Ask for an indemnity.

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Commercial contracts are packed with risks. In fact the contract itself is one big risk. However, ironically, contracts are the safest way to conduct business; we need them! So, since we cannot avoid contracting with each other we have to ensure that we protect our interests in every contract that we sign. A key way to do this, is to ask for an indemnity clause.  An indemnity clause is a contractual transfer of risk between two contractual parties to prevent loss (you are not liable if X happens) or to ensure compensation for a loss (the other party reimburses you for any loss suffered if Y happens) which may occur as a result of a specified event (X or Y event). Let’s take a look at some examples of indemnity clauses:

  1. Basic Indemnities – Party A indemnifies Party B for all liabilities or losses incurred in connection with specified events or circumstances. For example, if you are contracting with a construction company to build your new store, you will want a basic indemnity saying that the construction company will compensate you for all losses if one of its subcontractors fails to do the job to the specification set out in the contract. If a subcontractor tiles the roof poorly, the construction company is liable for all losses ensuing from that subcontractor’s poor job. Pretty good right? However, basic indemnities can be troublesome as they do not set out any specific limitations on the indemnity. They are silent as to whether they indemnify losses arising out of YOUR own acts and/or omissions that cause the subcontractor to tile the roof poorly. What if you give the sub-contractor the wrong instructions or you don’t give the subcontractor access to the site on time?  This basic indemnity operates so that the construction company indemnifies you for the poor job of the subcontractor, even if the poor job was your fault. You may be thinking well, that’s great, but it’s only great if you are the party receiving such an indemnity. That’s why basic indemnities should be avoided where possible.
  2. Proportionate or Limited Indemnities – These indemnities rectify the potential unfairness of a basic indemnity (explained above) as they limit the indemnity. Sticking with the example above, say you obtain an indemnity from the construction company to the effect that the construction company is liable for all losses ensuing from a subcontractor’s poor job – a limited indemnity will go on to state “except those losses incurred as a result of [your] own acts and/or omissions”. If the subcontractor’s poor job is your fault you don’t get compensated. Seems fair.
  3. Third Party Indemnities – If third parties are involved in the operation of the contract, as in the example above, you may not want anything to do with them since you are contracting with them. Following on from the above example, what happens if a subcontractor isn’t paid for their work? You wouldn’t want to be liable for that. You can protect against this by asking the construction company to indemnify you for all liabilities relating to its subcontractors so that the subcontractors are always the construction company’s issue and not yours.

These are very high level examples which would make most lawyers (if they’re good) chuckle. Indemnities can be very complex and they should at the very least always be more than a basic indemnity. Here are some of the things your lawyer should consider when drafting an indemnity clause for you:

  1. Scope – The scope of the indemnity must be clear so that the intended protection is given.
  2. Context – An indemnity clause should always be drafted in consideration of the wider commercial context of the agreement. Is it applicable?
  3. Extent – Who does the indemnity cover and are there any limitations to the indemnity? If the indemnity is given by the other side but not its contractors or representatives, then the extent to which this offers protection will be limited.
  4. Insurance: There is no point in having an indemnity if the indemnifier cannot pay out in an event of breach. An obligation to insure to a level consistent with the indemnity obligation will provide comfort that the indemnifier has the means to back up the indemnity given.
  5. Caps: Indemnities can be capped but any such cap should be subject to careful consideration. Where an indemnity has a financial cap, the indemnified party may, depending on any other limitation clauses, still have an uncapped claim in contract law for any breach of contract.

As with many of my posts, this is a very simplified overview. You really need a lawyer to draft indemnity clauses because they are essentially financial obligations with very serious consequences. The aim of this post is to make you aware of them so that you can ask your lawyer about them. You may want receive indemnities as added protection or you may want to offer indemnities to show the other side that you mean business (they can be great for negotiation)!  So go ahead and ask your lawyer about them. Pick up one of your contracts and check to see if you have a few in there already.

I must also emphasise that an indemnity is a distinct right from the right to claim damages for breach of contract. If the construction company breaches a clause in the contract you still have your common law right to sue for damages. Any limitations under an indemnity will be for that indemnity only. This is important because limited indemnities often exclude any loss ensuing from your own negligence whereas a claim for breach of contract can be brought even where you too have been negligent. Ask your lawyer, they’ll break it down for you!

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Stand your ground

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I’ve been practising law for some time now and one of the things that I have learnt, which was incredibly difficult to learn, is to stand one’s ground. I can now firmly stand my ground with YOU (the client) and the senior lawyers I work under. Why do you care? Well, simply because my confidence as a lawyer saves you money (yup, you know that paper we all want…). There are two scenarios which have played a recurring role in my career to date and these scenarios have taught me to stand my ground. Let’s take a look at them and then I’ll tell you how you can help your lawyers get to the level of confidence I have now (smug face) which should save you money.

