Why I think, ‘Small is beautiful, but law firms are ugly’

Small businesses want a quick response from their lawyers. When they have a legal problem they just want to be told what their options are so that they can get on with things. When it comes to legal advice they want it simple, nimble, and affordable.

So why do so many law firms insist on providing huge amounts of complex legal jargon? Why do they continue to hedge their bets when advising businesses on their options? And how do they then get to charge their clients the earth for it?

No, I don’t know either.

But I do think there’s another way. It involves a technology platform and a manifesto for change. And here’s why I think it’s going to transform the way we provide legal services for the UK’s five million SMEs.

Eureka moment

I was working for a large law firm when it happened. Quite simply, I realised that most law firms aren’t particularly interested in the small business sector. I mean—they’d like to be. But they don’t really know how to do it. And the reason for that is down to their structure.

They’re organised in a way that doesn’t really fit with the small business sector. They need to have a big partnership structure, large office spaces, and massive overheads if they are to deliver services to the sorts of clients that they want to attract. But delivering these services costs a lot, which is, of course, a problem for smaller companies.

And then, because they focus on the big clients, they tend to do things methodically, slowly and in exhaustive detail. Which is fine if you’re a big company and you like the idea of having yards and yards of advice – you’ve paid for it, right? But sometimes small businesses just want to know, ‘can I do it or can’t I?’

They tend to do things methodically, slowly and in exhaustive detail

Document overload

And then there’s the documentation to back it all up. Hundreds of pages of densely worded risk minimisation. Stuff that small companies don’t understand and aren’t interested in. And whilst large organisations need to be able to say to their shareholders that ‘we did everything’, the same doesn’t apply to SMEs. You rarely see a small business trying to justify the huge sums they spent: “Look. We bought ten yards of advice. None of which we understand. It must be good!”

Another way

This got me thinking. If all this effort is going into providing services for just 1% of the UK’s business community, then who’s looking after the other 99%?

I saw that with my technology background that there could be a technological solution. We could create a platform to deliver law quickly, simply and at a price that small companies could afford.

This could attract lots of small companies which would create a business model that is just as good as if you were servicing nine, ten or 20 blue chips in the traditional way.

Large organisations need to be able to say to their shareholders that ‘we did everything’, the same doesn’t apply to SMEs

And that’s how LawBite was born.

What’s the big idea?

So imagine you have a legal problem; a contract issue with a distributor or a software company, perhaps. Then what if you need only to fill out a simple form outlining your issue. And then suppose that within four working hours a trained moderator calls you to scope out the full nature of your query before assigning it to an expert lawyer for a free 15 minute consultation. After that you can either access a huge range of relevant and simple legal documents and do it yourself, or you can use our expert lawyers to do it for you.

Simple. And at a price that is significantly less than you’d pay with a traditional law firm. Wouldn’t that be great?

I believe that LawBite is that solution. In a nutshell it’s a service which enables you to get legal advice and quick answers on legal documents and problems. The beauty of this model is that we can deliver quality, but because we’re providing a technical solution, we can keep the cost down.

A manifesto for change

In 2013 we raised some funds through crowdfunding platform Crowdcube. We were really successful. I think part of that success was because the idea was perfect for a crowdfunding platform. Simple concept. Simple to explain. But I also think that people liked the idea of shaking up the law industry – it was a rabble rousing idea!

I think that people liked the idea of shaking up the law industry

I wanted to harness this feeling – and the perception of some that lawyers are expensive, slow and talk a language that no-one understands. And I wanted to create a different perception of the law. This is our manifesto and we live or die by it.

We believe that the law is for everybody (not just for those with deep pockets). We think that everyone has the right to understand the documents that they’re asked to sign and we want to keep small companies safe.

It’s when we combine these guiding principles with the technology platform that we can start to make a positive difference to how we provide legal services for the UK’s small businesses.

Everybody wins

We believe in the power and importance of the human voice and that is why everyone gets a free phone call and a 15-minute consultation. Technology is great, but we know that it must not completely replace the human touch.

I only ever recruit lawyers who are friendly, welcoming, and easy to talk to. They’re all experienced solicitors or barristers who are not only technically and commercially gifted but they also have the ability to form quick connections with people and provide first class customer service.

And what’s more—they love this flexible way of working.

When recruiting, we’ve been able to tap into the flexible working revolution and the thriving ‘gig economy’. We’re attracting lawyers who don’t relish the idea of trudging into a big office every day, who like the idea of working from home and who appreciate that we do all the marketing and the business development for them. We filter the leads, insure them, and take care of their administration and billing. All they need to do is turn up on the platform and do the kind of work that they enjoy.

Just as there was a tipping point with mobile phones, so there will there be a tipping point in practising law via the internet

The future

Are we there yet? No. But could this model be the future for delivering legal services to the global SME market? In my opinion, there is no doubt about it!

There’s a ton of work to do. And we learn stuff every day about things we could do better and how we can improve. We’re still at the stage where the people practising law online are a bit like the early adopters using mobile phones. Not everyone quite understands it yet. But just as there was a tipping point with mobile phones, so there will there be a tipping point in practising law via the internet.

Soon everyone will want to access clear and affordable online legal services. And we’ll be there when they do…


Clive Rich’s Biography

Clive Rich is a barrister and a professional negotiator who has always had a passion for small businesses and entrepreneurship. He’s worked with many SME’s as a negotiator, shareholder and investor. He founded LawBite in 2011 with the aim to provide small companies with affordable, understandable and accessible legal services.