Lawyers get a bad press generally, especially as far as small companies are concerned. They are regarded as too expensive, too slow, and speaking a complicated language which only they understand. They are not even particularly trusted. So what is it that divides us?
Well, when did you last hear a lawyer say “That will be cheaper than you expected”? Or “I can do that quicker than you expected”? Or “That’s really easy to explain”? The perception that lawyers are difficult to deal with makes their profession seem self-serving rather than serving their community – the title of this blog sounds like a bit of a contradiction in terms.
It’s as though lawyers were aliens – living on a different planet, talking a different language, and to be avoided…
There are plenty of exceptions of course, but the telling evidence is that over 50 percent of small companies do not use a lawyer, according to research by the Legal Services Board. They would rather take the risk of using their own paperwork or no paperwork, with all the attendant problems which can arise in terms of protecting their own revenues, margins and exit values.
There are 5 million small companies in this country and they are widely regarded as representing the engine-room of the economic recovery. They represent nearly two thirds of the people employed in this country and very nearly half the revenues which UK Plc creates. They need to use legal documents and take legal advice at every step of the way as they create value – whether they are dealing with shareholders, partners, investors, employees, consultants, software developers, trading partners, distributors, sales partners, suppliers, manufacturers, regulatory bodies, online customers and many others. Without that help legal car-crashes are inevitable…
We just need some new lawyer super-heroes to do it….
Just imagine that there was a law firm which wanted to do things differently for small companies so as to enable this – what would its Manifesto be?
Firstly, such a law firm would believe that “the Law is for Everybody”, not just those with deep pockets or influential friends or big corporations.
Secondly this Manifesto would insist that “Everybody has the right to understand the legal documents they sign”. Too often documents are expressed in old fashioned and complicated legalistic language which lawyers understand but clients don’t. This applies when we deal with big institutions like pensions, banks and mortgage lenders, or when we sign up via websites for services from big providers like network operators. It also frequently applies when lawyers draft contracts for small companies – resulting in the document not actually reflecting what the two businesses intend it should say, with all the resulting misunderstandings and risks of dispute.
Thirdly, this law firm would believe in keeping “Small companies safe and sound at a price they can afford”. Small companies don’t want to take legal risks, but neither do they want to pay expensive fees in order to subsidise the partnership structures, marble hallways or mahogany boardrooms of traditional law-firms, or to pay for the creation of a whole new document when actually all that the lawyer had to do was to top and tail an existing precedent.
Next the Manifesto would insist on “Value to clients before value to Lawyers”. This is something of an inversion of the traditional legal charging system which often starts off by working out how much the law firm needs to charge in order to take care of its own financial expectations, rather than focusing first on what value should be provided to the client.
Finally, in addressing these concerns this law firm’s Manifesto would seek to “Restore Trust in the Law” – to move away from a situation in which lawyers are sometimes regarded with suspicion and cynicism, and used with reluctance, to one in which clients are happy to use the law firm because they know that the firm has their interests at heart, and they will get advice they understand at a price they can afford.
If only such a law firm existed, small companies would have a genuine alternative to help them take care of business…
[Clive Rich is the Chairman and founder of “LawBite”, providing “Simple Law for Small Companies”. Click here and scroll down for the LawBite Promise. LawBite recently came second in Nominet’s National Awards for “The most innovative company in Britain doing social good on the internet”]