Aside from the crusaders on TV, lawyers are mostly unflatteringly depicted in the media as sharks in suits who only care about winning. For decades they’ve been the butt of countless jokes (a quick Google search for “lawyer jokes” reveals close to a million results) — but is this fair?
“People think lawyers are big, scary, people only out for money, and that’s very disappointing. As a lawyer myself, I know that most really want to do a good job and pride themselves on helping their clients as much as possible,” she says.
“Pretty much every survey will tell you most entrepreneurs have legal needs, but would rather go anywhere else for answers than to a lawyer. The demand is there, and there’s an oversaturated market full of law firms trying to meet this, but not quite getting it right.”
“This is ridiculous! We’re having these conversations with business owners all the time, and clearly there’s a demand. That’s why we decided to see if we can plug that gap, making legal advice affordable, and much more empowering.”
LHS Solicitors started as a team within the legal insurance parent company to help policy holders deal with disputes and claims. In Calvert’s time there, she realised that most of the inquiries coming their way was for legal information. The company had a 24-hour advice helpline manned by lawyers to help policy holders and brokers in their time of need, but this was all in-house.
“We couldn’t go further out because it was heavily regulated. In those days it was pretty difficult, and you had to jump through a lot more hoops than you do today,” she explained. “I really wanted to do something to change the face of legal services, and this was it. I joined the company partly with a remit to launch a law firm for business services, and partly to make it digital, which is really what law needs to be. If banks, retailers and utilities companies can do it, so can we.”
What followed was the recently launched digital legal service hub, elXtr, which provides SMEs with legal information they need to start up, scale up, and manage and mitigate risks along the way.
“If you walk into a cosmetics shop, you’re met with shelf upon shelf of products that make a lot of promises; this will make you look ten years younger, that will help you get rid of wrinkles, and so on. But you have professionals there to ask you what you’re looking for, who can then tell you what could work, and give you free samples to try before you buy anything. Law firms don’t do that. They don’t tell you what you’ll get and how much it will cost. Most law firms have websites that will tell you about their footprint, their team and how good they are, but not what they can really do for you,” Calvert adds.
She first had the idea for a transparent and affordable digital legal service when she was at a cafe while on maternity leave. “I spent a lot of time at cafes, jotting down notes. I’m a huge eavesdropper, which is not good, but a lot of times, I’d hear what people generally talk about. They’re usually small business owners who have so many legal questions for their friends who’ve been there and done that. I thought for the price of the cup of coffee or two a month, they should be able to have access to the kind of information that people are already freely sharing over a coffee table. And when you do need an expert, you’re paying for it honestly and sensibly.”
“Right now, most business owners Google their legal questions and end up pulling off generic information that just won’t work for them. For example, one business Googled for terms and conditions they could use and found an American template to use online. It was only six months down the line when a problem cropped up that they realises that nothing in their terms and conditions is enforceable. Another case we’ve seen is a plumber who copied a leading UK plumbing company’s terms and conditions from the website. It looked really thorough, so he thought it’d protect his business, but he ended up with an incredibly onerous set of warranties, indemnities, and liabilities that could work against him,” Calvert says.
Her vision for the platform is to be the Google for legal advice, so that business owners that can go to trusted source, backed by real law, and save themselves thousands of pounds. “And if you genuinely do need a lawyer, there’s someone there to help you out with fixed fees,” she adds, acknowledging the lack of transparency usually associated with the process.
A year-long study into the legal services sector by the Competition and Markets Authority revealed in December that individuals and SMEs need better information about legal services to help them shop around more effectively. The research emphasised that there is not enough information available on price, quality and service to help those who need legal support choose the best option. According to Calvert, the report shows there’s massive clamour for transparency on off-the-clock billing, and an entirely new way of sharing information.
“We’ve been accused of being the anti-law firm, and I understand that. We do give away things that other firms would charge for, but it makes sense to do things this way to empower people. A lot of law firms confuse giving away information as giving away legal advice. The law is the law is the law. Business owners want to be empowered and to know what they need to do next. We want to make legal information affordable so that everyone can be empowered to work their way through solutions,” she explains.
In the last 12 months as a start-up in its own right, LHS Solicitors has been collaborating with business services like them in different sectors. Calvert says that there are so many other award-winning start-ups that look to answer the same pain-points facing their clients, it makes sense to band together for the greater good. Accounting bookkeeping advice, My Accountant Friend, branding and PR platform, JournoLink, appointment booking plug-in, Appointedd, among others are all part of elXtr. “If you’re a small business, you identify with other start-ups who are happy to collaborate,” she says. “It’s the philosophy of the rising tide that lifts all ships.”