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How to deal with a legal problem

Here is some general guidance from LawWorks for your organisation for when a potential legal problem arises.  

1

Do not ignore it

Legal issues tend not to magically disappear, in fact they usually get worse and more complex the longer they are ignored.  You will generally have better options and be better off (saving time and resources further down the line) if you deal with issues swiftly.

2

Determine the urgency

This is the most important point to establish first, as it will determine how you deal with the matter. 

The urgency may be quite apparent (such as debt collectors knocking at the door), or you may need to check relevant documents to find out how much time you have.  For example, a letter may state a deadline for a response within it, or the termination date written in a lease may be coming up.

3

Escalate the matter

Consider whether you should report or escalate the matter internally.  Is this something the chair, treasurer or perhaps another trustee should be informed of?  Getting their input will help to provide important direction and support.

4

Dealing with highly urgent matters

In some cases, it will be clear that you need to take good advice, quickly.  For example, you may have suddenly been locked out of your premises by a landlord, or someone may be threatening to go public with a story the following day, etc.  If you have a lawyer, call them immediately and make it clear how urgent it is, or get a specialist lawyer (for example from the Law Society’s website) as soon as you can.  Make sure that the advice you are getting is from someone with the correct experience in that particular area of law.

 A note on legal proceedings:  if you receive correspondence from a court or tribunal, always treat this as a matter of priority and take legal advice as soon as possible. 

5

Dealing with important but not so urgent matters

Where a matter has slightly more breathing room in terms of urgency, such as a month or so, your options for dealing with it are a little wider.

You may have time to do some initial research yourself online or approach your usual adviser/a trusted adviser for an initial steer.  Where confidentiality allows, consider asking peers within your network whether they have had to deal with the same matter before.  You may also want to apply for pro bono (free) legal advice where you cannot afford to pay for advice.

Get advice sooner rather than later wherever possible, so that you have plenty of time to prepare and negotiate, where relevant, rather than feel rushed into a particular course of action. 

6

Buy yourself some time

Consider sending a holding letter where you are being pushed for a response and need to buy some time.  You can send a short note acknowledging the issue/letter and saying you are considering the matter and will get back to them in due course. 

This may be appropriate where, say, someone sets an arbitrary, artificial deadline, as it can reassure the other party that you are taking action and looking into things.  However, remember that this will not always be appropriate, including when formal legal proceedings are underway.

7

Be proactive

There is a lot to be said for dealing with legal matters proactively and keeping them in the back of your mind when making plans.  This will help avoid more serious problems arising later on.  For example, if a new service is being launched, think ahead about new contracts you need to put in place and start to work on them, or if you are proposing a restructure, consider whether a redundancy procedure would impact timing, and so on. 

 Take advantage of the time you have and get some advice or guidance early on, be it through researching yourself, asking advisers/peers you trust, or getting formal legal advice.  Prevention is better than cure… 

8

Increase knowledge

It is always worth investing in training so that you get better as an organisation at identifying legal issues early. 

Some of this can of course come from experience, but do also go along to seminars and training courses (and encourage colleagues to do the same and share learning).  Plenty of charity law specialist firms hold free or very reasonably priced sessions so this need not break the bank.  Also take some time to get familiar with online resources and sign up to regular email updates to keep abreast of changes. 

All of this will better equip you to spot potential legal issues earlier.  This extra time gives you more options, and ultimately more control over getting what you want. 

Further information

Contributor:  LawWorks

LawWorks is a charity working in England and Wales to connect volunteer lawyers with people in need of legal advice, who are not eligible for legal aid and cannot afford to pay, and with the not-for-profit organisations that support them.

LawWorks’ Not-For-Profits Programme helps connect volunteer solicitors with small charities and not-for-profit organisations in need of legal advice.  The advice is given for free (pro bono). 

Further information

  • NCVO guidance:

https://knowhownonprofit.org/

https://www.ncvo.org.uk/practical-support/legal-advice

  • Law Society (Find a Solicitor):

http://solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk/

  •  Charity Commission guidance:

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/charity-commission

  •  A4ID (Advocates for international Development):

http://www.a4id.org/

  •  Ethical Property Foundation: 

http://www.ethicalproperty.org.uk/

Contributors

Page last edited Nov 01, 2016 History

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