A startup currently on the Accelerate Cambridge programme aims to help small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) get legal support in an easier and cost-efficient manner for issues such as taxation or intellectual property.
If someone’s bathroom tap is broken, they wouldn’t hire a large building company to fix it – as the cost would reflect the big building firm’s significant overhead and tariff structure, perhaps including minimum charges exceeding what the job itself is worth.
Instead, the homeowner would seek a more modest and tailored solution, which might involve a local independent plumber found through user-review sites like TrustATrader – in order to find a better match for the homeowner’s relatively simple problem.
That’s the thinking behind Legal Sphere, a Cambridge-based startup that helps small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) get legal support in an easier and cost-efficient manner for issues such as taxation, intellectual property and other fairly well-defined problems.
Legal Sphere is currently on the Accelerate Cambridge programme run by the Entrepreneurship Centre at Cambridge Judge Business School, and was selected for the finals of the Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards earlier this year.
“My father runs a small farming business in mid-Wales, so I know how difficult it can be accessing legal advice as often solicitors wouldn’t prioritise SME cases,” says co-founder Sioned Davies. “It can be also very expensive. So I wanted to create a platform where entrepreneurs can easily get in touch with lawyers.”
The venture’s online platform, launched in November 2018, has already helped a few Cambridge-based businesses, including a biotech and software company, find solicitors and in some cases have saved more than 50 per cent, Sioned says.
The Legal Sphere platform works like this: if a company has an issue with a certain type of problem, they can pitch the case to a bank of solicitors registered on the platform by submitting basic information about the firm, their issue and their legal budget for resolving the matter. Solicitors signed up to the platform (who are vetted by Legal Sphere and reviewed by the platform’s users) then submit replies if they are interested in the work, and the company then chooses a solicitor if they believe there is a good match. Legal Sphere facilitates easy payment for legal services and encourages fixed fee work.
The team is looking to work with solicitors that are registered with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Sioned says the key thing is that solicitors can work at any time and from anywhere, stripping away the overheads associated with law firms which can account for up to 80 per cent of solicitors’ fees.
With a Bachelor of Law degree from University College London and experience in law firms in London, Sioned believes that the platform is a good fit for solicitors seeking to balance work and family life, including those on parental leave.
Currently, it is complicated for solicitors to take freelance project due to restrictive regulation, but new SRA rules taking effect in November will increase solicitor flexibility. Among other changes, the rules simplify accounting rules for keeping client money safe and create separate codes of conduct for firms and solicitors.
Currently there are four people in the team, including co-founder Peter Hanly, a web developer and an engineer. Sioned says the biggest challenges are to strike more partnerships with business networks and accelerators, as that will help the platform find new clients, and to find ways to reach small businesses through simple marketing language that cuts through complicated legal jargon.
The company is now working on a campaign to target businesses in Cambridge and London, and says the Accelerate Cambridge programme has provided valuable marketing insight. The coaching sessions “really helped to validate the business idea and forced us to think critically about Legal Sphere’s business model,” she says.
Andrew Hatcher, one of the coaches at Accelerate Cambridge, said: “Legal Sphere is trying to disrupt the existing legal services structure by offering qualified lawyers from low-cost areas of the country to businesses operating in high-cost areas.
“Their biggest challenge as always with platform businesses is to ensure that both sides of the market have sufficient players, enough lawyers on one side and enough customers on the other side. If they can crack the model it seems highly scalable both in the UK and overseas – especially in the countries that have similar legal systems to the UK.”
This article is part of Venturing Forth, our series on the aspirations and challenges of ventures connected to students, alumni and others associated with Cambridge Judge Business School.