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What are gateway services and how can independent practitioners use them to onboard new clients faster?

One of the biggest problems that any young lawyer faces while starting up is getting their first client or initial clientele.  For instance, you may get a breakthrough when a client for whom you have done simple trademark registration work, comes back to you for a litigation case and you can successfully defend their claim for infringement and passing off.

In today’s mail, I am going to talk about different types of gateway services and how they can be utilised by independent professionals to onboard clients faster.

What are gateway services?

A gateway service is a low-cost entry point for a client. It is difficult for a client to trust new lawyers with high stakes and complicated matters. These are conceptualised as low hanging fruits and often do not involve complicated legal work. They are simple, frequent and thus easier to get, irrespective of your past experience.

These are also services which solve an immediate pain point for a client. It’s unlikely that they will be thinking about anything else that you offer, unless that pain point is dealt with. However, if you are able to solve that immediate problem, they may progress to offer you more work.

In short, these services are your gateway to enter into the circle of trust for a client.

Some frequently used gateway services can be listed as under:

Drafting legal notices/reply to notices

Many clients need legal notices to be sent for variety of reasons as under:

  1. Default in payment – by customers, clients, tenants, borrowers etc. 
  2. Deficiency in services – by airlines, taxi services, doctors etc.
  3. Legal notices for cheque bouncing
  4. Demand notices under Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code
  5. Legal notice for evacuation of property by tenant
  6. Takedown notice and any other notices for infringement or passing off of IP 
  7. Notices for any other contract breaches like breach of confidentiality or non-compete or non-solicit clauses
  8. Notices for family law related matters such as divorce by mutual consent

The above are some matters for which clients usually have an urgency attached and therefore, someone who can help issue these notices very soon will seem like a wave of relief to them. These are also matters which can become larger thereafter, and therefore, if you have been able to draft and send through a good notice at this stage, you have very good chances of securing further work which pays more. 

Together with drafting notices, the other immediate issue people face, is drafting replies to notices by government departments. When a notice is received from a regulator or a government department, the first thing that a client experiences is panic. If you are there at their side to deal with this situation, you can become their go to person for a lot of other problems. Some of such notices can be:

  1. Notice received by a director (or often, ex-director) for non-payment of tax by company;
  2. Show Cause Notices received from SEBI by intermediaries like smaller brokers, portfolio management services providers, investment advisors etc.
  3. Strike off notices received from the Registrar of Companies for non-filing of financial statements etc.

Filing – returns, accounts, forms

There are quite a few people who have secured GST registrations in order to be able to sell their products on Amazon / Flipkart. GST registration is a relatively simple process and it is possible that they might have been able to do this on their own. However, many of them are not aware that they need to file a return even if they haven’t made any sales in a period. If you can inform them about this and take up the return filing for them, this is a quick way to avoid a penalty for them and set your foot firmly in the door. 

Most people are aware that they need to file income tax returns, however, they dread this exercise since they find it to be too complex. Taking up an income tax return filing can pay very less and require effort, but this is something most people require, so the number of clients for this service are very high.

Similarly small companies, NGOs or trusts or LLPs can sometimes be unaware of what forms they need to file with whom and when. They are also not aware that they need to get their accounts filed. If you can make them aware (and we will also discuss how) of their obligations, you will be the one to get the assignment.

Filing simple complaints on online portals of the police department such as loss of share certificates or mobile phone thefts etc. can also be some gateway services which you can provide, just to develop a relationship with a client, with minimal or no fees.

Securing incorporation/registrations 

This can include the following services:

  1. Incorporation of a company;
  2. Registration of a trust;
  3. Registration of trademarks & designs;
  4. Registering an entity as a startup with the Department for promotion of industry and internal trade;
  5. Registration of an entity as an MSMED;
  6. Registration for GST;
  7. Registering very common agreements such as leave and license and lease agreements;
  8. Basic labour registrations like registration under Shops and Establishments Acts and Professional Tax Act;
  9. Securing Import Export Code;
  10. Registering charges with the Registrar of Companies.