Scenario 1 – A client desperately wants to do something that cannot be done but a dedicated lawyer, knowing that it cannot be done, still struggles to find a way. The client wants and the lawyer strives to give BUT it just isn’t possible. This is a rubbish scenario for everyone because the lawyer looks for the source of a myth whilst the client pays unnecessary costs to gain nothing.

Scenario 2 – A junior lawyer (they do all the ground work by the way) doesn’t think that a certain course should be taken but unfortunately the senior lawyer, eager to please the client and incur more fees (money, money money), doesn’t listen. A longer more difficult route is taken. As in scenario 1, the client pays unnecessary costs but to gain something it could have gained more easily and more cheaply.

I used to hate these situations. A junior lawyer pushing back against an experienced, Tom Ford wearing senior lawyer or a great lawyer too client whipped to be frank and say “sorry, this won’t work”. The disappointing feeling I experienced in these scenarios taught me to stand my ground in my profession. I will never lead you on a wild goose chase; if it can’t be done or it can only be done at a cost detrimental to your business, I will tell you and that will be it. If I’m working for a senior lawyer who is putting pressure on me to do A or B when I think C is best, I will throw all my toys out of my pram to get C, only giving up when I have been absolutely convinced that A or B is better. Sounds good right? Here’s how you can help to make sure that your legal team adopts this cost saving mentality…Ask to hear the best and the worst from your legal team AND reassure them that you’re READY to hear the worst. Also, direct your emails at the WHOLE legal team, not just the “front of house” senior lawyers, but the juniors too (those silent names that are cc’ed into every email to make sure that they pick up the work). In doing this you let the senior lawyers know that you value EVERYONE in the team and that at any given time you may ask for the junior’s opinion.

Deploy these tips and see the difference in your service. You should hopefully spend less time chasing dead ends and more time progressing to where you want to be.

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Be smart but don’t cheat…

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There is a reason why mega successful businesses spend thousands, sometimes millions of pounds/dollars on legal advice. I cannot tell you the number of times that I have almost cried because a client has brought me a problem that could have easily been avoided IF legal advice had been sought in the first place. In the long term, getting proper legal advice could save you so much MONEY and isn’t that what it’s all about – MONEY? You know that saying, what’s worth doing at all is worth doing well…it’s said for a reason! I don’t feel good billing you for my time when it’s for an issue that really shouldn’t have ever become an issue!

Think of it this way, when you have a tooth ache you go to a dentist -you don’t pull out the tooth yourself. When you feel sick you go to a doctor you don’t diagnose yourself. SO, if you need a contract drafted, guess what, you DON’T do it yourself. You go to your lawyer! You should be focusing all your energy into your product/service/idea not struggling to draft a 30 page contract or represent yourself at Court.

So what am I saying? I’m saying be smart BUT don’t cheat.

I am a lawyer and it took me 6 years of training to qualify to be one (a 3 year degree, a 1 year professional practice qualification and a 2 year training contract at an international law firm in the City). You cannot read this blog and become a lawyer BUT you CAN read this blog and become legally smart so that when you seek proper legal advice you are not doing so blindly. You are firing out questions and demanding the best service possible!

It’s quite simple, do things properly at the outset and you will reap the rewards.

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The impossible: force majeure clauses

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Before you read on, please note that this post is not for the faint hearted. This clause is really important in any contract and I’m going to try and give you a full explanation of it.

Force Majeure translates to a “superior or irresistible power” in the beautiful French language.  In English law, it refers to a clause in a contract which protects the parties from their contractual obligations in circumstance where that contract, by no fault ofthe parties, becomes impossible to perform. In such a scenario, the parties will usually have the right to terminate the contract or to suspend the contract, if the impossible circumstances are likely to come to an end within a certain time frame. This is a very useful clause when faced with the effects of acts of God (tornadoes, lightning strikes, floods), governments and regulatory authorities – none of which give a hoot about your contracts!

There are generally three essential elements to an event being determined force majeure:

  • It can occur with or without human intervention.
  • It cannot have reasonably been foreseen by the parties (for example your machine breaking down is foreseeable and so is not a force majeure event).
  • It must have been completely beyond the parties’ control so that they could not have prevented its consequences (for example a riot, like the London riots).

A very basic force majeure clause will look as follows:

A party (affected party) shall not be liable to the other party for any failure to perform the Agreement caused by circumstances outside the reasonable control of the affected party.

