Anecdotal evidence suggests that South Africans are not necessarily excessively litigious compared to their peers around the world.
That being said, local small business owners may still find themselves embroiled in legal disputes involving lease agreements, employees (e.g. employees claiming that they have been unfairly dismissed or discriminated against), allegations of defamation and libel by competitors and business partners, and non-compliance with regulations governing taxes and marketing.
Given the potentially high costs of engaging legal professionals, many small business owners have to find ways to resolve their legal issues as quickly and cheaply as possible.
The first thing small business owners need to establish is whether they really need a lawyer. Some issues can be resolved by spending a few hours filling in the correct forms or getting the appropriate information and advice from the relevant regulator or government department.
Another option is to consult or purchase ready-made printed or electronic legal guides. Although convenient, the danger is that it may be difficult for a layperson to correctly interpret their contents and translate them into a sound legal strategy. The typical small business owner may also be unable to judge accurately the quality and comprehensiveness of the information in the guides, or whether they refer to the most up-to-date legislation and regulations.
A third option is for small business owners to submit questions to online legal professionals who offer their services free of charge or charge only a small fee. The downside is that small business owners do not have a clear-cut timeline for when they can expect a response (or even if they will get one at all). In addition, small business owners may not have submitted adequate information for the legal experts to assess the case fully and give the best advice. If a lawyer must be retained, the good news is that some law firms in South Africa provide free or low-cost legal services to small businesses as part of their pro bono work.
Alternatively, another option for small business owners is to retain a firm of legal professionals on a just-in-case basis by paying a monthly subscription fee. When a legal dispute arises, these professionals then act on behalf of the business.
Various service providers operating on this model have mushroomed in South Africa in recent years, hence small business owners have several options to choose from. Ultimately, in selecting the most appropriate form of legal support small business owners should weigh affordability against other factors such as the complexity of the dispute, the significance of the threat it poses to the sustainability of the business, and the credibility of professionals and secondary resources.
Post By:Fadzai Munyaradzi