The Lawyer and the Entrepreneur
For many entrepreneurs, hiring and subsequently working with a lawyer can be a daunting process.
First, it can be a costly endeavour; and a common misconception among many entrepreneurs is that the costs of working with a lawyer outweigh the benefits.
Second, some entrepreneurs do not view it as being desirable or necessary to become educated on the legal framework within which their businesses must operate, and often find themselves at a lawyer's door when it is too late. Indeed, most small businesses seek the assistance of a lawyer at the stage where litigation has already commenced.
The preventable damage has already occurred, and often the only remaining question is how much you will have to spend in court fees, damages and lawyer fees (for both sides of the claim if you are unsuccessful).
Useful Areas for Using an Attorney
Some may say that running a small business is fairly straightforward. There is an employer; there are workers who get paid; and the business offers various products and/or services. However, this may give rise to issues involving the compliance with various laws an regulations. Examples include:
• Five years into the operation of the business, how will you respond if you are notified that you have incurred penalties or could incur penalties for not having your annual general meetings?
• Is the business legally formed, in accordance with the provisions of the Companies Act? Or are you calling the business John Brown & Co when in fact the business is characterised by a sole trader masquerading as a company (which is illegal, might I add).
• Are the annual returns of the business being properly filed?
• Are you paying your employees minimum wage, at the very least?
• Have you established proper procedures within the ambit of the applicable laws for the termination of employment, so as to avoid a claim for wrongful dismissal against the business?
• If you manage a small business within the manufacturing sector, are you cognisant of the Health and Safety Regulations designed to safeguard employees? Are they common knowledge? Or is your work area a negligence claim time bomb, waiting to explode?
The range of questions and issues within the sphere of the law that an entrepreneur must consider are almost limitless. Indeed, a consideration of same without the assistance of the trained legal professionals to assist could cause a great deal of stress which is not to be handled like the ostrich, who buries his head in the sand. Ignorance of the law has never been, and I daresay never will be, a valid defence, neither will be "the cost of an attorney was too high, Your Honour".
The majority of lawyers in Jamaica have a set hourly rate. The key here is not to merely watch the dollars and cents, but to bear in mind that you are paying for deep expertise, and an understanding of complex legal matters, that you likely could not handle on your own. As many of our grandmothers would say, this is not the time to be penny wise and pound foolish. Good lawyers bear similarities to a business partner; they are bound by a duty of confidentiality, and are obligated to act in your best interest. A good lawyer may be entrusted with the most sensitive and pressing issues that your business may and will encounter. A good lawyer will also strive to directly address the legal issues of the business, and resolve them efficiently and with expedition.
Undoubtedly, all entrepreneurs would agree that such a commodity is priceless.
Lawyers are governed by a Canon of Professional Ethics that is strictly enforced. In contradistinction to other industries, good lawyers are incredibly professional in their dealings, and responsive to your communications.
Therefore, more often than not, the value of the services a lawyer may provide often exceeds their cost. On the other hand, a failure to have a lawyer in place opens the floodgates for unnecessary business risk, and may in fact prevent you from taking your business to the next level.
• Donia Joevion Fuller is an associate attorney at LEX Caribbean with an avid interest in International Business, Litigation and Corporate Commercial matters. Joevion may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.