For many businesses, a full-time in-house lawyer is an operating cost that they can’t justify. Similarly, going to a law firm for advice soon becomes expensive. However, with the current pandemic creating new risks and uncertainties, making decisions without recourse to legal expertise can feel increasingly uncomfortable. What are your options for tapping into affordable legal support — other than law firms — and how can they help you right now?
Flexible legal service companies
Companies like Obelisk Support provide ad hoc legal support that is delivered by trained lawyers, usually working part-time and remotely. Depending on the work you need help with, they will match you with lawyers who have the specific skills and experience you need, in the UK and overseas.
Pros: Advice and any documentation produced is tailored exactly to what you and your business need, giving you extra protection and requiring you to do less work. You can work with the same lawyer each time, so you’re supported by someone who really gets to know you and your business. In fact, they can become a useful ally. Can increase your effectiveness in negotiations by helping you decide when to stand your ground and when requests from third parties are a reasonable compromise.
Cons: Eats into your budget more than relying on self-service options like those below, but usually costs between 40% and 70% less than doing equivalent work with a traditional law firm.
Best right now for: Established and growing mid-size companies, and those based overseas looking for advice on doing business in the UK. Useful for advice on negotiating, entering or exiting commercial contracts, guidance on potential risks in areas such as employment, IP and supply chain.
DIY online legal documents
There are numerous websites offering businesses access to online templates for contracts and policies. You add the information specific to your business, the document is created online and then, usually for a small fee, you can download it. Some companies also provide access to more detailed legal advice on request, for an extra fee.
Pros: Easy to access, diverse range of documents on offer covering most areas of commercial law. Guidance is usually easy to follow and written with non-lawyers in mind. This is a relatively inexpensive option.
Cons: Relies on you understanding the best type of contract or policy for the job at hand and on you providing information accurately online. Can get time-consuming, taking time away from more important tasks.
Best right now for: Experienced managers who know what they need. Useful for basic agreements and internal policies, such as those for Remote and Flexible Working.
Support from membership bodies
Organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses provide access to legal helplines, guidance online and template documents as part of their membership fee.
Pros: Included alongside other benefits in one membership fee, easy to access, and designed specifically for the needs of the organisation’s members. Membership may also include legal costs insurance.
Cons: Most guidance won’t be tailored specifically to your business, some areas of advice may not be provided for.
Best right now for: Solo entrepreneurs, smaller businesses or those who are just starting out. Useful for basic guidance on schemes like the UK government’s furlough programme.
In the UK, we are at the very beginning of loosening lockdown measures. The next few months will see particular emphasis for businesses of all sizes on:
- Supply chain management – contract negotiations and review
- Customer contracts – negotiations with existing customers and creation of new agreements for new services
- Loans and funding – agreeing new terms and accessing government support
- Employment matters – redundancies, furlough, zero hours contracts for emergency staff
- Health & safety policies and compliance
- Data protection and privacy policies
As the economy begins to come back to full-strength around the world, protecting cash flow is key. At the same time, you need to make sure that decisions you take now minimise legal and compliance risks further down the line. Making the most of the different types of legal services that are out there helps you look after your business and maximise new opportunities as they emerge.