What's this all about?
At LawBite we believe that law in the UK should be accessible, affordable and clearly understandable for the UK’s business owners. At the start of 2016 the Department for Business Innovation and Skills reported that 99.9% of all private sector businesses were small or medium-sized (SMEs) and that these businesses provide employment to 15.7 million people.
Arguably these businesses are the lifeblood of the UK economy, so as part of LawBite’s campaign to drive change in the legal industry we asked YouGov to conduct a unique, comprehensive and independent survey of UK Small Medium Enterprises to discover the financial impact when they fail to take proper care of the legal issues they face.
Tech survey respondents are losing more than £168 million a year by failing to take care of their legal issues
The economic analysis of the YouGov results was carried out by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) . We think there is an important message here for every business owner so we wanted to share the highlights with you.
The results within the Tech sector specifically are startling; with an upper estimate indicating that Tech respondents are losing more than £168 million a year from this failure.
What are the risks to your business?
The survey has provided some shocking revelations that should make every business sit up and take notice. It’s virtually impossible to imagine what impact the loss of £168 million might have on the Tech sector so let’s break it down into real-world terms and look at the risks every Tech company faces:
Firstly, we discovered that the average Tech company in the UK is likely to encounter more than 9 legal issues a year. This places those within the Tech sector over the average across all survey respondents of 8 issues annually and therefore more at risk than other sectors surveyed.
The average Tech company in the UK is likely to encounter more than 9 legal issues a year
Of the legal issues Tech companies encountered costs can be extensive with 32.4% resulting in costs of £5,000 or more. The average loss annually for those surveyed from the Tech sector is approximately £6,300 per company. Although this annual average is lower than some other sectors it’s important to remember that it is a mean average and with over 9 issues a year occurring, Tech companies are repeatedly at risk of much higher costs.
What are the most common issues that Tech survey respondents face on a day-to-day basis?
More than half of all issues were found to be in six key areas:
- Disputes (12%)
- Customers and Suppliers (11.5%)
- Employees and Key Contractors (11.5%)
- Software (10.3%)
- Terms and Conditions (9.3%)
- Other (45.4%)
Across the Tech companies surveyed the highest amounts are estimated to have been lost in the following six areas, some of which (Loans or Investments, Regulatory, Property and Decision Making/Ownership) aren’t even given as the most common issues encountered by Tech companies:
- Customers and suppliers (over £31 million)
- Loans or investments (over £19 million)
- Regulatory (over £17 million)
- Property (over £16 million)
- Decision making and ownership (over £12 million)
- Software (over £11 million)
But it won’t happen to me… will it?
Given the number of incidences of these kinds of issue, Tech respondents are overoptimistic about the prospects of future losses occurring because of these problems – with only 11% thinking these issues are ‘likely to pose a significant risk’ to their business.
Tech companies assume that risky outcomes are more likely to happen to other organisations than to themselves
Interestingly, this percentage more than doubles (26%) when they are asked to forecast whether these problems are likely to affect other businesses rather than their own. Tech companies follow the typical trend in assuming that risky outcomes are more likely to happen to other companies than to themselves.
Do Tech companies think lawyers help reduce risk to their Business?
Having uncovered the number of times issues arise and in spite of the potential cost to Tech companies of the losses involved, we found Tech respondents remarkably casual about using lawyers to reduce their risks.
Tech respondents are remarkably casual about using lawyers…
We asked Tech companies about their expenditure on legal expertise and tellingly 38% were not even able to say how much they spent on legal services last year.For those Tech companies that did know, the majority (73%) reported spending less than £1,000 per year on lawyers.
This is a particularly high result, however paradoxically the SMEs surveyed (including Tech companies) do understand that using lawyers is likely to make them better off. Of those SMEs who responded, 83% said that using a lawyer to deal with legal issues with commercial impact on the business had reduced the risk of higher costs, and 86% of those who responded (and didn’t use a lawyer in such instances) said that it could have reduced the risk of higher costs and losses if they had.
but SMEs do understand that using lawyers is likely to make them better off
In the general survey SMEs were also asked to rank the possibility of commercial legal issues arising against the risk of typical SME problems arising such as: cash flow issues, supply problems, damage to reputation, problems from key staff leaving the business or data security problems.
