A couple of years ago, I had to oversee my family business after my father’s sudden demise. It is a small publishing house for school textbooks and has been in our family for about four generations. It had been only two years since I was working as a lawyer and I was struggling to get a grip on my legal career. Then this happened, and I was to run a business!
It was a monumental task for someone who had barely any knowledge of the legal industry, to also run the family business.
Thankfully being a lawyer, I had learnt to never say no to any work that comes my way and to learn it on the job. However, what I did not anticipate was the different aspects of running an entire business. Whoever said lawyers are cut-throat should meet businessmen. They are the real sharks. And soon enough the shark came circling as they realised that a newbie had taken the reins.
I struggled for a good year before I got somewhat of a grip on things. There were shop establishment licenses to be renewed, accounting books to be maintained, sales, marketing, purchasing materials, typing and finalising of the manuscript, designing, employment contracts and management, salaries and bonuses, creditors to pay and so on.
It was a herculean task!
I made a lot of mistakes from missing the deadlines for filing the returns, to being called upon by the Income Tax Department for review of our books of accounts! It turns out that our chartered accountant and tax advisor had passed away a few months before my father, and we never found a replacement. So there were additional tax issues along with the dissolution of the partnership firm since the other partner wanted an out.
All this was just me overseeing the business to assist my mother, who had stepped into my father’s shoes. I was also working full-time for a company. To say I was barely afloat is an understatement. I was thrown to the deep end and was drowning. That is until I learnt how to swim, eventually.
I realised through this arduous journey of about two years that it is difficult to manage a business. But as a lawyer, I was quite taken aback by the knowledge of law a business owner requires, in their day-to-day activity. If I were working for another business in the capacity of a lawyer, I would have required a variety of expertise, even to be able to advise the client.
It got me thinking about the areas of laws which a lawyer may focus on to have a successful legal career. The realisation came from an informed place of knowing what a business needs from their legal advisor. If our small business needed a full-time lawyer, imagine the requirements of the big clients and companies, who pay handsomely for legal advice and services!
So I have narrowed down to the basic five areas which are crucial to the functioning of any enterprise and calls for legal expertise:
Contract Drafting, Negotiation
All businesses, big or small run on dealings between parties. It could be related to investment, purchase, sale, marketing, employment, etc. The consensus in transactions is difficult to achieve by the parties alone. This is where a lawyer comes into the picture. It is a lawyer’s job to figure out what the clients want and draft the terms and conditions accordingly. A good lawyer knows what to ask for in a negotiation, and what to give up to get the best outcome for their client.
From drafting a variety of contracts for mergers or acquisition of businesses to the employment agreement, suppliers agreement, outsourcing contracts, etc., and their negotiation – a lawyer does it all. There is a need for lawyers to know how to draft such agreements in their day-to-day work profile or to increase their clientele.
So for any lawyer, the area of contract drafting and negotiation will open many doors. The art of drafting an airtight contract comes from years of practice. There are contract drafting courses which teaches the nuances of drafting a solid contract.
Employee Management Labour Laws
Richard Branson, the business magnate and investor, famously said, “Clients do not come first. Employees comes first. If you take care of employees, they will take care of the clients.”
All organisations are run by their workforce. A company is as good as the people who work for it. Therefore, there is a requirement for effective recruitment of employees and their management. The human resources personnel need to be conversant with the industrial and labour laws. But the lawyers need to be able to guide the company and management through the employment contracts, employee-related dispute resolution, sexual harassment lawsuits, labour lawsuits, etc. They also need to draft necessary policies, conduct workshops wherever necessary for employee management labour laws.
There is a huge demand for lawyers in the recruitment space. The recruitment companies like Vahura-Legal Talent Management, Randstad India, Manpower Group, IKYA Human Capital, etc. all need lawyers adept in employment laws to assist in the recruitment, guiding the human resource personnel. There are industrial and labour law courses available for building an expertise in this field of law.
Information Technology and Law
In the era of internet companies, and e-commerce websites and applications, a lawyer needs to be in the know of the tech-legal aspects. From identifying the jurisdiction to areas like cybersecurity, data privacy, GDPR compliance, regulation of payment getaways, software licensing, cyber crimes, etc., the lawyers need to know the applicable laws.
The lawyers are needed for deals like in the case of Flipkart-Walmart acquisitions or to protect the intellectual property in cases like Google-Samsung. Then there are crimes like data theft, identity theft, cyber fraud, or security breaches as in the case of the Panama paper leak, which requires cybersecurity experts who understand the technological and legal implications.
There are online cyber law courses which are comprehensive in cyber law, fintech and technology contracts. They provide the theoretical and practical aspects of the laws involved.
Intellectual Property Laws
Necessity is the mother of invention. But it does not protect it from intellectual property theft or infringement. From the appearance of a product to its name, its functions and utility everything requires legal protection, to avoid infringement of owner’s rights. This requires expertise in intellectual property laws.
There are different areas of the IP laws which cover various aspects of any product or rights thereof. Copyright covers the rights of the author or owner on his work like books, songs, performance, dramatic works, etc. Trademarks protect the distinguishing word, phrase, symbol, product shape, or logo of goods. Patent laws protect the inventions or innovations of a product. The design laws defend the aesthetics of any article or product of manufacture.
An IP lawyer needs to know which law is applicable and when. Whether a new application requires protection under copyright law, trademark law or patent law depends on its nature, function and proprietary value. If there is nothing proprietary in a product, then patent laws will not protect it. In such a case the copyright and trademark laws might be attracted.
For more detailed and comprehensive learning of the practical aspects of IP laws, you may read more here.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Dispute resolution is the bread and butter of lawyer. Any contract is drawn to state the terms and conditions clearly, rights and obligations of the parties to minimise the disputes. In case of a dispute, any decent contract will provide for a dispute resolution mechanism.
While litigation remains a popular dispute resolution mechanism, the time and monetary constraints involved are much too high. Therefore, for speedy and cost-effective dispute resolutions, people are leaning more towards alternative dispute resolution mechanisms like arbitration and mediation.
Arbitration is a procedure in which a dispute is submitted, by agreement of the parties, to one or more arbitrators who make a binding decision on the dispute. In choosing arbitration, the parties opt for a private dispute resolution procedure instead of going to court. In mediation, the disputing parties work with a neutral third party, the mediator, to resolve their disputes. The mediator facilitates the resolution of the parties’ disputes by supervising the exchange of information and the bargaining process.
There is an increasing number of people opting for arbitration over litigation as they are swifter and much less costly compared to litigation. Therefore, more and more lawyers have quickly adapted to the situation and learnt the mechanisms of the arbitration. One may learn more about arbitration and dispute resolution more comprehensively here.
Lawyers need to continually evolve and learn in their profession to be at the top of their game. While law school teaches us theoretical aspects of the subjects like contract laws, negotiation, labour laws, IT laws/cyber laws, IP laws, alternative dispute resolution, etc., it fails to prepare us for the real world. The lawyers have to learn these skills through years of practice, and then they manage to gain expertise in one or two areas at best.
But the clients need an all-around legal expert who can advise on a variety of subject matters. They want multiple experts at the cost of one. So they have to get the lawyers who are an expert in multiple domains. There are online courses available on business laws which cover all these topics and offer practical applications through regular exercises.
As technology evolves, so does the requirements of businesses. Now, everyone wants a well-rounded legal expert who has the proficiency in more than one aspect of the law. There are jobs out there in companies looking for dual-qualified lawyers who can handle a varied range of issues and disputes. It will require hard work and focus to be able to keep up with the task at hand. To learn and evolve as a legal expert is the only way to survive these competitive times in the industry
So keep learning!