What exactly is “circumstances outside the reasonable control of the affected party”? Well the answer is, how long is a piece of string! This is where your lawyer steps in. Over time, lawyers have come up with a list of events which are generally considered to be force majeure events. These events are as follows:

  • Fire, flood or other natural disaster;
  • malicious injury;
  • strikes, lock-outs or other labour troubles;
  • riots;
  • insurrection; and
  • war.

However, please note that the above list is not exhaustive so lawyers have also taken to adding sweep up language to cover anything else that might occur with force majeure characteristics. For example many clauses end their list with “ and any other reason of like nature not the fault of the party in performing the contract”.

The better force majeure clauses oblige the party relying on the force majeure event to do certain things so as to help the contract to survive as far as possible. The relying party must usually promptly notify the other party of the force majeure event. The relying party is then only excused from the contract for the period of the delay caused by the force majeure event. During that time, the relying party must take what steps it can to mitigate the effects of the force majeure event on the contract. In other words, the relying party must do its best to find another way, where possible, to fulfil its contractual obligations. HOWEVER, the period of delay can’t go on forever, so where the force majeure event exceeds a certain timeframe the party entitled to the performance of the relying party may terminate the contract. For example “if any delay exceeds six months, then the party entitled to such performance shall have the option to terminate this Agreement”.  Such force majeure clauses are GRADE A (my own personal labelling)!

Let’s consider an illustration of a GRADE A force majeure clause.

  1. Happy Fruits Ltd and Love Fruits Ltd are in a contract for the sale and purchase of fruits. Happy Fruits Ltd sells fruit to Love Fruits Ltd.
  2. Under the contract, Happy Fruits Ltd must provide Loves Fruits Ltd with a case of tomatoes by X date.
  3. Before X date, a flood occurs making the delivery of the tomatoes impossible.
  4. The contract contains a GRADE A force majeure clause, therefore as soon as Happy Fruits Ltd learns that the flood is preventing the delivery of the tomatoes to Love Fruits Ltd by X date, it must notify Love Fruits Ltd of the flood in writing, stating a “force majeure event”.
  5. Happy Fruits Ltd must then attempt to mitigate the effects of the flood on its delivery to Love Fruits Ltd. For example, it must try to supply the tomatoes to Love Fruits Ltd from another branch not affected by the flood, or from another supplier with similar produce.
  6. If Happy Fruits Ltd cannot mitigate in the manner above, it must at the very least strive to deliver the case of tomatoes at the next available opportunity. So for example, if the flood passes a day after X date and all modes of transport go back to normal, Happy Fruits Ltd must do its best to deliver the tomatoes to Love Fruits Ltd on that date.
  7. If Happy Fruits Ltd fails to deliver at the next available opportunity or to reasonably mitigate against the impact of the flood on its contractual obligations, Love Fruits Ltd could have a claim for damages under the contract. That’s right. Even though the flood has nothing to do with Happy Fruits Ltd, Happy Fruits Ltd may still be on the hook. However, Happy Fruits Ltd only has to do what it can reasonably do. In English law, reasonably is pretty broad and forgiving. This is why this type of force majeure clause is Grade A, it offers just enough protection AND wriggle room to both parties.
  8. If the effects of the flood surpass the force majeure cut off point then Love Fruits Ltd may terminate the contract.

Hopefully you followed that! Basically each and every business contract should have one of these clauses in them! You just never know what might happen out of your control that may prevent you from performing your side of the contract. In such a scenario, you do not want to be contractually liable for anything. In recent years, a new force majeure event has sadly come to the forefront – acts of terrorism, the effects of which are devastating. Get your lawyer to review your contracts to ensure that you are adequately protected.

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Cut it out: the beauty of a severance clause.

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It is said that the law is the fabric of society, without it we would have nothing but unruly human beasts roaming the earth’s surface. However in business, sometimes the law actually gets in the way. Yes you read that right. English law believes in freedom of contract, however there is always a risk that a contractual clause may be invalid or illegal – e.g. it offends against public policy or competition law – often this is the case with non-compete clauses and restrictive covenants (clauses that tell a party what they cannot do). This is why clever lawyers make use of “severance clauses” when drafting contracts.

A severance clause (or severability clause) tries to mitigate the damage that may be caused by the interference of the law in a contract. How does it do this? It ensures that a contract will continue to be enforceable even if one of its terms is found to be illegal, invalid or unenforceable. Severance clauses assist in helping a contract to SURVIVE. Pretty cool right? For example, if a contract for the sale and purchase of various vegetables is suddenly subject to a new law stating that no one can sell or purchase carrots (ridiculous but it’s an example), why should the contract die just because the sale and purchase of carrots is illegal? A severance clause would carve out or sever the ILLEGAL part of the contract and require the parties to continue to perform the remaining LEGAL part of the contract i.e. the selling and purchasing of courgettes (zucchinis), potatoes, aubergines (eggplants), peas and so forth. In other words, business shouldn’t stop if it doesn’t have to stop. This is why a severance clause is simply beautiful.