83% said that using a lawyer reduced the risk of higher costs
The analysis across all sectors showed that for every 10% extra an SME spends on legal costs, the chances of any of these other risks ranking ahead of commercial legal risks rises by as much as 90%. In other words, SMEs perceive that if they spend more on their legal budget then the relative risk of commercial legal issues arising for their business falls sharply. Although not specific to the Tech sector this provides interesting insight in terms of the perception SME’s have that increased expenditure on legal support mitigates risk for commercial legal issues.
Why are so many Tech companies not prepared to spend money on lawyers?
Our general survey results show that even though SMEs across all sectors surveyed know legal issues affect them frequently and cost them significant amounts of money, they are reluctant to invest in lawyers.
However, SMEs do take out insurance policies against a wide risk of other contingencies (directors insurance, employer’s liability, public liability). Insurance companies typically report that only 9% of SMEs make an insurance claim a year, whereas this YouGov survey shows that on average the Tech sector respondents alone encounter more than 9 legal issues a year with significant adverse consequences from commercial legal issues.
Yet Tech companies (along with many other businesses) are far less likely to want to protect themselves by taking out the simple ‘insurance policy’ of using a lawyer than they are by taking out an insurance policy against other risks.
A likely underlying cause for Tech companies’ reluctance to use lawyers lies in attitudes to law firms, which the YouGov survey also covered. 79% of Tech respondents say that legal documentation is not easy to understand, while only 3% say that legal fees are good value for money.
Even though Tech companies know legal issues affect them frequently and cost them significant amounts of money, they are reluctant to invest in lawyers
Only 18% of Tech companies rate law firms as ‘good’ in terms of ease of access (how easy it is to contact a lawyer; how speedy their response is and how easy it is to get a situation alleviated).
Only 18% of Tech companies rate law firms as ‘good’ in terms of ease of access
However, the survey results indicate that Tech respondents are able to clearly articulate what they do want from lawyers and law firms. Of those who gave a response, over 4 in 5 ranked all of the attributes below as important:
- Value for money (98%)
- They are more likely to resolve issues quickly (96%)
- Ease of communication (94%)
- Costs involved (92%)
- Feeling “safe in their hands” (92%)
- Taking time to understand the issue (91%)
- The speed of service provided (89%)
- Understanding the Tech sector (89%)
- The commercial approach taken by the Lawyer (80%)
Clearly, Tech companies are not getting enough of these attributes from traditional law firms in order to persuade them to alleviate their risks from legal issues by engaging lawyers routinely.
What should those in the Tech sector conclude from this research?
As someone working in the Tech sector, your conclusion may be that engaging properly with your legal issues and guarding against them is going to potentially save you thousands of pounds a year and mitigate risk for your business. You are far more likely to have a legal issue than any insurance claim so you’d be better off spending as much or more on legal protection and advice as you do on your business insurance policies.
The biggest issues (and most expensive ones) you’re likely to face are all often easily preventable. Simple matters like having contract terms and conditions checked or drafted properly to ensure your employment or contractor terms are clear and up to scratch will de-risk your business rapidly.
The biggest issues (and most expensive ones) you’re likely to face are all often easily preventable
If you’re reading this survey as a member or partner of a UK Law Firm then you should be shocked at how Tech companies perceive the industry and how they’ve been underserved for so long. We urge you to join us on our mission to make the law more accessible, understandable and affordable for UK SMEs.
The survey asked SMEs to indicate their level of losses from a wide range of legal issues with commercial impacts. These comprised issues with:
- Customers and Suppliers
- Employment and Consultants
- Trading terms and conditions
- Intellectual Property
- Loans or investments
- Decision making in, or ownership of their business
- Regulatory matters
The survey covered over 20 business sectors including:
- Business administration and support
- Arts, entertainment, recreation, cultural and sporting
- Publishing, broadcasting and media
- Education, health and social work
- Finance and insurance
- Professional scientific and technical
- Travel and tourism
All of the findings have been extensively analysed by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr). The statistical highlights of the narrative above are only a portion of data collected and analysed. We welcome any requests to discuss the findings in more detail.