Disputes with suppliers, customers, competitors and with partners or shareholders are an unfortunate part of business life. They are potentially expensive and time consuming and can grow out of all proportion if not managed properly. Above all they are distraction from the business. The reality however is that, if you are in business, you will sooner or later become involved in a dispute of one kind or another, but there are steps you can take to avoid conflict and keep disputes to a minimum.
- Get everything in writing. Disputes often arise because of a genuine uncertainty over what was said and agreed. Don’t rely on your recollection of discussions and promises before you shook hands. Record the agreement on paper preferably in a proper professionally drawn up agreement. And always read and take advice, if appropriate, on any agreement you are asked to sign – especially if it is a supplier’s standard terms.
- Kill a problem quickly. If there is a suggestion of a dispute, don’t delay. Putting off dealing with a customer’s complaint or a supplier who fails to deliver can escalate into a full blown dispute. Nip a brewing problem in the bud before it develops.
- Be fair and reasonable. If you have failed or not given the service promised, accept it and offer to put it right. Do not rely upon the small print or exclusion clauses in a contract. If they are not fair, the courts will set them aside.
- Adopt a proactive and conciliatory management style. Establish sound and fair policies and try not to be confrontational. Vet your customers and those you deal with, and if you are fair to them, disputes will be kept to a minimum.
- If notwithstanding your best efforts you become involved in a dispute, do everything you can to negotiate an amicable solution. If this is not immediately possible, you will need to take legal advice on the strength of your case. When doing so, be aware that if you take legal action through the courts, you will have to be prepared for a costly and protracted case, and might well be better off accepting a reasonable offer.
How we deal with a dispute
Each case is different, and first we like to get to know our client, their requirements and expectations. We will then:
- Get an understanding of what was agreed and intended and how clear the agreement was.
- Clarify the other side’s failure and whether or not you may have contributed to the problem.
- Assess and quantify the loss you have suffered.
- Collate and validate all available evidence.
- Put forward the strength and legal basis of our case and enter into negotiation to try and reach an a settlement.
- Assess the other party’s ability to pay.
- Consider a compromise settlement and the cost and alternatives of not accepting. Decide to continue or abandon the claim.
- Consider mediation or ADR as the way to resolve the dispute.
- Where settlement is not possible, advise the other party of intention to issue court proceedings.
- Issue proceedings and progress through the court system whilst continuing to be prepared to accept a reasonable offer and compromise.