Bear in mind that these are not going to be very high paying services, but this is what can get your relationship started with a client right at the time when they are starting a business as well. When you are with them at the time of initiation of their business, they are likely to resort to you for other services also, all you need to do is to predict what more they are likely to require and secure proficiency in such assignments.

Drafting/reviewing initial contracts

Some very basic contracts which businesses would need to be drafted are:

  1. Constitution contracts and documents such as Partnership Deeds, LLP Agreements, Co-founders Agreements, Memorandum and Articles of Association;
  2. Employment agreements;
  3. Confidentiality Agreements / Non-disclosure Agreements;
  4. Consultancy Agreements;
  5. Lease / Leave and License Agreements;
  6. Memorandum of Understanding
  7. Power of Attorney

Many businesses do not enter into contracts for supply of goods or services and simply rely on an invoice and terms and conditions of supply at the back of it. If you can explain to them how these could be better put into an agreement and why that helps, there are many small clients you can get in this way.

Many people also sign guarantee contracts blindly without being aware of the implications of such contracts. They need to be educated about this (again, I will also tell you how in this email) and when they know the implications, they would want you to have a look at the contracts they are signing before they proceed.

Other services

There are a host of miscellaneous services which you can provide such as:

  1. Making a search in the MCA records and retrieving documents and preparing search reports;
  2. Securing certified true copies of documents filed from the Registrar of Companies;
  3. Requesting and securing duplicate share certificates;
  4. Getting the names of people transposed (inter-changed) on the share certificates (physical share transfers are no longer permitted for public companies);
  5. Claiming back unpaid dividend which has been transferred to the Investor Education and Protection Fund, etc.

Why trainings work extremely well as a precursor to larger assignments

Now that we have seen what gateway services can be provided to a client, how exactly do you reach out to clients to make them know of two things:

  1. That you exist; and 
  2. That they need such services and you are capable of providing these to them?

Plus you’ve got to keep an eye on the fact that you ultimately want to graduate to bigger assignments and only start with gateway services. Here is where training can work splendidly. A few reasons why:

  1. Delivery time of the training is limited so you can quickly make a headway into to a lot of people at the same time;
  2. Out-of-pocket costs and coordination is lower as compared to, say visiting each one of the potential clients and reaching out to them individually;  
  3. You can create more complex trainings quickly and impress clients, thus fulfilling your need for larger and higher paying assignments;  
  4. Deliver a great training, answer all queries and people come to recognise you as having some kind of authority on that topic.

Trainings for individuals, startups, mid-sized and larger organisations 

Here are some examples of training you can provide, to reach out to a large number of clients in need of similar services: 

General trainings for any organization 

  1. Training for employees on Employee HR Handbook/ Code of conduct
  2. Data protection trainings
  3. Drafting training for HR Managers: How to handle disciplinary proceedings, draft contracts and respond to statutory authorities 
  4. Negotiation training for business and sales teams
  5. Arbitration and pre-disputes work for procurement teams and contract managers
  6. Training on government contracts and tenders for procurement managers
  7. Training on how to enforce employment contract violations by employees 
  8. A POSH Training for ICC members, management team or employee sensitization 

General trainings for startup entrepreneurs

  1. How should they prepare for a legal due diligence before your first investment round – what needs to be in order? 
  2. How to negotiate term-sheets;
  3. How should they create an ESOP plan and what are the different kinds of incentives that you can offer employees?   
  4. Tax issues faced by startups on an everyday basis and how to deal with them;
  5. Corporate law 101 for first-time founders;
  6. How to have great compliance systems for your business from Day 1: Legal, Tax and Secretarial Requirements;
  7. How to create a comprehensive plan to protect your intellectual property;
  8. 10 legal mistakes made by entrepreneurs during the first 5 years of their startup journey and how you can prevent them;
  9. How to select an appropriate service provider: pros and cons of using free templates vs. using a services such as Vakilsearch or Indiafilings vs. approaching lawyers; 
  10. Legal tools to reduce likelihood of payment defaults and increase recovery rates; 
  11. Free legal health-checkup for raising angel investment or venture capital.

