Legal Information Centre


25 May 2009 by Mary Heaney

Charity lawyer

A charity lawyer can play an important part in the operation of a not-for-profit organisation (Nfp), providing the same commercial advice that any business would need but with additional skills and understanding specific to their needs.


A charity lawyer can play an important part in the operation of a not-for-profit organisation (Nfp), providing the same commercial advice that any business would need but with additional skills and understanding specific to their needs.



What a charity lawyer does




Any Nfp will require the advice of their charity lawyer right from inception in the formation of their constitution. They may even need a charity lawyer to outline the benefits and disadvantages of seeking charitable status in the first place.



Nfps are of course dependent on charitable contributions and perhaps the most important facet of a charity lawyer's work is ensuring that the benefits of donations from individuals and corporate sponsors are maximised. This principally requires a charity lawyer to coordinate careful tax planning and structuring of their client's operations. Contributions often also come in the form of legacies requiring a a charity lawyer to be adept at dealing with wills and probate work, including disputes with trustees or executors.



A charity lawyer can also assist a Nfp in jumping through the various regulatory loops specific to their work. This requires working with the Charity Commission who will review an organisation's work and perhaps occasionally conduct inquiries. The trustees of a Nfp may also require advise regarding the governance of their organisation and their own responsibilities and liabilities.



A charity lawyer should also be consulted on the day-to-day operation of an organisation such as the policies and procedures of making a grant or the nature of their philanthropic work.



It is worth looking into the specific sectors a charity lawyer has experience in. Certain charity lawyer's will for instance pride themselves on having previously worked with an arts or environmental organisation in the past. Such experience can be particularly useful in the education sector which has its own unique demands regarding compliance, fundraising and management of prize funds for schools and universities.



Other work that a charity lawyer will deal with




A charity lawyer is often also required to supply many of the services that would also be called upon by commercial organisations such as employment (both for voluntary and paid staff), dispute resolution, corporate structuring, property and intellectual property. Nfps have the ability to trade as well meaning a charity lawyer can be called upon to advise on the formation of trading structures and the appropriate exploitation of assets and rights. A charity lawyer may even be consulted regarding the merger of two Nfps.



When choosing a charity lawyer it is therefore useful to look at the other services offered by the firm they work for as it can be useful for a charity lawyer to coordinate with solicitors in other departments with the relevant skills. It may also be helpful if your charity lawyer is a member of the Charity Law Association.






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