Today more than half of businesses are handling their own legal matters amid widespread concern about the value for money offered by law firms, according to a major Legal Services Board research project. And a significant number are shopping around looking for cut price legal services.
Yet, failure to take legal advice before embarking upon significant business change can have dire results. How many business owners have the necessary depth of knowledge to understand when they might be making a decision that introduces or exacerbates risk to the business?
Rather than respond to the clear commercial needs of UK businesses, some law firms have taken a different tack, with the consequence that services are packaged into a neat, one size fits all model.
This is unlikely to meet the needs of clients as there are many different ways to approach business issues and potential problems. Legal advice is about far more than the law; it is about ensuring the commercial requirements of a business are met within the most effective and appropriate legal framework.
Where there’s an on-going, trusted relationship, businesses will receive tailored advice that can help them achieve appropriate answers to problems specific to them.
So how should businesses approach their relationship with a legal advisor? Speak to a lawyer who is interested in you and your business.
One who is willing to put time and effort into understanding your needs and issues and then invests his time in you without the clock running.
At the most basic level, see your law firm regularly for lunch or coffee. Expect a regular call to discuss the state of your business and its strategic direction. Invite your lawyer to attend or review board meetings.
More importantly, reject a transaction based relationship where every interaction is billable.
In many ways the legal market can only blame itself for this devaluing of services. When a business owner fears that even a ten minute chat to discuss options is another billable interaction, it is no wonder organisations avoid contacting any lawyer unless a specific legal transaction is required.
Either way, few organisations are actively embracing the commercial knowledge and know-how of law firms.
The law market is offering a choice. Some organisations will buy on price, deciding the risk is justified. However, for organisations that want to minimise commercial risk, reinforce flexibility or simply gain quick reassurance, an on-going relationship with a legal partner should be an essential part of the business strategy.
Simon Deans is partner and practice group leader for corporate and commercial at B P Collins.
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