Running a business of course comes with legal responsibility, but knowing what’s required and how to comply with law can be difficult, particularly for many smaller businesses that don’t have the resources, budget or in-house team for legal support.
The coronavirus pandemic has emphasised how hard it can be for businesses to navigate legal changes and to find the right legal support and legal advice.
What legal help is actually needed in business? We ask the experts this question today in order to shed light on:
- Where to spend your money in terms of legal support
- When a business should seek help
- Specific coronavirus problems and solutions
- Reducing your legal expenses
- What to look for in lawyers
Rolf Howard, Managing Partner, Owen Hodge Lawyers
Often it is the most challenging or exciting milestones in a business which raise the need for legal help. Certainly in the COVID-19 environment, certain legal issues for businesses are coming to a head.
Regulation is changing rapidly and compliance is critical. An example is the temporary changes to insolvency rules which give Directors more time and leniency before needing to pursue formal insolvency procedures, while also making it more difficult for businesses to recover debts from other businesses. Many businesses are closely examining the conditions in their commercial leases in order to negotiate rental relief or to seek an early termination. Contract disputes are likely to be on the rise and many businesses may be looking at succession planning more closely.
The unprecedented conditions have been a sobering reminder of why it’s so important to get the right legal advice to bolster your business – in good times and bad.
Naomi J.Saba, General Counsel, MoneyMe
Prior to joining MoneyMe as General Counsel I worked with a number of SMEs and understand that in the early stages of business legal work can be expensive. The good news is that there are some great legal resources which are also free. A business needs legal infrastructure to run effectively and create a reputable brand. For example, high-quality legal documents are essential for issuing or selling shares, indemnifying your directors, protecting your customers personal info, entering into contracts and confidentiality agreements, protecting company assets and employing staff. Check out the A-Suite: a free service allowing you to download legal documents with user‑friendly guidance. Another important area is trademarks. A trademark is not your business name, company name or domain name. Having these will not protect your brand on their own. Check out Trade Mark Assist: a free online interactive assistant which will help you register your own trademarks.
Ben Thompson, CEO and co-founder, Employment Hero
While a business’ legal needs will differ depending on their industry, service, customer-base and team, there are some fundamental legal considerations that every small business owner should keep in mind.
In Australia, there are several business structures to choose from when establishing a small business. Be sure to dedicate time to selecting the right one for you, as this will have a lasting impact, and can be costly and difficult to change later on. From the beginning, keep your personal and business funds separate; this will not only save yourself a headache come tax time, but will make it easier to access funding from third parties as your business grows.
Clear contracts are crucial to keeping you, your business and your employees safe. Although verbal agreements can be binding, they are much harder to fall back on if something goes wrong; that’s why written contracts are always the safest option. Similarly, be sure to lock down your Intellectual Property (IP). Too often, we hear of small businesses having their ideas stolen by larger, more powerful organisations. Register your product or offering under IP Protection to guarantee ownership of your hard work.
Finally, speak to a legal professional about the needs of your business. Although it can be costly upfront, professional legal consultancy is well-worth the peace of mind.
Farah Essack, Legal Counsel, GoCardless
Find a lawyer who gets your business, and who can provide you with simple, short-form non-disclosure and employment agreements for you to use on a repeatable basis.
Make sure you are storing and recording your contracts. Your choice of system doesn’t need to be expensive or sophisticated, but it pays to have some process in place from the outset, especially while your business is small and agile. Recording and storing your key contracts means you are better equipped to find and track important dates. This is particularly important to ensure you don’t miss renewal deadlines for suppliers. It can be an expensive exercise to leave this until the last minute, as you won’t have the luxury of time to negotiate better pricing, or you might end up being tied to an additional years’ worth of spend with a supplier that you weren’t planning to use in future.
Laura Keily, Founder and Managing Director, Immediation
Whether it’s navigating employee relations, debt recovery, franchise disputes or the negotiation of contracts, disputes are an inevitable part of building a business. But the law is an adversarial process, and while it may seem like the clearest pathway to resolution, inciting legal action can place a huge emotional – and financial – burden on those involved. Small businesses spend an average of $130,000 to resolve disputes, impacting not only their bottom line, but also valuable business relationships.
Seeking alternative dispute resolution – like an expert mediator to amicably resolve disputes – can be crucial in facilitating cost-effective compromise and early deal-making, while ensuring that a business’s reputation, balance sheet and relationships remain intact. This is particularly vital in today’s fraught climate, with many businesses feeling the impact of disrupted supply chains, decreased foot-traffic and economic instability. Relationships are the heart of business and now more than ever, it is crucial that parties can look past emotions to find the most cost-effective and beneficial solution, so they can get back to the business at hand.
Katie Black, general counsel, GO1
Legal advice needs to be commercial, responsive and practical. The needs of a small business are very different to an established organisation and will of course change as the business expands and scales. It is particularly helpful if the business is surrounded and supported by “trusted advisors” who understand all aspects of the operations. This ensures that advice is comprehensive, contextualised and proactive. It really pays off to establish relationships early with excellent legal, tax and financial advisors who can work together.
The types of legal advice will obviously depend on the business and the industry but from an early stage can include advice around the corporate and tax structure, the commercial contracts which govern relationships with customers and suppliers, data privacy and data security, employees, the protection of intellectual property and consumer law.
The best legal help for a small business will always be solution-oriented and driven to help the business achieve its outcomes.
Troy Mossley, Senior Associate, Sierra Legal
Our top tip is whatever legal help you need, obtain that help early and obtain it from a specialist in the particular legal area. In our experience, many business owners believe that it will be quicker (which they generally relate to ‘cheaper’!) if lawyers are engaged at the last minute and/or are only engaged on a certain part of a matter. However, it can often be more efficient and costs can be saved if your lawyer is involved early in the matter as they can provide guidance and recommendations to ensure that you are taking into account all relevant risks and legal issues. This approach could save you time and costs in the long run. Before you need assistance we recommend that you work with your lawyer to develop a plan as to when and how assistance will be provided.