Let’s look at an example of a basic severance clause:

If a Clause of this Agreement is determined by any court or other competent authority to be unlawful and/or unenforceable, the other Clauses of this Agreement will continue in effect.

The above clause severs the illegal part of the contract. BETTER versions of a severance clause will try to sever as little of the illegal clause as possible. Here is an example:

If any unlawful and/or unenforceable Clause would be lawful or enforceable if part of it were deleted, that part will be deemed to be deleted, and the rest of the Clause will continue in effect (unless that would contradict the clear intention of the parties, in which case the entirety of the relevant Clause will be deemed to be deleted).

Even BETTER severance clauses will give the parties the option to modify or correct the would be severed clause, in order to make it legal. Here is an example:

If any provision or part-provision of this agreement is or becomes invalid, illegal or unenforceable, it shall be deemed modified to the minimum extent necessary to make it valid, legal and enforceable. If such modification is not possible, the relevant provision or part-provision shall be deemed deleted. Any modification to or deletion of a provision or part-provision under this clause shall not affect the validity and enforceability of the rest of this agreement.

If  any provision or part-provision of this agreement is invalid, illegal or unenforceable, the parties shall negotiate in good faith to amend such provision so that, as amended, it is legal, valid and enforceable, and, to the greatest extent possible, achieves the intended commercial result of the original provision.

Severance clauses are usually included in any contract as a boilerplate (standard) clause – however don’t take that for granted. Go check your contracts and flag this magical clause with your lawyer. Get your lawyer to advise you – could your severance clause be better? Do not rely/use the examples in this post, they are EXAMPLES. Your lawyer will draft a robust severance clause tailored to YOU.

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BREXIT explained.

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Before you read this, just in case you didn’t know, BREXIT refers to the possibility of Great Britain (aka the United Kingdom) leaving the European Union after the referendum in June 2016. It’s a play on the words Britain and Exit. In this post, I am going to try and explain the Brexit debate, however, please know that thelegalknow is wholly against BREXIT. I will therefore TRY to be as neutral as possible in this post.

What is a referendum?

A referendum is a general vote by the electorate on a single political question which has been referred to them for a direct decision. In the UK, David  Cameron, the current Prime Minister has approved a referendum asking the British public whether or not it thinks that Britain should remain in the European Union. The big day is Thursday 23 June 2016.

The exact question will be “Should the UK remain a member of the EU or leave the EU”?

What is the European Union?

Five years after World War II ended, France and Germany came up with a plan to ensure that their two countries would never go to war against each other again. The result was a deal signed by six nations to pool their coal and steel resources in 1950. Seven years later a treaty signed in Rome created the European Economic Community (EEC) – the foundations of today’s European Union. The UK was one of three new members to join in the first wave of expansion in 1973. Today the EU has 28 member states with a total population of more than 500 million.

At the heart of the EU are laws designed to allow most goods, services, money and people to move freely within EU member states.

The four key institutions which work together to run the EU are as follows:

  • the European Commission – the EU’s administrative arm – is responsible for proposing and drafting EU legislation;
  • the European Parliament – represents EU citizens – is responsible for approving draft proposals, together with the European Council, from the European Commission and making them law;
  • the European Council – represents member states – is responsible for approving draft proposals, together with the European Parliament, from the European Commission and making them law; and
  • the European Court of Justice – is responsible for upholding EU law in member states to make sure EU law is applied in the same way in all EU member states. It also settles legal disputes between national governments and EU institutions. Member states are required to comply with the court’s rulings and may be fined if they do not do so. This is completely separate from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which interprets the European Convention on Human Rights, the EU has its own Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Each member state effectively appoints representatives to each of these institutions.

Why is there a referendum?

The British government promised to hold a referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017. There have been growing calls for a vote on whether to stay or leave the union, as it has allegedly become more powerful and expensive. The BREXIT campaign worries that the UK is paying more in membership fees but gaining little in return other than increasing immigration.

Why does Brexit matter?

The Brexit campaign maintains that by breaking free from the EU, the UK could reduce taxes for its citizens and reduce the burden of immigration. However, those campaigning to stay in the EU contend that if the UK should decide to go off on its own, the move could create widespread job losses and economic uncertainty. Currently, the EU is the UK’s largest trading partner. If enterprises in the new EU are reluctant to do business with British companies, British companies could face substantial setbacks.

