The Sunday Mail
Legal Matters with Arthur Marara
Hiring a lawyer or a law firm is one of the biggest decisions you can ever make as an organisation, as this can make or break your business.
Lawyers are not the same, even if they went to the same university. There are many aspects that differentiate one lawyer or firm from the next, from knowledge of your industry to how you will be billed for a particular case or transaction. The personality of the lawyer is also very important when making a decision.
The most important question in this conversation is: What are the key considerations that you need to take into account before deciding to settle on an attorney or firm?
You may need to take into account the following five considerations:
- Field expertise
Identify legal experts who have experience in your field. The needs of businesses are different, so you have to engage lawyers who have expertise in a particular area. The expertise that you need goes beyond knowing what is legal and illegal. It has to extend to integrating that understanding of the law into reviewing procedures, products and people.
The tragedy of most institutions of legal learning is that they just end with teaching what the law says. There is no future in just knowing what the law says. In fact, clients have evolved, they now even know what the law says better than some lawyers. The law is public and accessible to all.
- Thorough understanding of your business
Clients are not necessarily concerned about legalese. In fact, a good lawyer simplifies seemingly complex processes and brings them to a level that you can easily understand. Most importantly, it is best to engage someone who has a thorough understanding of the business. This will help you receive focused advice on particular issues at hand.
It is even better to ensure that your lawyers visit you where you operate so that they can also have an appreciation of how you do your things.
For a long time, I have been encouraging my colleagues in the legal fraternity to deliberately study business so that they can add value to their clients. Knowledge of the law alone is not enough.
Lawyering involves human beings. Artificial intelligence will soon catch up, and you will be able to get advice at your fingertips without necessarily visiting a law firm. That is how technology is moving and disrupting many sectors. However, until that happens, you are going to be dealing with human beings.
The advice then is simple: Find a lawyer whom you like — plain and simple. If you do not connect with a lawyer’s personality, it is advisable to move on to the next person as you may have a complicated working relationship.
Not everyone has been trained and embraced the art of handling people. Even if you communicate via email, it is possible to pick out personality issues. The lawyer’s job goes beyond only protecting you but also managing the anxiety that accompanies whatever transaction or case you are undertaking. In other instances, your liberty and estate may actually be at stake. You need someone who is human enough to understand your worries and concerns. If you do not like your lawyer, he or she cannot do this effectively. Law is not different from medicine, it is personal. That is why people are comfortable around certain doctors and very uncomfortable when they are not around.
- Clear billing structures
Clients are usually shocked when lawyers send them bills. That is why you need to be clear from the onset how you are going to be billed, either weekly, monthly or per milestone. Secondly, also check if the billing is strictly per Law Society of Zimbabwe tariff or some other structure is being used (when it is higher than the prescribed tariff).
Ask your attorneys if they are also willing to offer alternative billing structures, such as flat rates or a cap on the amount they charge for a project.
For example, if they typically take three to five hours to set up a company, they might agree to a cap of not more than three or four times their hourly rate. Having a flat rate or a cost cap can be key in helping you prevent surprise legal bills and effectively manage costs. Planning is key for organisations.
- Someone who can talk and understand business
Many attorneys go quiet when the conversation goes in the direction of the business. Why? It is because the focus for most firms is simply to regurgitate the law. That is not enough. Law is part of the bigger picture, and not the picture itself. Conversations and advice have to go beyond “do” and “do not”.
The conversation has to look at risks involved and opportunities involved. A business is there to make money. Advice that ends with risk aversion only may not actually serve the client better. In some instances, the cost of preventing certain risks is actually too high from a business perspective. Your attorney should be able to present both sides of that equation. Ultimately, your role is to make an informed decision.
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The material contained in this article is set out in good faith for general guidance in the spirit of raising legal awareness on topical interests that affect most people on a daily basis. The information provided here is not legal advice and does not purport to be a substitute for advice of counsel on any specific matter. It is not meant to create an attorney-client relationship or constitute solicitation.
No liability can be accepted for loss or expenses incurred as a result of relying in particular circumstances on statements made in the article. Laws and regulations are complex and liable to change, and readers should check the current position with the relevant authorities before making personal arrangements. For legal advice, you should consult an attorney concerning your specific situation.
Arthur Marara is a corporate law attorney. He has specialised in employment law matters, having worked with corporates, trade unions and individuals in their labour matters. He is also a notary public and conveyancer. You can follow him on social media (Facebook Attorney Arthur Marara), or WhatsApp him on +263780055152 or email [email protected]