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SMEs eye multi-disciplinary advisers amid increasing need for legal help

Video advice: SMEs happy to continue post pandemic

Nearly half of SMEs (48%) expect their need for legal advice to increase in the next 18 months, while there is strong interest in multi-disciplinary services, a survey has found.

It also recorded that a large majority (84%) of small businesses advised by their lawyer by video during the pandemic were happy to go on using this method.

The report by IRN Research found that the largest proportion of SMEs (29%) were expecting increased need for employment advice.

“Most answers give a general indication that they will need more advice on employment issues but the largest group highlighting a specific need, and perhaps not surprisingly, identifies a need for more advice on dealing with redundancy issues and employment contract issues as a result of Covid-19.”

After employment law, the most important areas of need were tax, business contracts, health and safety, and general compliance issues. Brexit came in 12th place.

Its Legal services for SMEs 2021 [1] report, based on responses from 383 SMEs in the UK, found companies open-minded about getting different forms of advice from a multi-disciplinary firm.

Almost as many (72%) said they would be interested in using legal services offered by their accountant as were happy to get accountancy, tax and insurance services from their law firm (73%).

Two-thirds of businesses had taken legal advice during the pandemic, and exactly half of them had taken part in a video consultation.

Most (84%) were comfortable with them and would be happy to continue that way.

Telephone and email were the next most popular methods of communication, while 22% had seen their lawyer in an office and a further 20% “face-to-face but through a window”.

The largest group of SMEs, four in ten, were still paying their lawyers on hourly rates, while a slightly smaller proportion, 36%, paid fixed fees. When asked which method they preferred, 80% preferred fixed fees.

The experience and reputation of the legal adviser was the most popular factor in choosing a lawyer, followed by the availability of face-to-face contact, the presence of a well-known brand and local offices.

A quarter of SMEs used legal advice telephone helplines or websites offering free downloads. Annual or monthly subscription-based services were almost as popular, along with websites with paid-for downloads of documents and templates.

SMEs were most likely to use a lawyer a few times a year, while just over a quarter (26%) described themselves as “occasional users”.

A significant minority (17%) had a much more frequent need for advice, contacting their law firm at least once a month.

Nearly two-thirds of SME managers (63%) were happy to use the same solicitor for their business and personal legal needs.

SMEs gave strong backing to the publication of fees on law firm websites, with eight out of ten agreeing that this could be a factor in persuading them to use a firm.