Additionally, if Brexit occurs, the UK, just like Norway and Switzerland, will still have to comply with EU rules without having any influence over them. The UK’s exports would be subject to EU export tariffs and they would have to meet EU production standards. It could be even more costly for UK exporters if they face EU legal arguments against UK standards – there could be a lot more court cases (LAWYERS will get richer, YAY). There is therefore a feeling that the UK is always likely to be better positioned to secure beneficial trade deals as a member of the EU than as an individual and isolated player.

What will be the impact on the EU if Brexit occurs?

The potential implications of Brexit are complex, as they hinge largely on what economic actions the UK takes after splitting off from the rest of the EU and how the rest of the world reacts to such a move. The impact would be widespread and drawn-out. The actual process of the UK leaving the partnership and establishing new agreements with remaining EU countries would take years. Many businesses would face immense uncertainty during this time.

In order to reduce this uncertainty, Brexit advocates are weighing potential options. They’re considering either supporting a second referendum on which model to pursue or making an effort to create a consensus behind what the UK’s trade deals would look like after the nation’s exit. Sounds like a political mess to me!

So there you have it. BREXIT in a nutshell. You should hopefully now have a vague idea of what’s going on. I tried to stay neutral but I love and care about business and the arguments to STAY in the EU make economic sense to me. The pennies we would save in domestic tax pail in comparison to the billions we could lose in trade with the EU and the world (President Obama made America’s view very clear). If you are a UK business owner/entrepreneur reading this, please make sure that you VOTE and vote for what you think will be GOOD for UK BUSINESS not UK AESTHETICS.

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How to… speed sign low value contracts.

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Right, this goes against my lawyer instincts because in my opinion you should always read everything you sign, in as much detail as possible. However, if you genuinely do not have the time and it is a considerably low risk document (so not worth a million pounds/dollars), then here are three things to do before you sign which will alert you of any potential risks and give you some protection going forwards.

  1. Exclusion and limitation clauses – Look for these types of clauses or ask outright if there is such a clause in what you are signing (get them to refer you to it so you can check their honesty). This will list or summarise everything that the contract/document does not include and what the other party is not liable for. The best example of a document riddled with such clauses, is an insurance policy. When you sign an insurance policy, it is important that it covers what you want and one of the quickest ways to confirm this, is to take a quick look at what is excluded. For example Billy asks Janet for an insurance policy for his car. Janet gives him an insurance policy for his car. Billy is in a hurry for a meeting and trusts that he has been given a policy to insure his car, HOWEVER he flicks to the exclusion clause and sees that the policy does not cover RED cars. Billy’s car is maroon, so, arguably red. Billy takes this up with Janet. Janet amends the policy for Billy so that the operative clause clearly states that Billy’s maroon (and therefore not red) car is covered. Always check what a contract expressly excludes.  If it excludes accidental damage and you need it to cover all damage then obviously you are not signing. Another example would be a limitation of liability clause, often found in services contracts. Say for example you hire a professional polisher to polish your silver worth £3,000 but the contract of hire states that liability for any damage arising out of the contract at the fault of the professional polisher, is limited to £500 only. Obviously, you are not going to sign. Who’s going to pay for the remaining £2,500 worth of damage? Always check how liability of the other party is limited. If you sign a contract with a rubbish liability clause, that’s your fault.
  2. Payment provisions – Always check that the numbers are what you agreed. An extra zero here, a missing discount there is BAD for business. If you have agreed a specific discount just take that second to double check that it is expressly in the contract. DO NOT worry if the other party finds it offensive that you are checking, they will respect you for it. Even if my best friend gave me a contract to sign, I would check it right before their very eyes! Also, what happens if you pay late or you have a dispute with a charge? What does the contract say about that? Checking this clause or asking directly about this clause (then getting them to refer you to it specifically) will ensure that the most important thing of all, money, is properly accounted for!
  3. Termination – Imagine your face when you try to switch suppliers and you find that you have signed an indefinite contract! That’s a worst case, silly scenario but hopefully it highlights how important it is to know how to get out of a contract before you sign it (I’ve said this before). Business is unpredictable and you may need to get out of a contract really fast – knowing the termination provisions at the outset can help you to consider all possible scenarios in which you may want to terminate the contract early and therefore judge whether the contract in question is one you want to sign or amend.

