Why SME's Don't Use Lawyers (And Why They Should)


Small and medium-sized businesses typically encounter similar commercial law dilemmas. Graeme Wilson, founder and CEO of the commercial law consultancy, Whipping the Cat, believes that there is an opportunity to demystify law and make legal services more accessible to a wider range of companies. Below he outlines four common legal obstacles encountered by SMEs, when “dealing with lawyers” and some real-life solutions, which the Whipping the Cat team has developed over the last for its clients.

Lawyers are expensive, so how is Whipping the Cat changing the perception of the norm?

There is a perception that lawyers are expensive. This may be true in several circumstances, but I am aware of several lawyers that offer really good value for money. I think that the reality is rather that companies do not know what costs to expect when they engage a lawyer. Most lawyers will tell you their hourly rate; some may even give an estimate of the time that they will spend and give you a “ballpark” figure. But, almost without exception, traditional law firms reward their staff for the hours they bill. Where is the incentive for them to work fast?

At Whipping the Cat we don’t believe that time is a good measure of value. Our fees are based on output and value to the client not hours spent. We always work for a pre-agreed fixed fee. This means we have to continually look for ways to work more efficiently. Our staff are rewarded for client satisfaction and retention not time spent. This way, we don’t pit the interests of our lawyers against the interest of our clients.

Graeme Wilson, CEO of Whipping the Cat

Graeme Wilson, CEO of Whipping the Cat

People always need lawyers but lawyers always seem to be inaccessible, Whipping the Cat's name is based from the very personal experience of getting a tailored suit, does this mean you focus on being accessible to clients and potential clients?

I spent several years working at various large corporations within their legal departments. The in-house legal team sat behind closed doors. We huddled together and ate together; we spoke of “the business people” as if they were something different to us. Most law firms adopt a similar approach – “we’re lawyers: this is the law – you need to make a business decision”. In time, I have learned that clients don’t value lawyers because they know the law – that should be a given. Value comes from providing solutions and peace of mind.

At Whipping the Cat we make sure that we have meetings at our client’s premises, often walking through the factories, show rooms and office space as we do so. Because the better we understand our clients, their environment, their risks and their appetite for risk, the better we are placed to identify problems early and assist in providing workable solutions.  We also provide self-help tools and templates so there are no charges for reinventing the wheel.

People say that, "lawyers don’t understand clients’ needs," as they just see the law and not the person behind the case, what are your thoughts on this?

A client once told me “don’t tell me what you know, tell me what I need to know”. Enough said.

"Lawyers use a sledgehammer to crack a walnut." People who do not understand the law often feel overwhelmed when a lawyer starts using all the different terms and jargon, how does Whipping the Cat get over this hurdle?

“Over-lawyering” is common (perhaps a consequence of the hourly rate?). This leaves clients frustrated and confused.

Most clients are looking for just enough “lawyering” to get them across the line. At Whipping the Cat we try to identify the business needs of our clients and then provide the legal solution or agreements to match the business need. We also work on a client risk mitigation basis - the fence at the top of the hill rather than the ambulance at the bottom!

More about Whipping the Cat

It is a boutique commercial law consultancy Whipping the Cat was founded in September 2013. Since then, the consultancy has spearheaded the NewLaw trend in South Africa’s legal service industry through its MultiplawyerÔ model and its promise of fixed-fee billing – an innovation which has seen its client base grow substantially since September 2013.

Whipping the Cat aims to changes the perception of the way that legal services can be delivered in South Africa, providing a trusted and viable alternative to traditional law firms and attracting and exciting clients with a new approach.  For the last year, it has put its innovative business model to the test, and proven its worth.

For more information about Whipping the Cat, visit www.whippingthecat.com.