Unpaid bills and disagreements with suppliers, professional advisors, your landlord and even the local council can all be an unfortunate fact of life when you run your own business.
Dealing with these sorts of issues can be expensive and time-consuming, and for smaller businesses there is a risk that they could be pushed into financial difficulty if their cash flow begins to suffer. Taking legal advice early is the key to resolving business disputes with the minimum amount of time, effort and cost.
Clarify the nature of your dispute
As a first step, you need to clarify what the dispute is about and why it has arisen. If a customer has failed to pay their bill, is this because they cannot afford it or is it because they have a complaint about the goods or services you have provided? If your landlord is refusing to allow you to assign your lease, is this because they are being unreasonable or because they have genuine concerns about the new tenant’s financial position?
Explore all options
Next, you need to determine whether there is any middle ground on which the dispute could be resolved. For example, could a customer struggling to pay a bill be allowed to settle their debt in instalments? Could a landlord who is refusing to agree to an assignment be encouraged to change their mind if the new tenant’s financial obligations could be guaranteed?
If there is no obvious middle ground to work on, or if any proposals to resolve the dispute have been rejected, consideration should be given to asking a dispute resolution expert to become involved. This is necessary in all but exceptional cases before court proceedings are issued if you want to avoid the risk of the court punishing you for troubling them without exhausting all other reasonable and appropriate options first. Punishment can include depriving you of some or all of your legal costs even if you are successful in your claim, reducing the amount of interest you can claim or ordering you to pay costs to your opponent.
There are several alternatives to going to court, including direct negotiation led by you or your lawyer or the appointment of an independent mediator who can look at the dispute afresh and make impartial suggestions about how it could be resolved. For some types of dispute, adjudication or arbitration may also be possible.
If attempts at resolving the dispute outside of court all fail, then the possibility of court proceedings should be considered. However, this is a decision that requires careful thought given that it can be very costly, take a long time to deal with and there is no guarantee that you will be happy with the outcome.
If, despite the risks, you decide to push ahead with court proceedings you can rely on our expert dispute resolution lawyers to present your case in the best possible light and to robustly fight your corner.
How Hancock Quins Solicitors can help
Based in Watford, our dispute resolution lawyers can help you to:
- identify the issues in dispute;
- give you an opinion on where you stand;
- explain your options, bearing in mind your legal position, commercial aims and attitude towards risk;
- assess the financial position of your opponent to determine whether they are likely to be ‘good for’ any money they owe or may be ordered to pay you;
- help you gather evidence to support your case;
- negotiate with your opponent to try to resolve the matter amicably;
- suggest appropriate alternative methods of dispute resolution if this does not work;
- assess the likely cost of taking court action versus the best and worst possible outcomes;
- consider whether there is anything that can be done to protect your position while the court decides the case, such as an injunction to stop any further damage being done to your reputation or financial position;
- make sure that you comply with any rules that need to be followed before court proceedings can be issued, such as those that apply to the recovery of debts owed to businesses by consumers;
- bring or defend court proceedings on your behalf; and
- take any necessary action to enforce the terms of any judgment or order made in your favour.