How can I find a good solicitor?
To find an individual solicitor, use the solicitor search on the Law Society website www.lawsociety.org.uk . This gives details of every solicitor currently licensed to practise by the Law Society, including Registered European Lawyers and Registered Foreign Lawyers.
The Law Society, the professional body for solicitors also offers a scheme called Lawyers For Your Business. (LFYB) They will give you a list of participating solicitors in your area or with a particular specialisation for your needs and you will get a free half hour consultation. See the Duport freebies section for more information.
LFYB represents around 1,200 firms of solicitors in England and Wales which help ensure all businesses, but especially the smaller owner-managed ones, get access to sound legal advice whenever they need it. It recognises that, for fear of running up large legal bills, a business will often not consult a solicitor until they have a serious problem. Most businesses can save themselves the risk of incurring high legal costs with a free consultation to diagnose the problem and detailed likely costs of proceeding. Managed and promoted by the Law Society, it has been welcomed by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and other small business organisations.
Recommendations are always good, so ask other businesses and business associates if they can recommend their own solicitor. If you belong to a trade or professional association they may have useful contacts who deal with your type of business. Look on the Trade Association Forum (TAF) website to find your trade association www.taforum.org . You can also use your local Business Link.
What can I expect from a solicitor?
Solicitors in England and Wales are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
You have the right to be treated with care and professionalism by your solicitor. A solicitor should act in your best interests and in accordance with the law. The standards are set out in a code of conduct which all solicitors must follow.
What are the most common key areas small businesses need legal advice for?
- Company structure – whether to trade as self-employed, a partnership or a limited company, and to make sure the proper legal agreements are drawn up.
- Business premises – negotiating and making sure you understand the terms of your lease.
- Dealing with regulations – many new regulations are specific to particular sectors. You need to be aware if they apply to you. See Business Link and get the latest changes emailed to you in good time.
- Contract terms and service levels – you should be sure of your legal responsibilities to customers and suppliers.
- Protecting your business ideas and confirming ownership – making sure any intellectual property rights to your product or service are protected and that you’re not infringing the rights of other businesses.
- Debt control – protecting you against bad debts and advice on debt collecting.
- Franchising – anyone going into franchising needs to check all the small print with a specialist lawyer.
- Employment law. Get this wrong and you can face a hefty bill. Changes are frequent – eight new laws in 2008 alone. Check the interactive section at Business Link.
- Disagreements and problems. Partners or shareholders fall out, people get sick or die. See the Duport legal checklist for more detailed information.
How can I get free legal advice for my business?
Most businesses can save themselves the risk of incurring high legal costs with a free consultation to diagnose the problem and full information on action and likely costs of proceeding. The Law Society, the professional body for solicitors offers a scheme called Lawyers For Your Business. (LFYB) They will give you a list of participating solicitors in your area or with a particular specialisation for your needs and you will get a free half hour consultation. See the Duport freebies section for more information.
Lawyers For Your Business is a network of 1,200 solicitor firms in England and Wales offering specialist advice to small and medium sized businesses. Most small firms don’t consult solicitors for fear of large bills, but early consultation can save lot of money, especially if there is legislation to be complied with and legal documents such as contracts to be prepared.
How much do solicitors cost?
Fees vary between solicitors. Costs depend on your individual circumstances, the experience and knowledge of your solicitor and the type of advice you need.
Take advantage of free consultations, ask for an estimate of costs before you decide to go ahead and compare with other firms in your area. Get recommendations if possible. Most solicitors charge an hourly rate for their services, but some offer packages for small businesses which include yearly fees. Check carefully what is included/excluded.
Do solicitors do pro bono work for businesses?
LawWorks is the operating name of the Solicitors Pro Bono Group (SPBG). SPBG is an independent charity which aims to increase the delivery of free legal advice to individuals and communities in need. Generally they deal with charities and not for profit companies. If you have a Trade Association they may offer some free advice and various insurances offer free legal advice with their packages.
What questions should I ask before engaging a solicitor?
Ensure you ask the following questions and are satisfied with the answers before you engage a solicitor.
- Does the solicitor understand the nature of your business? Provide a summary to help if necessary.
- Is the solicitor comfortable with the work you want them to do and happy you can work together?
- What qualifications does he or she hold? An absolute must is a practising certificate issued by the Law Society (normally prominently displayed), but they may also have addition qualifications or specialist areas of interest. If these are relevant to you it may be worth paying extra, but if you don’t need the service you might find a cheaper alternative.
- What is the hourly rate? Rates will vary, but compare with other local rates to get a rough idea what you should be paying.
- Can the solicitor outline what they will do for you in order for you to meet your goals?
- Does the solicitor speak in clear, plain language and not confuse you with legal jargon? If a solicitor cannot explain everything clearly you should go elsewhere.
- What practical solutions can they provide? You want specific targets to be met so let the solicitor outline exactly what they will do for your business.
- How often will the solicitor be in contact – will it be by phone, email, writing or face to face? Will you always deal with the same person, or will you be passed to a junior?
- Will you be provided with a client care letter that sets out terms of business and a complaints procedure? Any decent solicitor will provide this, so if they don’t it should set alarm bells ringing.
- What other services may they provide as your business develops? The firm may have a range of services on employment law or insurance and it may work out more cost effective to use them.
- Are there any hidden charges or extras that may be lumped onto your bill? It is not only the rate that is important, but the extras that could be added on, so make sure there aren’t any, or if there are you know exactly what they are.
- Is there anything particular to your business the solicitor can help with?
How can I check my solicitor is qualified and insured?
All solicitors must hold a practising certificate issued by the Law Society (the only exception to this is if they are only employed by your business). The certificate guarantees the solicitor is qualified and has insurance to protect you if anything goes wrong. Most solicitors display these prominently in their offices, but you should also check credentials – and pending complaints or disciplinary proceedings or restrictions affecting their ability to practice on the Law Society’s website www.lawsociety.org.uk .
If it is a company or LLP, you may want to check Companies House for date of incorporation. If they are directors you can verify they are not disqualified. You might want to check if the solicitor specialises solely on business law.
How do I complain about my solicitor?
Act quickly if you need to complain by writing directly to the person who handles complaints (normally this person is named in the client care letter provided at the beginning). Outline the problem and ask for confirmation of who will deal with it and how long it will take. If the complaint is about the bill do it quickly (time limits apply if you need to take the complaint to the next level).
Hopefully any complaint will be quickly resolved but if you need to go further you can take the complaint to the Law Society’s Consumer Complaints Service (CCS). This independent body will try to arbitrate between you and the solicitor and can award compensation if necessary. The Legal Complaints Service is an independent complaints handling body. It is part of the Law Society but operates independently. www.legalcomplaints.org.uk The helpline number is 0845 608 6565. If the complaint cannot be resolved to your satisfaction you might be able to complain to the Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman (OLSO) about the CCS, although OLSO only looks at how the complaint has been handled and not the original complaint.
Where can I go for more information?
Useful websites include:
- www.lawsociety.org.uk Law Society
www.olso.org Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman
www.taforum.org Find a trade association
www.olso.org Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman
What are the current employment laws?
- Disability Discrimination Act 1995
- Employment Rights Act 1996
- Data Protection Act 1998
- Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation Act 1992)
- Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act 1993
- Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981
- Equal Pay Act 1970 and 1983
- Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and 1986
- Race Relations Act 1976
- Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
- The Management of Health and Safety at work regulations 1999
- The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 is due to come into affect in May 2008.
- Most of the Trades Description Act and other laws that protect consumers from being treated unfairly will be replaced.