10 Dec 2015 03:30pm

Changing perception of lawyers

SPONSORED FEATURE: Chaman Salhan, chief executive officer of law firm 2ndOpinionNow, explains how pursuing an integrated approach with accountancy colleagues can improve the offer to clients

There is a noticeable crossover between the work that accountants and lawyers perform, particularly for clients. But rather than battle for territory, the obvious solution is to work together. This is where law firm 2ndOpinionNow has the perfect, innovative Corporate Retainer and Online Barrister solutions.

The high street and mid-market is a natural place for accountants and lawyers to work together offering seamless business advice to cost-conscious SMEs. If you consider a new food shop business, for example, the owner is going to need an accountant to advise and support on being a limited company or sole trader, dealing with VAT registration and how to move forward. But also, if they’re looking to employ someone, then they’re going to have legal HR issues, they’ll also need to consider food hygiene legislation, and if they’re changing the nature of the building there might be contractual agreements with a builder. So the connections between the two professions are obvious.

“We can talk to the accountants and their clients to ensure there’s joined up thinking, otherwise you have different professionals saying different things,” explains Chaman Salhan, CEO of 2ndOpinionNow. “Too often lawyers are perceived as only necessary when a problem or issue arises (eg dealing with a non-payment or staff dispute), but we can provide valuable support from the initial financial planning stage onwards for a business or accountancy firm to ensure any potential risks are avoided.”

This is where 2ndOpinionNow’s unique Corporate Retainer system is so beneficial. Accountancy firms and their clients can sign up to an annual retainer – priced according to the size of the organisation – that provides them with permanent support and advice whenever they need it; the equivalent to an in-house legal counsel.

Salhan and his team will take a bird’s eye view of all the client’s legal needs over the previous three years, assess potential issues that might arise, evaluate risks, and possibly even identify things that the clients hadn’t thought about.

“We can form a partnership directly with the accountancy firm itself, providing advice on its own HR issues, lease agreements, chasing late payments etc, as well as form a retainer agreement with their clients, working in parallel with the accountants,” explains Salhan. “Furthermore, we can add value the other way because we have clients throughout the country who often need an accountant in a particular area and so we can recommend them.”

The notion of a lawyer’s expensive meter-ticking approach is thrown out of the window. Instead the retainer contract allows 2ndOpinionNow to form strong relationships with their clients, getting to know the businesses and their people properly. The client can ring at any time on as many varied issues as they might have over the course of the year, and will always speak directly to an appointed point of contact.

The firm can also deal with an overlap of work in different legal areas. So, for example, if a business decides that trade secrets are being passed by an employee to their competitor you will have an employment law matter; a breach of confidence matter and a claim against the competitor. The accountant may be the first port of call regarding the downturn in trading income but the lawyer will resolve the issues.

“We can easily handle all those areas. Our teams cover a variety of areas, from employment to commercial litigation, and intellectual property to tax investigations,” says Salhan. “The retainer fees may vary from client to client, but the issues they face are often the same (negligence, late payments, misconduct etc).”

This extends to both the accountants and their clients. For instance, if the client has been accused of not paying its VAT or corporation tax properly by HMRC, this will, of course, involve the accountant providing advice, but both parties would also benefit from the law firm ensuring the case doesn’t spill over from a civil to a criminal issue and give rise to an allegation of professional negligence.

“Inevitably, there’ll be periods where it is quieter and the client won’t need our help, but then suddenly they might be faced with three litigation cases and we’ll need to work round the clock for weeks or even months,” says Salhan.

“Ultimately, at the end of the year we can show we’ve stood by them, resolved issues and managed risks, and continue with the retainer set up going forward.”

Alternatively, for accountancy firms and their clients who prefer the ad hoc approach, there is 2ndOpinionNow’s innovative online barrister system. This centralised platform allows users to enter their issue, whether it’s finance specific or covers other areas, such as regulatory law, and they will receive advice from one of over 10,000 specialist solicitors, barristers and QCs on the system.

The prices vary from £350 to £3,000+ VAT, according to the level of experience of the legal representative and the complexity of the matter, so an intellectual property issue will cost more than a straightforward criminal case.

“We can offer accountancy firms that sign up a special 15% discount code, and every time one of their clients comes in and enters that code we can offer them a discount too,” enthuses Salhan. “We can even mix the retainer with our online approach, it’s all about flexibility and a bespoke service according to the client needs. We aim to ensure our accountancy clients are protected from negligence and disciplinary complaints and the clients of the accountancy firm given the legal backing to maximise their potential.”

To find out more about Chaman Salhan’s business, visit 2ndopinionnow.co.uk

Telephone: 020 7936 3177


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