The legal sector needs a greater aptitude for business if lawyers want to help commercial clients with their legal problems, a lawyer has warned. 

Veteran lawyer Lynne Brooke has called on the sector to “re-establish trust” with small to medium-sized (SME) businesses by providing cost effective, client-focused services “that actually support them”.   

He said only then can lawyers expect improved trust in return.

The new rules around Brexit mean companies need effective business and legal advice to help them survive more than ever.

He has spoken out against the background of the devastating financial impact of covid-19.

According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), four out of 10 small businesses said their level of debt was “unmanageable”; and more than 250,000 expect to close over the next year.

Research from the Legal Services Board in 2018 revealed that just 13% of SMEs thought lawyers were cost effective; and nearly half of SMEs would instruct lawyers only as a last resort. 

“Seeking legal advice should never be seen as a last resort,” said Brooke, who is the founder of The Brooke Consultancy, which uses technology and virtual working practices to help its multi-disciplinary network of lawyers and specialist business collaborators in assisting SMEs .

He added: “I believe now it is more important than ever for lawyers to rekindle trust with the SME community.”

George Bisnought (pictured), managing director of commercial law firm Excello Law, said: “For many small business owners, the reality of seeking legal advice is that they’ll try every other option first – their accountant, a friend or Google – before engaging a lawyer; a state of affairs sadly driven by the profession with a lack of transparency over costs, the perception of value and limited understanding as to the true skillset that lawyers can bring to the table.”

He added that working with “a trusted legal partner in a pro-active manner can bring many benefits to SMEs and avoid more challenging situations down the line”.  

He said a key reason why he established a more flexible law firm in Excello was to give lawyers total freedom in how they worked, and to give clients “better value”. 

“When a lawyer can set their own fee structure, decide who they wish to work for and the time they spend with that client, you take away the pressure from both parties and a more supportive relationship develops.

“If a client knows they can call for a quick chat or invite their lawyer to participate in a strategy meeting for example, without the angst of a surprise hefty bill, or a lawyer can choose to spend more time with a start-up without having to centrally account and bill for their hours, more SMEs would value the services we provide and seek to involve us at a much earlier stage in their business life cycle.”

Bisnought said he sees many examples of his firm’s lawyers bringing sound commercial acumen and building long-lasting relationships with SMEs.

“But it’s taken a radical change in the law firm business model to build that trust and understanding,” he added.