Lawyers aren’t on everyone’s Christmas card lists. As with the building or plumbing trades, many people are wary of the legal profession, after hearing horror stories about high fees and misleading advice. But it shouldn’t be like that. Your legal adviser should be there to help you find your way through any business query, contract or dispute.
All Which? Trusted traders are entitled to use the Which? Legal service. Which? Legal staff are available via email or a helpline (call 01992 822828) for assistance with any personal legal queries. Experienced legal professionals will offer guidance on issues such as complaints about goods or services, wills and probate, landlord and tenancy, motoring and so on. However, they do not cover business legal advice.
If you’re looking for a lawyer for your business, as with finding any service, a good place to start is to ask friends, colleagues or other businesses in your network for their recommendations. Traders operating similar-sized business to yours may have particularly relevant experiences to share – either positive or negative. Google or other online sites may have reviews, too.
You can also look online – the Law Society has a searchable database of registered firms throughout the UK. But it does help to have some idea of what type of lawyer you’re looking for first.
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Solicitor or barrister
Lawyer is a catch-all term broadly covering two very different types of legal professional – barristers and solicitors. For most of your legal queries you will need the services of a solicitor. Different solicitors will be able to advise on contracting, business structures, handling disputes and so on.
Barristers work in court – they’re the ones wearing wigs and gowns, and represent the prosecution and defence. Unless you’re involved in a court case, you won’t need a barrister. You’d usually need a solicitor to retain (hire) a barrister, in any event.
Different fields or specialities of law
The law is a huge area, and solicitors will have different fields of specialist legal knowledge. These will fall into categories such as:
- company law
- small-business law
- employment law (dealing with workplace issues, such as unfair dismissal)
- immigration and asylum law
- family law (dealing with divorce or adoption)
- clinical or medical negligence
- personal injury claims.
When you’re looking for a solicitor to advise your business, ensure they have expertise in the area that’s important to you. For most traders, that will be small-business law or company law.
Keep it local
There are thousands of solicitor firms around the UK, so chances are there will be some local to you. The advantages of using a local company are that you can meet face to face, build up a relationship, and they are likely to know about issues facing businesses in your area.
Meet potential advisers
It’s worth investing a little time and effort to research potential advisers to make sure you’ve got the right solicitor for your business.
Draw up a shortlist of two or three companies, either from personal recommendations or that you’ve found locally. Give them a call, explain you’re looking for representation, and gauge the reaction you get. Ideally, you’re looking for an adviser who is interested in your business and has time to offer you the support you need with your legal queries. A face-to-face meeting will allow you to assess whether you’re likely to get along with your potential advisers.
Before meeting a solicitor you’re thinking of working with, draw up a list of areas where you may require advice, either now or in the future, and check that they have experience of dealing with these specific areas. It’s entirely reasonable to ask a potential adviser what experience they have dealing with businesses like yours.
Depending on your business, you may require advice on areas such as:
- deciding whether to operate as a sole trader, partnership or limited company – our article about whether to register for VAT has more details
- registering your business name as a trademark – see our article about how this can protect your brand for more
- how to register your name with Companies House if you become a limited company
- intellectual property rights around your business and its branding
- leases on business premises
- contracts for the sale or purchase of goods
- staff employment contracts and rights
- contracts with business providers, such as accountants
- specific laws or regulations for your trade.
Have details and any necessary paperwork to hand, including identification, when meeting with your solicitor.
One of the major reasons that people are wary of engaging legal advisers is the costs involved. But in the long term, the right legal advice should be money well invested.
Always ask upfront how a solicitor will charge for their services. You are entitled to shop around and compare prices in exactly the same way you would for any other service.