Business Owner’s Guide to Lawyers

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Jo Rogers

Founder & CEO
NaviStar Legal

It is a commonly held perception among small businesses that lawyers just cost too much. After all, many practices bill for telephone calls and for every 6 minute interval. Often you only know the costs at the end of the work.

Many smaller businesses believe that a way to avoid legal costs is not to take legal advice at all. As a result these businesses then run unquantifiable risks and may end up paying a lawyer a small fortuneto fix issues after it goes wrong.

Businesses particularly at risk at are those that (i) sought or received equity or funding from sources other than friends and families; (ii) download their competitor terms and conditions; (iii) have two or more shareholders but no shareholder’s agreement; or (iv) are in industries with new regulation (i.e. telecoms).

Love them or loathe them, lawyers are experts at managing the legal risks of businesses. Indeed, it is their primary purpose for existing as a profession. The problem is that they don’t always deliver that expertise at a price businesses can afford. So if the idea of writing a “blank cheque” to a solicitor is not an option, here are some suggestions to get the wisdom you deserve at a price you can afford:

1. Swat up on the legal issues. We’re not suggesting that you get a law degree or that you study law in your spare time, but learn some of the contractual basics through articles like this and put them into practice through your business systems. Ask your lawyer for regular updates on a topic of interest to you.

2. Be clear about the scope. Often costs are high because either the client or the lawyer is not clear about exactly what needs to be achieved. Like in any service industry, writing a clear legal brief including details of “why?” you want to get something done is an easy way to minimise costs.

3. Ask your lawyer for a health check. If you haven’t yet assessed the legal risks in your business, gain some insights into your priorities with a legal health check. Your lawyer should be able to provide a free and no obligation conversation to understand your business and become more actively involved from the start. If you would like to receive a due diligence report on your business, guidance on your priorities and a free standard template, email us at for more details.

4. Use them often. Find a good lawyer that comes highly recommended and speak with them often. If possible, ask them to work on a retainer so that costs are fixed and easier to manage. Really understand what value they can bring to your team. Again, be pro-active. Don’t let them talk about “being commercial”, but get them to show you.

5. Ask for fixed costs. If you don’t ask you won’t get. Many lawyers will work on a fixed cost basis, especially if it is an ongoing relationship.

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