Telecoms giant Vodafone is providing access to ‘legal services’ for its 500,000 business customers through a partnership with Sparqa Legal, a web-based platform that gives guidance on legal matters and sells contract templates.
The concept of Sparqa, created by a group of English lawyers, is simple but effective, and similar to platforms such as Rocket Lawyer and Legal Zoom. An SME arrives at the site, searches for the issue they need help with, from how to create a legally sound email footer, to firing an employee, to creating a lease agreement; you are then provided with a range of accurate and up-to-date legal guidance on what to do and how to do it; and then you can download the documents you need to complete that matter, all for a very reasonable price.
Under the Vodafone deal, business customers can sign up to the Sparqa Legal platform via the VeryMe Rewards app and will immediately receive £50 ($63) credit towards customisable legal contracts and documents. These include employment contracts, trademark applications, data protection and privacy policies, along with furlough letter templates and coronavirus risk assessments. For example, a long form employment offer letter template is sold at £25.
Of course, ethics experts may then say: ‘Hold on…..this sounds like legal advice!’ And we have been here many times before in many countries. At least as far as the UK is concerned there are no issues here. Sparqa, and by extension, Vodafone, are not giving specific legal advice on a client’s matter. This is general guidance that you can choose to apply to your matter or not. It’s your choice. You can then turn this guidance into something specific by downloading the documents and filling them in.
Should you get a lawyer to then look over the documents…? Well, you can, but then the cost goes from £25 to many hundreds, if not thousands of pounds, and at that point you’ve lost many of the SMEs. According to some estimates 70% of SMEs don’t use lawyers even when they have a definable ‘legal issue’. Talk about unmet and unserved needs…
Vodafone’s customers will also have access to Government changes to law and legislation amid the coronavirus pandemic, to help them better understand their legal rights and obligations, the company added.
The partnership marks Vodafone’s first collaboration with a legal platform, as part of ‘a commitment to enhancing access to digital solutions for its business customers’. Vodafone already works closely with Buzzbar to offer digital marketing workshops, and Shaw Academy to provide access to digital training courses.
Andrew Thornton, Founder of Sparqa Legal and a barrister at Erskine Chambers, said: ‘Our mission is to make the law accessible and empower businesses to fulfil many of their legal requirements themselves. We believe passionately that armed with the right tools, and resources, smart business managers can produce many of the simple legal documents they require. They can also find out about their rights, obligations and the best course to take.’
‘Our latest partnership with Vodafone is a brilliant step to extending our product offering amongst the business community, helping companies to progress and thrive with cost-effective legal solutions,’ he added.
Is this a big deal? It’s another important step forward in normalising the idea that you don’t need to go to an unnecessarily expensive and traditional advisory-focused Legal Services Business (LSB) to meet your legal needs.
For now, Sparqa is a relatively small player, but if it can keep cutting deals like this with very large companies it may steadily grow, and word will spread.
The interesting question then is whether traditional LSBs that serve SMEs decide to disrupt their own business model. Offering a lot of what they do at affordable rates would initially decimate their profits per matter, but by increasing the volume of their client throughput they could do very well. But that would mean becoming far larger. Note: after you move past the UK 100 the size of law firms drops rapidly over here. So, time for Small Law to consolidate….
Offering a near freemium service may also then trigger a greater need for complex advice among those SMEs that have the cash to pay for it.
Ultimately one has to ask: why does it take non-regulated platforms like this, and others, to get to the point where SMEs’ legal needs are catered for? Isn’t that what traditional ‘law firms’ are meant to be there for?
The answer is that traditional LSBs have found it is still profitable for their business owners even when they price out most of the SME market from obtaining their services – and that seems to be a sign of a highly dysfunctional legal market, as how is that serving society’s needs?
So, well done to Vodafone and Sparqa, as well as others in this market space such as Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer, not to mention companies such as Farewill.