Legal advice and services are something most small businesses will eventually need. But how does a smaller operator manage the notoriously eye-watering fees of lawyers?
Until recently, business owners just had to suck up hefty bills or take the risk of operating without the wise counsel of a lawyer. Thankfully, a number of disruptive online legal firms have emerged in recent years offering their services at a reasonable price. And they’re typically able to do this through a clever combination of automation, outsourcing and doing away with lavish offices.
Faster, Cheaper, Smarter
Cheap doesn’t have to mean shoddy or impersonal when it comes to online legal services. Virtual Legal, for example, outsources basic tasks to the Philippines while customers liaise over the phone with an Australian lawyer.
Other innovative legal firms use technology to drive down overheads and therefore legal bills. Plexus, for instance, uses artificial intelligence to automate the application of facts to the law. A human lawyer can then check over this if required. It means lawyers only need to get involved in complex work, which again drives down costs.
While on the subject of technology, be aware that there are online legal services that may be of great use to SME owners, even if not specifically targeted to them. For example, if you own a business you should definitely have a will. Thanks to Greatwill, you can download a paid app that allows you to create a last will and testament without the large investment of time and money involved when doing it the traditional way.
Pay As You Go
One of the big traps for unwary business owners is finding themselves in a situation where the legal bills just keep mounting, with lots of outrageous charges – such $1 per photocopied page – padding them out. Thankfully, many of the more innovative, customer-focused online legal firms, such as Virtual Legal and LegalVision, offer fixed-fee packages. That means you know exactly how much you’ll pay for a particular legal service.
Taking the digital option doesn’t mean forgoing due diligence. Whether it operates online, in the brick-and-mortar real world or some combination of both, you need to use your judgement when choosing a legal firm that’s right for you.
Here’s a checklist of three important questions to ask.
1. Does the Law Firm Look After My Jurisdiction?
The internet might be global, but business laws vary depending on which country, and often which state, your business operates in. Any reputable legal firm will be upfront about what territories they’re set up to operate in, but it’s wise to verify the firm-in-question’s claims. In Australia, you can look up legal practitioners, such as barristers and solicitors, in your state’s register of practitioners. Obviously, if you’re conducting international business you’ll need someone capable of providing the appropriate legal assistance in that situation.
2. Does the Firm Cover This Area of Law?
Like other businesses, legal firms often specialise. While many do act as one-stop shops, keep in mind that if you’re going to need a lot of employment contracts drawn up then you’ll want to go with a firm known for doing good work in that area, rather than one that mainly works with businesses wanting to put in patent applications.
3. Are My Needs Simple or Complex?
Online law firms work best when your needs are straightforward – for example, running a competition as part of a marketing campaign, drawing up employee contracts or buying a franchise. That’s because the law in these areas is relatively straightforward, which is why it’s feasible to outsource or automate much of it. Online legal firms can and do deal with more complex legal matters, such as fighting an unfair dismissal claim from a disgruntled employee. But in those situations it may end up being more convenient and not much more expensive to use a traditional law firm.
As many business owners have learnt to their detriment, failing to invest in good legal advice can end up being considerably more expensive than doing so. If you’ve reached the stage where you believe you need the advice or services of a lawyer but are worried about what it’s going to set you back, an online legal provider may be the perfect solution.