I have to also add the obvious cautions, check who you are contracting with. If you are doing business with Joe Blogs Plc make sure it says Joe Bloggs Plc and not Joe Bloggs Ltd. Also, don’t forget the dates, it will take no time at all to make sure the document is dated correctly. Again, these are just TIPS for those of you ALREADY signing standard contracts without checking ANYTHING. If you are one of these people, at least check the above three things or else suffer the consequences. Once you sign a commercial contract, there is very little anyone can do for you if it turns out to be a bad deal. The Courts have no sympathy for business to business contracts because both parties are considered sophisticated.

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Do you need a break?

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When you’re running an up and coming business, costs are always on your mind. The less costs you have, the more profit you can make. So what do you do? You look for savings, HOWEVER, one of the biggest overheads of any business, often gets overlooked; RENT. In the UK most businesses rent their premises from a landlord as tenants under a lease. When the market was booming (pre-credit crunch) landlords had the upper hand setting high rents and long leases however in today’s challenging economic climate, landlords and tenants have found that long leases and high rents are no longer sustainable; there needs to be a compromise. This is why most commercial leases contain a BREAK clause which enables either the landlord or the tenant or BOTH to end the lease early and seek better terms elsewhere.

How does it work?

Say for example, you own a restaurant. You have a three year lease. In year one, business is booming however in year two, it’s not doing so well because the government has got rid of a big housing estate next door causing footfall to significantly decrease. You still have to pay your rent which in year one, was a piece of cake but now in year two, is a massive burden. You review your lease agreement but ALAS you’re locked in until the end of year 3. You go to the bank to apply for a loan. Whilst doing this you spot a great  empty space in a shopping centre round the corner. You know that your business would thrive there. You review your lease again, alas,  NOTHING HAS CHANGED, you’re STILL locked in until the end of year 3.

In the above scenario, not having a break clause in your lease prohibits you from getting out of a high rent deal in a poor area for your business. Your overheads increase and your profits decrease. Let’s look at this scenario WITH a break clause.

You have a three year lease. As soon as business starts to fail in year two you begin to review your options. You look closely at your lease agreement and to your joy you see that you have a break clause that kicks in after 18 months. You serve a notice to your landlord in accordance with the lease agreement, notifying him that you want to end your lease early. Your landlord accepts and at 18 months you move out of the premises and into the space that you spotted in the shopping centre. HAPPY DAYS.

Can you see the benefits for your business in having a break clause? It gives you some leeway to reassess one of your business’ biggest expenditures. In some circumstances where the location and premises still suit your business needs but the rent is just too high notifying your landlord that you are thinking of sending a notice to activate your break clause could help to bring your landlord to the negotiation table and agree a more sustainable rent. Landlords are business people too and what they value more than anything else is reliable tenants. However, as with everything in law (and that’s why you need a lawyer) there is more to it than just having a break clause and sending a notice. Here are a few considerations to bear in mind:

  1. Form and Service of Notice – You must comply exactly with method and form of service of a notice to exercise a break clause. Also once the notice has been served, it cannot be withdrawn. If the notice complies, you WILL be moving out so consider it seriously.
  2. Timing – It is important when drafting and negotiating the break clause that it is clear when the break date is and what the required notice period is. A break clause may occur on one or more specified dates or be exercisable after a specific period of time has elapsed. Your lawyer can help you work out what works for your business. Landlords usually never want to lose a tenant so they will hold you to strict compliance with the break clause notice provisions; the best thing is to diarise them so that you always have them on your radar and  consider them well in advance.
  3. Break conditions – These conditions must be strictly adhered to. If these pre-conditions are not complied with, your break notice may not be accepted. The most common pre-condition is that all rents due under the lease must have been paid. You must make sure that your lawyer negotiates this condition carefully. A lot of money is wasted in court where it is not clear whether a tenant has to pay a full quarter’s rent or just the apportioned rent up to the date of the break clause. There have been instances where a tenant has had to pay the full rent with no refund. Another pre-condition is that the tenant must give up vacant possession meaning the premises should be EMPTY. Take all your stuff and go.

So do you need a break? Yes! Make sure that you are always giving your business options and do NOT forget to use them.

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HOW TO…negotiate.

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In business, negotiation is a very important skill. You negotiate practically every day! From getting better wholesale deals to giving a pay rise. We are surrounded by negotiation. Negotiation leads to improvement and progress so it is important that you know HOW to negotiate effectively! Here are some tips from my experience as a city lawyer!