Trainings and other services specific to large companies and listed entities

  1. Anti-corruption training 
  2. Insider trading training
  3. Dawn raid training: Preparedness for CCI raids
  4. Contract-review training from a competition scrutiny perspective 
  5. Labour inspection preparedness drill 
  6. Legal risk management in respect of subcontracting high-value contracts 

Trainings for work from individuals (ideally high net-worth individuals) 

  1. How can independent artists, producers and documentary film-makers use product placement to finance their films 
  1. How should content creators protect their IP on the internet?
  1. How to negotiate your services agreement for actors and other service providers
  1. How to negotiate celebrity endorsements for influencers
  1. Assisting independent lawyers/ small firms with writing and building their practice (Legal Practice Management course)

Trainings for senior management

  1. Basics of online reputation management – legal tools necessary to contain business risk
  2. How to negotiate investment rounds with investors
  3. How to raise finance: Legal and commercial aspects of obtaining finance from domestic banks, NBFCs and international lenders   

By providing the above training for nominal fees or even for free, you can get access to a good number of people who come to recognise you as someone who knows the subject really well.

What should you do after training or providing the gateway services?

Find the larger picture

Connect with the audience. A good understanding of the individuals and organisations helps not only in identifying the gateway services that can be offered to them, but in several cases might help in flagging out the potential legal issues that may be faced due to the nature of the business at the time of providing the training, or gateway services.

For example, a good understanding of the business model of an online architectural company for which you are preparing an employment agreement might help you in flagging out potential issues that might arise regarding data privacy and management in the company. You can now organise a training for how companies can address their data privacy issues and also secure an assignment to draft privacy policies as well as maybe organise the data protection systems for the company.

Don’t just execute, strategise for your client

For example, if a client approaches you for trademark registration, your only stance should not be about identifying the class of trademark or filing those forms. If you recognise that a client might be served better by getting the registration of a design for an unpublished work rather than a trademark registration, give him that choice. Strategise for him. Tell him how he can achieve the same objective in a better way.

Thus, an application of mind and a good understanding of the problems, not just the service requested by a client ensures not only that you stand out in terms of offering solutions, but keeps the clients coming back to you for innovative solutions.

Go both wide and deep

If you get good at different types of gateway services such as filing applications, dealing with Section 138 matters under the Negotiable Instruments Act, helping start-ups with their documentations and subsidies, company incorporation, etc, it is extremely likely that you will be able to get not only new clients for same services, but offer various services to existing clients. 

Imagine if you are able to not only draft a contract but file a civil suit as well in case there is a breach. Imagine if you are able to not only file trademark applications but issue a legal notice and secure injunction in the case of a passing off suit when a dispute arises. If the client has liked your work, promptness, it is unlikely they will go to someone else, when you offer most of this work.

Where can I learn these skills?

Once you are able to figure out what services you can provide and also how to secure clients for these services, the most important part is to actually become competent to provide these services to an excellent standard. 

It is incredibly important that you are capable to provide multiple services, and to a great standard, since otherwise, if your client has to approach some other practitioner for something, you might lose the client even for the services you can provide well. 

We recognised this requirement for individual practitioners. Here is a tool that can enable you to acquire competence in multiple different areas, in a very short period of time. 

In fact, I am going to discuss a lot about gateway services and skills in my Recession-Proof Practice Workshop, available at a special price of INR 100/-, today from 7 – 10 pm. 

There is just an hour left to register for this workshop, so don’t miss it! Click on Recession-Proof Practice Workshop to register.

If you are interested, you can directly join our group by clicking on the link below.  

You will get access to some other amazing resources through the group as well.

There is a refund policy as well here – if you attend the entire workshop live, perform the assignment and still derive no value, you can claim the refund within 48 hours. Read the terms here.

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