Every business, at some point during their life, will face legal issues for which they will need to hire a lawyer. It is no secret that lawyers are expensive: they often charge by the hour and their rates are often sky-high.
It is thereby important that you understand exactly how to prepare for every meeting with your lawyer to ensure you use time with your lawyer wisely. This will ensure you get value for money and will ensure you are not met with surprise when the lawyer delivers you a bill for their services.
This blog will outline a list of questions you should ask your lawyer when having preliminary discussions about your legal issue. It will focus on the questions you should ask a commercial lawyer. Commercial lawyers are lawyers who work on legal issues relating to business transactions. They mainly focus on contractual issues arising from such transactions.
There are two types of question you should be asking a potential lawyer.
Firstly, you should be asking general questions about the lawyer. These general questions generally concern the lawyer’s background and experience. The aim of these questions is to ascertain whether the lawyer is suitable to handle your issue.
Secondly, you should be asking specific questions regarding your legal issue. The aim of these questions is to ascertain exactly how the lawyer will deal with your legal issue.
In this section, we will be focusing on the first type of question: general questions about the lawyer.
Here is a list of general questions you should ask a commercial lawyer:
Some lawyers may have practiced the law for a long time and may be highly experienced. Other lawyers may be relatively inexperienced.
Generally, the more experienced a lawyer is, the greater their expertise in a particular area of law. It takes years of practice for lawyers, dealing with cases in a particular area of law, to develop deep expertise in that area.
This doesn’t mean, however, that your legal issues will not be dealt with equally as well by a lawyer will lesser experience.
Whether you should opt for a more experienced lawyer, who has practiced the law for longer, or a less experienced lawyer will be influenced by how complex your legal issue is and your budget amongst other factors.
This is an important question because lawyers are specialists. Lawyers generally spend the majority of their careers practicing one particular area of law.
You should make sure to ask your lawyer what type of cases they generally handle. This will give you an idea of how much of their work is dedicated to the particular area of law that your issue concerns.
The more cases the lawyer has handled in the area of law that your issue concerns, the more experience they will have and the better, in turn, they will be able to navigate and handle your issue.
This is another important question that people often forget to ask their lawyers.
By asking this question, you should intend to find out whether your lawyer’s typical clients are individuals or companies.
If you are a company, and a lawyer only represents individuals, the lawyer may not be suitable for your needs. This is because there are likely to be different considerations, which must be taken into account by a lawyer when resolving your legal issue when you are a company as opposed to an individual.
For the same reason, it is important to determine the size of business the lawyer typically represents. For instance, a lawyer may only represent large corporations. Such a lawyer will likely be unsuitable if you are a small business.
You do not want to be met with surprise when you receive the final bill from your lawyer. It is therefore important to ask your lawyer how they will charge you for their services.
These are the typical pricing structures used by commercial lawyers:
(a) Hourly Rate: This is when lawyers charge based on the time – the number of hours – they spend dealing with your particular issue. For each hour they spend, they will charge you a particular rate – which can be $100 all the way to $1000 per hour, depending on the lawyer. This is the most common means by which lawyers charge clients.
(b) Flat Fee: This is when lawyers charge a flat fee to help deal with one of your legal issues. This method is generally used by lawyers for legal matters that are predictable – such as the drawing up of a will.
(c) Retainer Fee: You will give the lawyer a sum of money upfront – a ‘retainer’ – from which the lawyer will deduct amounts based on their hourly rate, as the lawyer proceeds with handling your issue.
By asking this question, you will walk away knowing whether you can afford the lawyer’s services and how you will be required to pay should you decide to hire the lawyer.
As a follow up to this question, you should ask for an estimate of the cost to deal with your issue as well. You should bear in mind that these are only estimates and are likely going to be subject to change as the lawyer actually begins working on your problem.
Often, lawyers are not the only persons involved in helping you deal with your legal issue. Other persons will likely be involved including paralegals and legal assistants.
If others will be involved in working on your legal issue, you should ensure that their time will be billed at a lower rate than any lawyers.
You should ask your lawyer whether there are any other, less expensive means to resolve your legal issue. Sometimes, your issue will be able to be competently dealt with by a company secretary or other professional. A good lawyer would inform you that this is the case.
