Our solicitor was OK (almost human in fact!) but legal stuff is scary. It is expensive, and we have no way of knowing if the advice is right or necessary. Law was another world to us, but we knew that sooner or later legal work would be essential.
An essential thing we would need before work could start on the site was the lease agreement from the District Council. We had to agree with them a heads of terms, which is basically a set of instructions to their and our solicitors, to set out what we want in the lease agreement. We then have to pay the solicitors (for both parties) to turn it into a long incomprehensible document that we sign. Responsibility for the heads of terms is mainly with the Council, and it took a long time. I did some prodding, and should have done more, but it had not really registered as a high priority. That turned out to be a good thing, because the legal costs would have added up to£15,000 to £20,000,but we spent very little of it.
Another area where the solicitor got involved was the construction contract. For the tender, the engineering consultants used an industry standard contract called NEC, which is a standard framework in which the details are inserted. The solicitor had been telling us that he should look at the contract, and we finally sent it to him part way through the tender period. His response was a 49 page document giving all the changes they considered necessary. There was no way we were going to send it on to the contractors at that stage.
He finally sat us down and explained the reasoning behind it. Yes, the NEC contract may be fine and you may have no problems, but it is all about what will happen if something goes wrong: who is responsible for what, and how responsibility is transferred from one party to another when construction is done. He illustrated it with a diagram of the different parties involved, and the relationships between them, and it began to make sense.
It is a bit like insurance, but more complicated. The difficulty for lay people like us is that it is hard to know which risks should have legal protection and which need not. Perhaps we needed a tame solicitor who could simply explain and advise? But the fact remains that if we had not left all the legal stuff until the last minute, we could have spent a great deal more money.
We also wanted legal verification of our prospectus. That would have enabled other organisations to publicise it. It is a process in which a solicitor works through sentence by sentence, checking that every statement can be verified against a file of evidence, that we supply. I had loads of information, but it was simply not well enough organised to get the file together in a systematic way at short notice. So there was a need to keep the information organised in a more systematic way, as it was acquired.