Platform aims to give SMEs legal advice without lawyers

Thornton: existing services push SMEs to use lawyers

A barrister entrepreneur has launched a DIY platform aimed at giving small businesses subscription access to straightforward legal advice without recourse to a human lawyer.

The platform, Sparqa Legal, took two years to write from scratch and has a team of 14 full-time people writing content, as well as six more working on the tech side.

Sparqa is the brainchild of Andrew Thornton, a barrister at Erskine Chambers, who also founded FromCounsel, a legal knowhow service aimed a practising lawyers which counts over 70% of top-100 corporate law firms among subscribers.

SMEs will be charged £25 a month plus VAT – or £240 annually – for access to dedicated Q&As and document assembly-type applications designed to enable smart business owners to do around 70% of the legal work needed themselves.

Mr Thornton told Legal Futures he believed existing guidance aimed at meeting SME legal needs predominantly attempted to “push them into using the services of lawyers”, whereas Sparqa empowered “people to do stuff themselves and trying to avoid the need to go to a lawyer, who will start clocking up hourly rates and all that sort of stuff”.

He added: “We very much want to maximise what the platform can do for businesses before they think about going to a human.”

He said that although the new content did not attempt to exploit natural language processing (NLP), it was written in a way “that makes it suitable for NLP techniques” in future.

He went on: “Where we see artificial intelligence coming in is as we move to the next stage of taking in inbound questions and being able to recognise patterns – [such as] ‘that question is pretty similar to that question, let’s pull the answer out to that’.”

He said the business had no plans to expand into individual consumer law applications, but “that is a natural direction for us to look at”.

He said Sparqa was in talks with large businesses “that already have relationships with SMEs”, such as banking and accountancy services. He said that the platform would “fit very nicely alongside them”, such that it would “sit as part of your day-to-day business”.

“You use it to create your documents, store your documents on, it prompts you to remember, for instance, that the confirmation statement is due in 28 days, your VAT… the kind of stuff that helps people manage their businesses and avoid issues in the first place.

“We see it becoming a pillar alongside the accounting practice, the sales and marketing and so on.”

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