IN the 30 years since Graham Bell started his career as a lawyer, many things have changed. Not least, according to the partner at Scots law firm Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie, has been the transformation in the type of businesses that drive our economy.

Business has changed dramatically over my career,” explains Mr Bell, who is based at the company’s headquarters in Glasgow city centre. “Years ago many businesses needed big bits of kit. There would be premises and big machines, and banks and other funders were comfortable with the security they’d be getting, knowing that if things went belly-up they would get a big bit of kit to sell.

“Nowadays many more businesses rely on the intellectual property side of things, the know-how of the key people. There is a lot less for funders to hang on to - intangible resources remain in the heads of people. That evolution has been a major influence on the market for entrepreneurs."

Another big change has been the availability of cheap finance, says the lawyer, who works with clients to establish and grow their businesses.

“With the unbelievably low interest rates of the last few years, people might not be running the most fantastic businesses, but they can take on debt and service it – they can get by."

And, despite how technology is changing how we all do business, some things never change, including the need for legal advice at the right time. Indeed, according to Mr Bell, legal advice for entrepreneurs in the SME sector is more important than ever. The latest data suggests the changing structure of the economy has encouraged more people into self-employment - in 2016, a record 80 new companies were being set up in the UK every hour. Not all entrepreneurs need immediate legal advice, of course, but the nature of your business, or its ownership and set-up arrangements, could require it.

“It’s always a good idea to get things such as partnerships formalised from the earliest stage,” says the lawyer. “The relationship with the people you are starting out with, the roles they are expected to play in the business and the correct return, will be crucial going forward.

“Defining who owns ideas is also a very important step. Establishing legal Copyright, trademarking and patenting frameworks is a big part of what we do, as is formalising supplier and customer relationships.”

And the forging of relationships is what Mr Bell enjoys most about his job, especially when that means following clients on a long-term journey.

“Ultimately, the entrepreneurial spark is all down to the client; all the drive comes from them,” he explains. “My job as an advisor is to help them get to where they deserve to be, and the most satisfying part of my job is helping them do that.

“I have clients I’ve been working with for 15-plus years and over that time the type of advice I offer sometimes changes, perhaps from growing to selling a business, from estate planning to starting up a new venture from scratch.”

And the most crucial ingredient to a healthy long-term relationship between lawyer and client?

“Trust,” he says. “It’s very satisfying when you know someone trusts you. There’s a big responsibility that goes along with that too. As with any important relationship in life, you have to deliver at the right times over the piece. No matter how much a client might like you as a person, if you don’t deliver they will drop you.

“What I do is a modern take on old legal skill. If you’re advising both the business and the person, then the person, their family and interests all grow and evolve over the years. If you can say with them throughout, it’s a rewarding relationship in all directions."

“I did a presentation once and my closing comments were ‘a lawyer wants a relationship and not a one night stand’," laughs Mr bell. "What I meant by that is that I’m looking to be a part of that journey over many years.”