Law firm takes stake in online legal services platform for SMEs

Rich: Shared desire

Cambridge and London law firm Taylor Vinters is taking an equity stake in online legal services business LawBite as they collaborate to provide SMEs with international advice.

LawBite’s International Legal Hub is aimed at helping SMEs tackle Brexit red tape as they expand and trade overseas.

The investment – which we first revealed last September, although at the time LawBite declined to name the investor – will ensure “that the two companies are aligned as they develop the international business”, a statement said.

LawBite offers SMEs a combination of legal documents and precedents, contract review, and access to lawyers through LawBriefs, which became an alternative business structure in 2015. Users can take out subscriptions or pay for ad hoc advice at £165 an hour.

They now have access to Taylor Vinters’ international network of local affiliated law firms, which will operate under the LawBite brand and through its technology.

Lawyers have already been “onboarded” in the US, France, Italy and Germany, and Spain, Holland, Singapore and Eastern Europe next on the agenda.

LawBite already has backing from Rahul Malhotra is an entrepreneur and early stage angel investor, and late last year crowdfunded £623,000, which was to be used to “integrate Taylor Vinters, onboard new partnerships, platform development and marketing/sales team growth [sic]”.

Since launching in 2013, LawBite says it has addressed over 26,000 SME legal enquiries through LawBriefs, which has 50 lawyers.

It has agreements with insurer Hiscox, Starling Bank and payments processor Stripe to integrate its technology and fixed-price offering into their customer workflow, and signed a memorandum of understanding for a pilot with online financial services business Revolut.

Just before Christmas, LawBite announced a partnership with YTKO to offer its services through the growth company’s Outset, GetSet and Enterprising Women brands.

LawBite founder and chief executive Clive Rich said: “The partnership [with Taylor Vinters] was born from a shared desire to drive the innovation economy and the potential reach is vast – SMEs make up 99.9% of all UK companies and as our polling demonstrates, millions want more legal certainty for trade abroad.

“Together with Taylor Vinters, we are helping SMEs cut costs and realise their full potential on the global stage.”

Taylor Vinters chief executive Matt Meyer added: “We believe LawBite’s approach to technology aligns with our view of how digital legal services can enable innovative businesses and entrepreneurs to increase their effectiveness and impact.”

A YouGov poll commissioned by LawBite found that 38% of the 791 small businesses questioned were likely to trade overseas this year, while nearly a quarter said they would do operate overseas more if the legal barriers involved were less complicated.

LawBite has seen enquiries and web traffic grow significantly since Covid-19 hit, with revenue set to have doubled by April; subscribers, as opposed to one-off users, account for half of that revenue.

A free subscription package for start-ups called Essentials and launched in October already has hundreds of subscribers – it offers SMEs a combination of legal documents and a free monthly chat with a lawyer.

“It’s particularly useful for companies encountering law for the first time or reluctant to engage with it,” Mr Rich said.

“What we’ve noticed is that, having signed up to Essentials, firms are much more likely to place legal orders with us than uncommitted visitors to the site.”

LawBite uses artificial intelligence (AI) in the form of its own software tool, called Lawson, to match consumers with lawyers.

This can categorise enquiries in 300 different types of legal enquiry and match them with lawyers based on their specialisms, experience and customer reviews.

“Lawson puts everything together and produces the best possible fit in a nanosecond,” he said.

Mr Rich said although the lawyer matches were manually “sense-checked”, the system was “highly accurate”.

LawBite’s approach to machine learning, was to see how it could be used to make law “faster and easier to access” for consumers, rather than the approach of some law firms, which were more interested in using it to cut costs for themselves.

“Relatively speaking there’s not a lot of tech investment in the law, though there is a lot of noise.”

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