  1. Do your homework – You know that saying fail to prepare, prepare to fail, that basically sums up negotiation. You cannot just turn up and blurt out what you want. You need to know a) who you are going up against and b) what they want. This is the only way that you can determine a best case (your dream outcome)/worst case (your bottom line) position for yourself. Study your opposition’s motivations, obstacles and goals. Research them and ASK questions in the negotiation, ask and listen and think about how you can manipulate that information to get what you want. FOR EXAMPLE, Bob is negotiating better wholesale prices from his fish supplier for his restaurant. Dave, the supplier, cares about getting rid of his entire catch of the day on the same day. Bob knows this having done his homework and so agrees a 30% discount on prices if Bob buys the remainder of the catch of the day at the end of the day.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want – If you don’t ask you don’t get, simple. That’s not to say that your requests should be outrageous. They should be considered requests based on doing your homework above. Start by listing what you want from the negotiation and why. For example, following on from our example above, Bob may have listed that he wants cheaper prices for the fish that he buys so that he can offer cheaper prices to customers and attract more business. Dave may have listed the fact that he no longer wants to have to chuck away leftover stock at the end of each day. When an opportunity arises to discuss anything on your list of wants, leap in and talk about it. The trick is to always go in with your best position; start with your hopes and dreams then work down to your bottom line (but this is still better than where you are).
  3. Persuade them – So following on from the above, you have your list of wants but how can you get the other side to buy in to them. You present them as a solution or a benefit. Think of everything you want out of the negotiation and how it can actually help the other side. Having done your homework, you should always try to present your wants in the best possible light, not as things that the other side is giving away but as things that HELP them. HOWEVER this will not always be possible. Some things you want are just things you want BUT you can attach them to other potential benefits for the other side. For example, Bob might decide that he doesn’t need all types of fish in Dave’s catch of the day. He may only need Cod and Plaice so that’s what he bargains for. Dave is annoyed because ideally he wants a guaranteed buyer for all of the remainder of the catch of the day. Dave is losing out with this proposition. He may have a catch of the day that is all Cod or that is Cod, Haddock and Mackerel, he still faces wasting produce and losing money. Bob addresses this concern by saying “hey, you’re still getting a guaranteed buyer for Cod and Plaice which you catch REGULARLY.
  4. Don’t be in a hurry – The reality is that some negotiations take longer than others. Some issues are more complex. Some concerns affect more than the parties negotiating. If you face such a negotiation, you won’t get anywhere rushing the process. You have to go in at a realistic pace. Rome wasn’t built in a day and a sensitive negotiation can’t be agreed in a day. If you push too hard you could chase the other side away leaving you at square one. It is ok and a smart move to suggest “some time to think about it“. This shows the other side that you really want THEM to consider YOUR WANTS because you are serious or that YOU really want to consider THEIR WANTS because you are serious. You  can suggest a night, a couple of days or even a week to “think about it“. The amount of time will depend on the issues being negotiated.
  5. Keep your cool – DO NOT under any circumstances rise to negativity from the other side. Keep your cool! It will intimidate them. If you’re met with a stone wall or ridiculous counter arguments, take a minute and think about what the other side is saying. Then make them defend themselves. Ask them WHY they take a position. What’s their rationale? In most cases they can’t do this and hey presto, you’ve shifted the balance of power in making them realise that they can’t defend their ridiculous idea. In exposing the fact that they cannot actually defend their position, you then have the opportunity to launch into what you want, eloquently explaining your rationale and persuading the other side as to why they should agree.
  6. Stay flexible – Do not LIMIT yourself to a single strategy. You should have done your homework so well that you give yourself different ways to get to a solution. If you are met with heavy resistance to one option, build in the next and work on that. If the other party makes a demand, ask them to explain the reasoning behind that demand then brainstorm. Think – how can I get there another way?

Ultimately the worst negotiators are those who never move from their best case or shout down the other side instead of listening. Just remember that negotiation should lead to progress, negotiation is successful when a compromise is reached. HOWEVER there will be circumstances where it just won’t work, the parties interests are just not aligned. This is when you 7. WALK AWAY. Never ever force it. Good negotiators know when to cut their losses and walk away. In my opinion such negotiators have still won as they have been able to definitively rule out a business relationship thus freeing them to focus on another.

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HOW TO … chase debts!

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The most important thing when you own your own business is ensuring that you get PAID. Late payments and outstanding debts disrupt cash flow which can literally kill a business. This post is all about a) preventing late payment and b) chasing up late payment. The goal should always be to never have clients owing you BUT if they do, as they occasionally will, it’s all about getting that debt settled as amicably as possible.

