At Work: Law and Governance - Keep it legal - Choosing a lawyer

Simon Leney is a partner at Cripps Harries Hall LLP

Life is getting more complicated, although more regulated might be an equally valid description.

One stated aim of the Charities Bill is deregulation for smaller charities.

This should allow charities to allocate their resources more effectively, using lawyers for essentials only, not for dealing with everyday red tape.

However, observing charity law and effective risk management remain crucial issues, so most not-for-profit organisations need legal advice occasionally.

The three key areas of law in which charities often face legal problems are employment, trusts and estates, and commercial property.

Ideally, you should look for advisers with knowledge of employment law and its impact on the voluntary sector, expertise in legacy and inheritance disputes and a property practice able to deal with landlord and tenant issues as well as sale and purchase work.

Good places to start looking for legal help are the online independent legal directories Legal 500 (www.legal500.com) and Chambers (www.chambersandpartners.com/uk).

One trap that charities can fall into is relying on a trustee who is also a solicitor. A solicitor trustee's input can be very helpful, but it can also lead to situations in which, for example, a brilliant commercial property lawyer is trying to give advice on employment law.

The other potential pitfall is when solicitors working in general practice are appointed to complete a task they are not familiar with and charge the client while they spend time acquiring specialist knowledge in, for example, charity law.

A specialist solicitor will not require this kind of 'reading-in' time, will know the short cuts and will probably provide a more accurate estimate of the costs involved.

Once a legal adviser has been identified, knowing how to use their services efficiently will save time and money. Try to identify an appropriate trustee to act as a principal point of contact. A trustee with legal experience can come in especially useful here because they are already able to 'talk the same language' as the lawyers.

Charities cannot afford to be seen to get things wrong. It is therefore imperative that, when legal advice is required, it comes from a well-researched and reliable source.

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