Building the right legal foundations is crucial when starting a business to ensure long-term resilience and sustainability. With the right foundations in place, entrepreneurs can avoid significant costs associated with late payments, copyright breaches, partnership disputes, service delivery failure, and more. However, with a long list of legal ‘to-dos’, when is the right time for entrepreneurs to seek legal advice? 

Ahead of our free monthly legal online drop-ins, we sat down Sam Roberts, Commercial Solicitor at leading North East law firm Muckle, to pick her brain.

1. Hey Sam. To start, can you tell us more about Muckle LLP?

Hi! Sure – Muckle LLP are a full-service commercial law firm, based in the north east of England. Full service means that we support businesses with all their legal needs, from commercial contracts to corporate mergers and acquisitions, property arrangements, to debt recovery. We love the north east, and this is where our focus lies – supporting all sizes of businesses based in our local area, as well as having a huge community outreach programme – we believe it is our corporate social responsibility to give back to the community we work from.

It is a great place to work, with lots of fantastic lawyers. Not the stuffy kind though! We have bags of personality and appreciate that not everyone wants to know exactly what the law says, or what case law sits behind advice we give (but we can tell you if you like!).

In short, we are commercial, practical and approachable, which I think gives us the edge over our competitors.


2. Are there any common questions you get from entrepreneurs who are looking for legal support? 

Yes – we seem to get quite a few that keep popping up, and it’s really sensible to get answers to them ASAP. Some include:

  • Do we need terms and conditions (and why should we have them)?
  • Intellectual property comes up a lot – how should we protect it/do we own it?
  • I have had some software developed, who owns the rights in it?
  • What do we need to make sure our website is legal?
  • How do we tackle data protection and complying with the current laws?
  • I have a customer who isn’t paying me, what can I do?
  • There are a number of shareholders, how do we regulate our relationship, what happens if one wants to leave?

 

3. There are many different legal aspects to consider as a start-up including co-founder agreements and copyright arrangements. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are looking to start a business? What legals should they take into consideration and at what stage?

Firstly, a good set of standard terms and conditions of business. When you start trading, it is really important you set out how you will trade, when you expect to be paid and crucially how you get out of the relationship. We see a lot of businesses copying terms from other people (or the internet!) and trying to make them fit, often from an entirely different sector! You can’t simply copy other people’s work, as you stray into copyright infringement, but other than that, it means the terms you are using do not fit your business or business model.

Next, protect your IP! If you have it, make sure you look after it and that you don’t inadvertently give it away.

Finally, on starting a company with more than one shareholder, shareholders are often advised to make a shareholders’ agreement, in order to further regulate the way business between them is to be conducted. Although not a legal requirement these are important for many reasons, including helping deal with disagreements between shareholders where commonly they fall out, helping regulate the management of the company, providing protections for minority and majority shareholders, dealing with the transfer of shares and setting out restrictions on shareholders from competing with the business of the company to name a few. Ensuring a shareholders’ agreement and a good set of articles of association are in place can help the company with all the above and also helps demonstrate business stability to external investor and banks.

 

4. If you could bust one stigma when it comes to legal support and law firms (for start-ups), what is it and why?

Costs – most people think that as soon as we pick up the phone, we start charging time and you will get an invoice for a 30 minute chat. For perspective, this is not true.

We completely understand that legal costs are low on the list of priorities for start-ups, and are happy to have initial chats/telephone calls to find out more about you and how we can help. We don’t surprise people with invoices and are honest about our fees.

In fact, for start-ups, in order to help with cash flow, we offer fixed prices and we even have a retainer service where you pay a set amount per month, and in return you get a set number of hours to use for whatever you need (and some great free stuff too!).


5. We’re super excited to be hosting monthly drop-ins with you at the Software Centre. What type of questions can you help entrepreneurs with during these drop-ins?

I am a commercial contracts lawyer, with an interest in IT/tech and data protection.

Day-to-day, I advise on terms and conditions, most kinds of commercial contracts, intellectual property, data protection (everyone has heard of GDPR!), confidentiality agreements, company structure and governance.


6. Finally, what advice do you have for anyone who’s considering signing up for a drop-in or initial meeting? 

Don’t be shy – I will try my best to help you with your query. If I can’t, I will be honest and tell you I don’t know the answer – but I will know someone else who can help/will be able to point you in the right direction.

Please do use it to its full potential – so bring as much information as you can and ask as many questions as you like! I’m looking forward to meeting people there!