Legal Advice During a Crisis
- by John Murphy
- Jul 27, 2020
- 7 min read
Mention the word ‘crisis’ and the Coronavirus pandemic is the only show in town at the moment. Many of us will have experienced crises before in our communities and our country and we are likely to again. It is usual, however, that the crises that impact on us most are those that are personal to us as individuals. Crises in our personal lives and businesses are inevitable but usually infrequent. There are many resources available to help us through turbulent times – financial advisers, management consultants, medical professionals, health coaches, counselling services, and of course, legal advisers.
When Should you Seek Legal Advice?
If you are in business, we believe you should have access to sound legal advice on a continuous basis. The best time to seek legal advice for a crisis, is when there is no crisis! Succession planning, disaster recovery planning, and having sound contracts in place will all help avoid crises within your business.
At business inception, legal advice will be required for formation, contracting, leasing, or purchase. It’s at this point that a relationship should be formed with your legal adviser. Your legal adviser should become a strategic business partner that really gets to know your operations so he/she is best placed to react quickly to any problems that may arise throughout the lifetime of your business.
Often, problems in business can be solved internally with minimal expense. If you have a trusted legal partner it is easy to pick up the phone to discuss the issue. The advice may often be to take no legal action and use alternative solutions instead.
There are some circumstances where you should always seek legal advice. Examples of such circumstances are as follows:
- Drawing up leases, contracts, franchise agreements, partnerships, shareholder agreements, or any other legal document.
- Dissolution, insolvency or debts owed or due.
- Disputes with employees, partners, suppliers, customers, or other stakeholders
- Appearance before a Rights Commissioner, Labour Relations Commission, Labour Court, Workplace Relations Commission, Equality Authority, and related Courts
- Injury at work/on the premises to an employee, or any member of the public
- Personal issues such as separation, divorce, or inheritance disputes.
- Your insurance company refuses to cover a claim.
Some of these circumstances are for crisis avoidance, but sometimes, despite best intentions, crises will occur.
Most issues that arise will be personal to our own businesses. However, as we know, some crises are global.
Benefits of Legal Advice during a Crisis
At John A Sinnott & Co Solicitors, our approach to our business clients is proactive so as to avoid crises by making contingency plans for as many eventualities as possible. As we have experienced, some crises are more difficult to predict than others. As we said farewell to 2019 and welcomed a new year, did we think a global pandemic would shut down entire economies and impact radically on our lives and businesses? How is legal advice beneficial to small to medium enterprises (SMEs) at a local level during a global catastrophe?
As mentioned, in our practice, we act as a strategic partner to our business clients. The following are some of the queries we have received from our clients since the start of the spread of Covid-19 in Ireland in March 2020. These examples of legal queries illustrate how sound legal advice is helpful to SMEs.
- Assistance with interpreting the evolving public health guidelines for SMEs, and in some instances, for specific industries. Terms such as ‘essential service’ were introduced and sometimes the parameters were unclear.
- Help with devising a risk assessment to identify the risks of a coronavirus outbreak at work and determining the necessary steps to minimise that risk. Under the Safety, Health and Welfare Act (2005) employers have a legal obligation to ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of their employees.
- The question of ‘responsibility’ arose. An employee also has a responsibility under the 2005 Act. An employee, while at work, must notify their employer if they become aware that they are suffering from any disease or physical or mental impairment which affects their performance of work activities that could give rise to risks to the safety, health and welfare of others at work. The duty is on the employee to protect themselves and others once the employer has the appropriate health and safety measures in place.
- Guidance in relation to Data Protection laws. Certain business sectors are required to have their customers complete a questionnaire. In seeking information about travel history, medical data, etc., where is the balance between fulfilling contact tracing requirements and data protection laws?
- Are there legal implications to how employees are paid, i.e., with regard to the Covid-19 Illness benefit, Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment, Covid-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme?
Where to Access Good Legal Advice
This section outlines possible sources that SMEs, and also each of us as individuals, can consider when trying to obtain good legal advice.
View your solicitor as a strategic partner to your business. Make sure the solicitor is registered with the relevant regulatory body of solicitors in your jurisdiction (e.g., the Law Society of Ireland). All solicitors on the Law Society of Ireland register are:
- Attending continuous professional development and training.
- Regulated by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority in Ireland and must maintain certain ethical standards.
- Covered by Professional Indemnity Insurance.
Also, bear in mind that in the event that a solicitor is found to be dishonest, their clients may be able to have access to the Law Society’s Compensation Fund.
You can find a solicitor that practices in Ireland here.
2. Citizens Information
This option is only pertinent for SMEs in Ireland, but perhaps there are alternative options in your jurisdiction. For Irish businesses, the Citizens Information website can be a good information source for employers to gain an understanding of their employees’ rights and perspective. It can help to determine if issues can be solved internally or if next steps need to be taken with a legal professional.
3. Legal Aid
Legal aid can help individuals who do not have the means to pay a solicitor privately. Legal aid provides legal advice and representation in court, subject to a means test. In Ireland, you can apply for legal aid via the Legal Aid Board.
In family law issues, we always advise on mediation as a first step. The purpose of mediation is not to attempt to reconcile the parties. The intent is to help each party communicate productively and encourage co-operation to agree the terms on which they separate.
In business too, where there are disputes between partners or businesses, mediation can be a practical and more cost-effective solution for resolving and keeping disputes out of the Courts.
For more information, visit the John A Sinnott & Co Solicitors website to discuss any legal advice you might need for you and/or your business.
Before you go, remember that you can use Sluamor if you're looking to form any partnerships as a strategic approach to winning more bids. Alternatively, send us a message via our Contact page if you'd like to discuss, or you can forge ahead and subscribe to share your requirements.
You can also search the list of business opportunities published on our website to see if they are any that suit you and your business.
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