Prevention

Ideally you do not want to be chasing up a late payment therefore prevention is better than cure. You can protect your cash flow by making it extremely difficult for a client to make a late payment. You basically need to be honest and upfront at the outset, so that there can be no doubt as to what you are expecting to be paid and by when.  Take note of the following tips:

  1. Make sure that your clients know and understand your payment terms. Display your terms clearly in every invoice and explain how (“payment can be made by BACS transfer/SWIFT/Paypal etc”) and when (“payment is due by X date”) payment should be made. The idea is to make it as EASY as possible for your clients to pay you. You should also include information as to any late payment penalties i.e. “if your payment is more than one day late we will charge interest at a daily rate of X%”. If I know you are going to charge me interest at a daily rate of X%, I’m most likely to pay you on time. The invoice should be a one stop shop of how and when to pay, and the consequences for late payment. This is the basic starting point to getting paid and preventing client debt. If your invoices do not do this, REVISE them.
  2. Double check the details.  Your invoice details should be perfect, quoting all the information the customer needs to identify it. Include your reference code and THEIR reference code. Give a good description of the work/product that the invoice relates to. You do not want a late payment to be YOUR fault so just make sure that all the details are correct.
  3. Send your invoices out promptly. If you want your clients to pay you on time, you better invoice them on time. If you invoice me a day or week late, I’ll take that to mean that I can pay you a day or week late and then some!
  4. Do some credit checks. You should credit check all new significant clients as part of your due diligence (due what? read this), but proceed with caution. A client may be new and have no credit history, or they might have done really well in the past five years but are now on the verge of going bust. Carry out your general due diligence and use your judgment – is it likely that this company/person can afford my services/product?
  5. Make them pay a deposit. The deposit method of payment is great for damage limitation with late paying clients. If you are going to ask for deposits, make the booking of your product or services conditional upon receipt of the deposit payment up front. No deposit, no deal. After a certain point in time make that deposit non-refundable too.  The deposit provisions should be stated in the actual contractual agreement between the parties as the deposit happens at the start BEFORE the invoice which is issued after the provision of the services or product.

Chasing for payment

No business is perfect. Even your best clients can let invoices become overdue. Chasing and securing payment of an overdue invoice is a fine art in the world of business as you never want to offend a client. However, your company is entitled to the money, so don’t shy away from collecting what is due to you. Even charities hound their loyal supporters for donations!  At this point, it is all about having a uniform procedure based on a series of gradually more urgent reminders, followed by putting the matter in the hands of a debt-collector or solicitor if all else fails (absolute last resort). Here are some tips:

  1. Know when your invoices are overdue and act immediately. In some industries it is easier and more acceptable to just pick up the phone and ask “hey where’s my money?”. However if you are dealing with a new client or are operating within a more formal industry, you should write a letter of reminder stating (politely but firmly) that your invoice is now overdue and please make immediate payment. You should send this letter by email or fax followed by a hard copy in the post. This way you get the reminder to the forgetful client asap whilst providing them with a hard copy for their records. I would recommend a  letter of reminder regardless of industry norms because I’m a cautious lawyer and I believe in leaving paper trails in instances like this. In order for your reminder to have an impact, it needs to be prompt so keep a calendar of all invoice due dates and keep an eye on them. Send your reminder the day after late payment or your company’s grace period. Allow seven days for a reply.
  2. If there is no reply within seven days, send the invoice again. Send it by recorded delivery to ensure it has been received and keep your receipt as evidence that you sent it.
  3. If you still do not receive a response, make a phone call to find out what the problem is. Your client may have accounting issues or queries that it needs help with. Find out the reason for the non-payment and help them out. Negotiate if you have to and try to extract a promise of payment.  ALSO use this phone call to find out if the customer has a regular weekly or monthly pay run and find out the day on which this is done. Keep calling until you receive payment, especially two or three days before the pay run. This is where chasing payment becomes a fine art. You need to tread a fine line between harassing the client too much and keeping the pressure up. It’s best to keep up a persistent chase! “Hey Bob How are you? Pay me please”, “Hey Sheila, I’m great thanks. Spoke to Bob the other day…pay me please”.
  4. If the pay run date passes and you still do not receive payment, consider turning up in person to collect it. Of course this is not desirable and it is not even possible in some instances. This is the last resort before the ABSOLUTE last resort.
  5. If you have tried all of the above steps and you have still not received payment, you need to consult your lawyer. There is nothing like a letter from a lawyer to scare the crap out of a client. The letter should threaten to take legal action to recover the debt or to start bankruptcy or winding-up proceedings (depending on how much you are owed, in the UK, you can end a company if they haven’t paid you – read this). The letter could also threaten to use a debt collection agency. Keep a copy of all correspondence and accept that if you are at this stage, you have lost that client forever. Not so bad as a client is only worth it if they value you and they show that they value you when they PAY you.

The legal/debt collector route is your absolute last resort, but don’t be afraid to use it. However if you get to this stage, ask your solicitor’s advice and evaluate how far you should sensibly go to collect the debt before cutting your losses.

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