When dealing with legal disputes, communication is critical.
Ask the lawyer when you will hear from them. You will want to ensure you are receiving timely updates about progress and about any key events that have happened with regards to your legal issue.
It is also important to establish how communication should be had – whether by email, text or otherwise.
You should ask the commercial lawyer to provide you with references from other small businesses that they have advised in the past.
You should also try to do your own due diligence online – try searching their name online and see if anyone has left any reviews regarding their services.
If they can show you that they have a track record of successfully helping businesses similar to you, then they might be a good fit for you.
In this section, we will be focusing on the second type of question: specific questions regarding your legal issue.
Here is a list of specific questions you should ask a commercial lawyer regarding your legal issue.
Every party to a contract will have both rights and obligations.
Rights are a set of entitlements that a party to a contract benefits from as part of a contract. For instance, a party to a sale of goods contract might have a right to purchase a particular product, the right to sell a product or a right to be the only seller of a particular product.
Obligations on the other hand are a set of duties or responsibilities that a party agrees to perform within a contract. For instance, a party to a sale of goods contract might have the obligation to make payment for goods by a particular date.
Whenever confronted with a commercial dispute, you should ask your lawyer what rights you are entitled to and what obligations you are subject to under your contract in the situation.
For instance, let’s say you find yourself in a situation where you are struggling to get a customer to pay you for goods you have sold them. You should ask your lawyer what rights you have in this situation. After reviewing your contract, your lawyer may inform you that you have the right to charge interest on the outstanding amounts.
When facing a legal issue, one of the key questions you should ask your lawyer is the risks and liabilities you are exposed to. This question is especially important where you think you are the wrongdoer but is also important when you feel you are the innocent party as well.
Liabilities refer to the responsibility of a party for the losses or damages incurred by another party.
You should also ask your lawyer as to the extent of any risks or liabilities. The extent of any risks or liabilities may help you determine the best course of action to resolve your dispute, such as whether to pursue a settlement or sue the other party.
Despite a wrong being committed by another party in the context of a business transaction, this might not necessarily mean you have the right to bring any claim.
There may be a clause within your contract, which you have agreed to, which precludes you from bringing a claim for that wrong. For instance, you might have agreed to an exclusion clause in your contract, which explicitly states that you will not hold the other party liable for the wrong you are complaining of.
Other times, there may be legislation that has the effect of precluding you from bringing a claim.
For instance, many countries have a ‘statute of limitations' or ‘limitations act’. This is a piece of legislation that places a limit on the time, after the date the wrong is committed, during which you can bring a claim for that wrong. You cannot bring a claim after this limited period of time is over.
This is an important question. Sometimes, despite having a valid legal claim for which you are likely to be compensated, the compensation you will be entitled to may be minimal.
In fact, the compensation you may be entitled to might be less than the legal fees you will have to dish out to your lawyer.
In such instances, where the compensation owed is minimal, it might not be worth the time and hassle of taking formal legal action.
By asking your lawyer this question, you avoid this untoward situation.
Often, disputes end up being resolved by way of negotiation. Instead of suing the other party, the parties often negotiate and agree on a fee that is to be paid by the wrongdoer to the innocent party to settle the dispute between the parties.
Essentially, the parties agree to a compensation payment to be made by one party to the other and in exchange, the other party agrees to waive any claims associated with the dispute.
Parties often prefer settlement over litigation as litigation is stressful, time-consuming and costly.
The parties often execute a settlement agreement – a legally binding agreement that ensures the full and final settlement of all claims one party has against the other for a consideration received from the other party.
To learn more about settlement agreements, read more at: https://docpro.com/blog65/what-is-a-settlement-agreement-with-templates
Please note that this is a general summary of the position under common law and does not constitute legal advice. As the laws of each jurisdiction may be different, you may wish to consult your lawyer.
DocPro Legal is a team of legal professionals with a passion for making quality documents and legal contract templates widely available to the public through cutting edge technology. Our lawyers are qualified in numerous common law jurisdictions including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, India, Singapore and Hong Kong. We have experience in major law firms and international banks with expertise in business, commercial, finance, banking, litigation, family, succession and company laws.
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