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09May2014

Q&A With… Barrister Meaghan Richardson: Small Business Litigation Advice

  • By Jennifer
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1. Tell us about yourself – what do you do, and how long have you been in your industry? 

 

I am a litigation lawyer and partner with O’Connor Richardson, a boutique litigation firm practicing in downtown Toronto. We handle a variety of litigation matters including commercial disputes, contract litigation, negligence, intellectual property litigation, state accountability just to name a few. I have been practicing for two years and have very quickly gained experience in a variety of matters from simple debt collection to the emerging law surrounding the Crown liability for misfeasance in public office. I help individuals or companies protect themselves both by enforcing their rights as well as defending themselves from law suits.

 

 

2.      What is the #1 reason that small business owners come to you?

 

Small business owners seek our services because we are approachable, frank and expedient in the services we provide. We understand the concerns of small and medium size businesses because we are business owners ourselves! We work with our clients to make the most cost effective decision that both protects their position but also manages the risks associated with litigation and dispute resolution as reasonably as possible.

 

We also understand the importance of having a direct conduit between lawyer and client. One of the most common complaints I hear about other lawyers is that the client felt they did not understand the process and could not contact their lawyer in a timely manner.

 

We ensure this is not the case with our firm by ensuring the client has direct contact with their partnering lawyer so they feel in control of their matter and understand its progress. We also travel to our clients’ offices so they are able to focus more of their time and energy on growing their business.

 

Meaghan (Umbrella Bookkeeping Q&A)

 

3.      What common legal troubles could small business owners potentially face?

 

The most common litigation problem we see for small business owners are breach of contract claims. This is the case for both debt collection as well as supplier or renovation contracts.

 

On the debt collection front, cash flow is such an important factor for a small business (particularly a new business). Ensuring accounts receivables and payables both remain low can be difficult but a key ingredient to success. Owners want to focus on bringing in new business and often forget to ensure the business they already received is paid for. Being diligent about following up on outstanding balances and ensuring the business’ cash flow remains fluid is critical and is the bread and butter of what we do

 

We also find that small business owners frequently forget about the importance of putting agreements in writing. As the saying goes: a verbal agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on! It is important, especially in the start-up phase, that all agreements are put in writing and that they include all of the terms of the agreement. Owners should never assume the other party knows what you expect or understand to be the terms of the contract. This is particularly the case in renovation or building projects but also in supplier agreements or large purchases. Be sure to include the expected time of delivery because delays can be incredibly costly and potentially fatal to a new business.

 

4.      We would love your advice: how can a business owner ensure that they are properly prepared for the litigation process?

 

Be reasonable! Most lawyers, mediators and judges understand that the best settlement is usually the one where no one is happy. While this might sound like discouraging advice, it does not mean that you are not going to succeed. It also does not mean that litigation is pointless or not worth pursuing. It is simply important, at the outset, that a client understands that they are not going to get everything they want and the other side isn’t going to either. The important thing is that the client knows what their bottom line is and how far you are willing to go to get to it. Understanding this upfront can make the process much less stressful and often leads to a quicker settlement if all parties understand their needs and best alternatives to proceeding or settling their case during each step of the process.

 

5.      Lastly, what is a quote that has helped you throughout your career?

 

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward”

 

–          Amelia Earhart

 

I find that many people are plagued with indecision. For me, I have always understood that the most difficult step is to make a decision and stick to it. Once I set my mind on something, I go for it with “tenacity”. Deciding and sticking with your decision is incredibly powerful. Of course this doesn’t mean being inflexible with re-assessing your decision and changing course. It means making that decision and moving forward with it rather than remaining in limbo with fear of making the wrong decision.

 

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