Opinion

VARS called to the bar could be putting on the writs

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, in this article, I will present my case that IT is a litigious business and that small businesses, being priced out of justice, are at a considerable disadvantage. I will examine the claims that a new company is making legal services more affordable and whether this really does level the playing field.

MeerkatsMy first witness, who I cannot name, is the multi-millionaire boss of a telecoms company I had to drag through the small claims court. Having repeatedly ignored my requests for payment, he reacted to the small claims court summons that I sent him with these words.

“Go on then. Try and sue me. I will take you to the [redacted] cleaners. I am going to [redacted] enjoy this. You are going to [redacted] regret this. I'm going to make life hell for you – and your family.”

Despite getting no help from the police (he made a number of threats), being unable to afford a lawyer and my ineptitude at presenting my own case, I still won. The magistrate took one look at the evidence and decided he had no defence. But thanks to my inexperience of forensics, some of my claims could not be admitted. So though I won the case, it was a pyrrhic victory, because the amount of time and money I invested outweighed the damages I was offered. But it was worth it to see him throw a massive tantrum outside the court.

The problem for all small and medium sized IT businesses is that the law favours the rich. If you don't have a legal department, you are forced to go on the open market every time you have a legal issue. Inexperience almost inevitably makes you over pay. There are hundreds of examples I could give you of of IT companies that have been royally screwed: first by their 'partners' and then by their lawyers.

Now the scales of justice have been balanced again by a new technology innovation that helps everyone to shop around for a better deal on legal services (amazingly, it was invented by a lawyer - I always thought they conspired to keep the prices up).

If you key the details of your case into the web portal Compare Legal Costs, they are sent out to all the barristers, solicitors and other legal service providers on its database. This is a lot easier than schlepping around law firms, sitting in reception while the meter ticks over at £100 an hour, only for them to inevitably tell you that “it's terribly unfair, but that's how the law works I'm afraid.”

By using Compare Legal Costs, you can save up to 20% of your legal fees for the same level of service, promises Michael Welsh, a lawyer and inventor of the service. “This is because the customer is in control and can compare services by price before committing to work with a solicitor,” he says.

The Internet is creating a massive shift in purchasing-power from the legal profession to the general public, he says. According to his research, 82% of us might take legal advice if we knew the fixed costs up front.

Let's hope he's got a good case. Still, if you can't afford a lawyer, you could always ask me for advice. I've twice had to drag companies through the courts in order to get paid, so I have a wealth of mistake-based experience to share. Indeed, so do many IT resellers. Why don't we all pool our knowledge and help each other? We could have a more populist site, with a more snappy name: What about Puttin On The Writs? Or Shop A Lawyer? Brief N' Counter (geddit?). Or maybe Silks and Briefs Online?

Who's with me? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I want you to consider your verdict very carefully.


Image credit: Wikipedia

This was first published in December 2012

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