Yesterday, I wrote that whether your business actually needs a lawyer depends on how you feel about risk. As a business owner it’s important that you learn to be a calculated risk taker who can create a plan and implement it; part of that education is knowing when to take advice from a professional.
I would recommend that you seek advice from a lawyer in the following areas:
Setting up your business structure
The two structures that business owners usually start with are a sole trader and a limited company. The reason that I’d suggest that you consult a lawyer at this stage is to get your structure right from the very start. Each of us is different and a lawyer can advise you taking into account your particular tax situation and whether you have any assets that need protecting.
Can’t I set up a company myself? Is it that hard?
Yes and No.
The mechanics of filling in the forms and filing them you can do yourself. It is what comes next that causes me concern. Do you know what your duties as a director are? Do you know what registers and records that your company needs to keep and for how long? Do you know what needs to be filed and when? Have you read the constitution that your company adopted when it was formed? Did you realise that you had adopted one?! Do you know if that constitution is right for your company and its shareholders (this is especially true if you have more than 1 shareholder)?
Website Terms and Conditions
Can’t I just copy someone else’s terms and conditions?
You could but I would suggest you think over a couple of points first. Who wrote those terms and conditions? Was it someone who knew what they were doing? Did that author copy them from someone else; deleting certain parts that they thought weren’t essential for them but may be essential for you? Do they have the same business as you? Which country are they based in? Selling to?
This is where a lawyer comes in useful. Not only should they have standard terms and conditions that they can provide you with but they can tailor them to fit to your particular business.
The biggest area where businesses can get themselves into trouble is when they don’t know what they don’t know. Think about it.
Contracts (or agreements if you prefer)
Do I really need a contract? I trust my client, friend, friend of my friend…
You can rely on what is called an oral contract. As you guessed this is simply a case of what you have said to each other. The trouble is that people are only human and our memory isn’t as good as we would like to think it is. We also hear what we want to so you may think you have agreement but in fact there is a misunderstanding that only comes to light later on. A simple contract with a list of “I will…” and “You will…” can take away any issues in the future.
I’ve worked in organisations where there were strict rules that no contracts can be made by an exchange of emails. Again, I think this is a good idea as emails are usually written in a more casual language than contracts and misunderstandings can happen easily. How many times have you misunderstood a message in an email?
Look, contracts don’t need to be written in a very formal legal language and they don’t need to rival War and Peace. If a contract is well written then you won’t actually need to refer to it that much as all of the issues will have been discussed as it was being written. I always like to think of a contract as a map for the business relationship; if all concerned have clear directions then getting to the desired destination is that much easier.
I’ve been drafting contracts since the start of my legal career (that’s 17 years) and it never ceases to surprise me, when I begin to ask questions of my client, that certain areas haven’t been thought over or it’s clear that the parties to the contract have a different understanding of the same matter.
In my experience contracts are a very useful tool because they flush out issues or misunderstandings right at the start of the business relationship. This can mean less stress for all concerned.
As an added bonus you will get taken far more seriously if you have a contract that your lawyer has drafted rather than admitting that you “got it off the internet”.
This is one area that I wouldn’t attempt to do by myself as there are many technicalities that need to be considered. You don’t want sign up to a 2 year lease for your beautiful new tea shop only to find that you aren’t allowed to put any signage at the front of the building!
Grab your free copy of the Legal Health workbook, designed to help you get clear on the legals you need in business, so you can begin to create a solid business foundation – and never have another sleepless night wondering if your legal ducks are in a row.
Disclaimer: This article is an educational resource designed to make you aware of some of the legal needs of your business. The information provided should be treated as a guide only and should not take the place of hiring a lawyer. Reading this article does not create a lawyer-client relationship between us. If you have a specific legal issue you need help with, you need to hire a lawyer.