LawSpark, which encourages lawyers to offer free consultations and bid online for work, has certainly been causing fireworks since it launched in October 2014. But they are for all the right reasons, insists its founder, former paralegal Lucy Douglas.
She says the innovative online job board allows small businesses, entrepreneurs and other individuals and organisations to compare quotes from an affordable lawyer specialising in what they need help with. They do this by posting a ‘job’ on the site and waiting for lawyers – from throughout the UK – to offer their services and a quote.
In addition to helping small business owners, the site also benefits lawyers by providing law firms of all sizes the opportunity to pick up new clients. In addition, this can be achieved on the commute home or while out having a coffee, simply by logging in to the site. It doesn’t cost lawyers to bid on a job – they only have to hand over an agreed commission rate when paid by the client.
“The UK is crying out for a service like this,” says Lucy. “I worked for years in law firms and would constantly see small business owners being turned away because the firm didn’t specialise in the particular field of law they needed help in. Now the business owner has a huge pool of talent to choose from.
“After posting up his or her job the business owner will be offered a list of legal specialists who will give them a straightforward quote for the work. In addition, around 50% of solicitors on the site offer a free consultation whether it’s over the phone or meeting face-to-face for a coffee.”
Lucy believes many small business owners can find the prospect of hiring a lawyer daunting. And that, she says, is why her site works so well. Another reason is that he or she can be assured they will get a good rate for their job.
“Lawyers using our site are aware that they are competing against each for work and so are incentivised to offer their best possible price,” she said. “This can vary by as much as 50% between bids. A big plus of this system is that the client won’t be faced with any awkward conversations about fees or discounts.”
And she added: “If, after meeting a lawyer a business owner doesn’t think that person is right for their job, they simply move down to the second choice on their list. He or she isn’t left out of pocket for a service they didn’t need in the first place.”
Lawyers signed up to the site work over a variety of disciplines. At the moment it is proving extremely popular with company owners and entrepreneurs seeking legal advice on intellectual property, trading disputes and drawing up contracts.
The site is certainly needed in the business start-up world. A recent Legal Services Board-commissioned YouGov survey of more than 9000 small and micro business company owners and one-person operations produced uneasy reading for the legal profession. It revealed that the majority of business owners regarded the prospect of hiring a solicitor prohibitively expensive and instead preferred to adopt a DIY approach to legal matters.
And that’s not all. This DIY approach can result in severe financial problems for small companies. Another Legal Services Board survey, published in 2013, showed that 38% of small businesses had experienced a ‘significant’ legal problem within the previous 12 months. Of those around one third said it had negatively impacted on their finances. Health-wise, legal matters had also affected the health of one in five individuals surveyed.