give is that prevention is always better than looking for a cure. It is advisable to seek help for any matters you are not sure about, rather than waiting for any problems to crop up. At Gerrish Legal, we think that advising and accompanying business on day-to-day matters is the most fun, as we really get to know how you operate, and share in your successes and developments. We also think that having a lawyer accompany you for the long-haul is also the most efficient and productive way to do business, certainly when compared to business who only call up their lawyer in moments of stress or when you need to carry out some serious firefighting and damage control (although we can help you out with that too!)!

As usual, if you ever have any questions arising out of this article or about the legal needs for your business in general, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch for your free consultation!

Article by: Lily Morrison & Charlotte Gerrish @ Gerrish Legal

April 2019