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In this interview with lawyer Clive Rich we learn about how his exciting startup LawBite is restoring trust in the law by making it accessible to those that it previously alienated.
I met with Clive Rich, an entertainment and digital media lawyer with over 30 years experience, to talk about his exciting startup LawBite. The company is targeting the many aspiring entrepreneurs for whom the legal side of things can feel like a distracting burden – one that often gets left until the last minute.
In the interview (below) Clive explained to me how, by simplifying the legal process, entrepreneurs can get back to focusing on what matters; running their businesses. It may just change the legal landscape as we know it.
What exactly is LawBite for those of us who don’t know?
LawBite is an online legal service providing simple contracts for small companies. We keep SME’s safe and sound at a price they can afford.
Our platform provides simple, plain English agreements covering a range of SME needs from consultancy to employment to shareholder agreements to licensing to distribution to software. We also offer editing, sharing and signing tools so that documents can be completed by SME’s and their partners quickly and easily.
A virtual law firm is wrapped around the Platform so that users who like the idea of plain English agreements but need a bit of help can access fully qualified, regulated, and insured LawBite lawyers at the touch of a button and at a fraction of the normal High Street price.
How did the idea come about and what inspired you to run with it?
I have worked as a lawyer for over 30 years. I noticed that law firms are only generally interested in big clients who can pay big bills. Small companies (representing 99.9% of the UK economy) are often ignored.
As a result Small companies don’t really trust lawyers and think they are very expensive. They often don’t bother with legal advice or make documents up themselves. This creates risks, and potentially reduces margins and profits, and exit values.
Over half of small companies don’t bother using lawyers because of this issue of trust. And over 40% of the UK’s small businesses have endured a “significant” legal problem over the past 12 months (according to legal services Board research) and only 5% have any in house legal expertise.
I felt that if there was a way of giving SME’s advice in the way that they wanted it (short, simple, affordable) then we would be adding value and creating a good business where lots of small clients pay a small amount (rather than the traditional law firm model of a small number of larger clients paying a lot).
What is your vision?
Our vision is, quite simply, to restore trust in the law.
Who are your main competition and how do you differentiate yourselves from them?
There are other online legal services, but none has LawBite’s unique combination of features.
Some provide documents, but not their own editing and sharing platform. Some provide out-sourced lawyers, but not their own in-house lawyers working to a house style. Some provide documents in specific areas (eg employment), but not a wide ranging offering. Some provide documents, but don’t let you upload your own document for editing, sharing and advice (as LawBite does).
Nobody caters explicitly for SMEs. Nobody varies their offering by sector, whereas LawBite documents look different depending which business sector you are from, so that if you come from a particular space – eg the Technology sector – you can find documents containing the kind of lexicon you are used to. And most importantly, nobody is putting clients first rather than lawyers, and seeking to restore trust in the law.
Finally, we make contracts easier to understand that anyone else out there by drawing up our contracts in easy-to-understand conversational language rather than the linguistic style of a typical legal contract, which has changed very little since the Norman Conquest.
Our ambition is such that we hope any layman can read our contracts and understand them with no hassle, which will help entrepreneurs avoid the pitfalls of a misunderstanding.
Why don’t more companies use conversational English?
Inertia, first and foremost. The industry is reluctant to change. I don’t want to knock the profession because there are so many wonderful lawyers out there, but that said, there are plenty who give the profession a bad name because it suits them to perpetuate a system where documents and advice are expensive and near impossible to understand without their assistance.
Who is your major market according to their demographic and interests?
SMEs – all 4.5 million of them in the UK, and those overseas. There are 26 million SMEs in the EU and 27 million in the US – all of whom can benefit.
What do you consider the greatest indicator of success?
We over-raised on Crowdcube, raising over £250,000 in 10 days. This told me that the man on the street really gets what we are doing. Looking forward, the number of paying users will be the greatest measure of success.
Who are your core team?
I have a COO, and sales and IT contractors. We also have digital guru and author Alan Moore driving our marketing, which has been really exciting for us. He’s a passionate and inspiring guy who really believes in the project. We also have a great team of networked lawyers to draft documents and provide additional legal advice. We’re looking to keep growing this team. What’s so great is they can work from home, and tailor their hours to suit them. We have stay-at-home mums, and even one guy working remotely from Northumberland who can log in and get some work done before taking his dog for a walk along Hadrian’s wall.
Describe your growth so far.
We soft-launched in December and made it into a Press Release from David Cameron as “one to watch” in Tech City. We did a closed Beta with 60 invited SMEs in January and February, then an open Beta with a Google ads campaign in April. We raised our money in May, collected it in June and have spent a couple of months refreshing the site before a full commercial roll-out in a couple of weeks time
Did you raise investment and are you looking for more?
Yes £200,000 from angels and another £250,000 on Crowdcube. We may go for a series A next year if we need it.
What lessons have you learned from the experience of raising?
Crowdfunding can work if you have a disruptive brand and a simple message. It was much quicker and less exhausting than getting angel funding.
What tactics will you use to advance your brand?
Our three key tactics will be social media advertising, affiliate marketing and community building/engagement.
Tell us your favourite “LawBite story”
Our COO is a seasoned entrepreneur who lost control of a previous company because he didn’t take care of business in the shareholder’s agreement. He often says that if LawBite had been around then to protect him he would be a lot better off now.
You are based in the London-based accelerator Innovation Warehouse, how would you rate this experience?
Yes, a supportive experience. They are well connected and switched on.
Briefly, where do you see yourselves in 1, 3 and 5 years?
Within one year we plan to be at or near break-even. Within 3 years we will be operating in our first five targeted overseas countries. Within 5 years we could be sold to a larger law firm, or a new legal market entrant (eg Tesco or Direct line) or to an associated service provider (in eg accountancy or insurance or data provision)
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Passion is great, but it’s not an end in itself. You can have the best idea and the greatest product but if you generate that in isolation – without collecting customers and cash along the way – you will fail. So don’t forget to be practical.
Finally, develop a very thick skin. And have a supportive domestic partner if you can!