Starting a small business is never easy. There is so much to consider, particularly if you want to do things right the first time. But most startups don’t have huge amounts to throw around, and legal fees can easily spiral out of control eating into your development budget, your marketing budget, and at the end of the day your salary! Lawyer Andrew Weaver and his co-founder Dan Somers saw this huge gap and came up with a solution to offer fixed-cost legal services to small businesses. 

Tell us a bit more about LawyerFair

LawyerFair is a free service that helps businesses (large and small) to find the right lawyer at the fairest price. We match the legal needs of business customers with a pre-approved panel of commercial lawyers, who then compete for the work. All lawyers on our panel have been pre-qualified and signed up to our unique customer care charter.

Where is it based? Who would you say is your target audience?

Our office is in Battersea, London but we operate online and on behalf of customers based in the UK and beyond.

We specialised in the commercial market and provided the first service of its kind when launching in 2014. An LSB (Legal Services Board) survey in 2013 found that 7 out of 8 SMEs felt they didn’t get value from their lawyers and that 52% of business owners “preferred to muddle through on their own rather than seek legal help”.

It’s clear that business owners feel they have no control on fees and sometimes on quality or customer service. LawyerFair provides a free platform that addresses all of these traditional frustrations.

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What is your competitive edge over your other companies that offer similar type of services?

We were the first service aimed at providing a legal comparison and procurement service for the commercial market. We remain unique in how we select our lawyers and that they have to sign up to our customer care charter which commits them to quoting fixed fees and communicating to clients any changes and/or problems. Uncontrolled timed billing and poor communication were the two major areas of frustration between businesses and their lawyers.

And how long have you been working on this business?

We launched a proof of concept site through 2014 and then raised seed capital in April 2015.  Since then we have been building up our content and team, enjoying month-by-month growth throughout 2015.

We aim to make LawyerFair the de facto platform for the buying, selling and analysis of commercial legal services and to be expanding beyond UK during 2016.

What makes you think this business model would work well in the industry?

Having worked in professional and legal services for 20+ years, I believed that both sectors can and will be transformed by internet and technology.  We want LawyerFair to help improve access, lower costs and increase transparency.  It’s about enabling businesses to find the right niche expert lawyers but within a competitive tendering process that helps drive best price and value.  By insisting on fixed fees wherever possible, it also ends the culture of timed billing where all the commercial risk was taken by the buyer of legal services and none by the supplier.

And your personal background? 

I was a barristers clerk for ten years up to 2001 – helping place pieces of work with the ideal barrister.  In a strange way, that’s exactly what LawyerFair does but in a scalable model.

I have a Cranfield MBA (2002) since when I’ve been involved in working for and with SMEs, particularly in the corporate deals market where I dealt with multiple lawyers.

What about your family background? Do you have any entrepreneurs in your family who influenced you?  

My father was a local serial businessman based in Cornwall.  He didn’t operate the best business controls and ultimately suffered from poor professional advice on occasion, including when he planned to sell.

I am currently an investor and mentor to other businesses and have a passion, originally lit by my father’s experience but also having been involved in selling professional services, that the internet can transform the cost and value for business owners, SMEs, and start up entrepreneurs of finding and using lawyers.

Can you remember any particular event that sparked the idea or inspired you to start this venture?

Both my co-founder and I had similar experiences when using lawyers – we instructed a reputable firm based on personal recommendation but felt extremely disappointed with the value provided. Costs went out of control with timed billing meaning that lawyers had no incentive to clip time spent, there was poor communication and ultimately a lack of commercial nous about the advice being provided.

Having swapped notes and realised we’d suffered something similar, we decided there was an opportunity to create a sophisticated and bespoke service that helped businesses gain better value and access to really good lawyers.

We’re pro good lawyers, but also making it a more competitive and value driven sector.

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You mentioned a co-founder. Tell us about his or her background and any other interesting stories.

Yes, my partner is Dan Somers.  He grew and exited his own video conferencing company five years ago and is now MD of Boundary Capital. He has also run a number of businesses and has an MA from Cambridge and speaks five languages – he’s a smart guy!

He first hatched the idea of LawyerFair and found we had a similar vision, so we came together to launch and drive the idea forward.

Tell us about what you consider the most exciting or inspirational moment to date in running your business.

The first and ongoing exciting moment is when clients respond really positively to what we’re doing. Starting a business from scratch is always challenging and particularly in this very conservative market space.  When business owners enthuse about what you’re doing… it’s a fantastic feeling of job satisfaction and confirmation that the service we’re providing is needed and cherished by those who find and use it

What about the toughest moment?

Toughest moments with start up businesses are many.  You always have to halve forecasts and double timelines – I say this to companies I mentor but even with my own business I sometimes overlook the same maxim.

Some of the challenges we have encountered include finding the right people – investors and team – and making quick decisions when it’s wrong. As we’re growing, the need to recruit increases but that’s balanced alongside the limitation of our resource (time and cash) and the risk of getting it wrong.  If you make an appointment and you know it’s the wrong one, act quickly.  

Raising Seed rounds is also a challenge – whilst there is more availability of seed funding, particularly via the SEIS scheme, it’s a very competitive market and we found it a frustrating distraction.  Also, we chased too many hares and dead ends.  Understand it will take time to complete so start looking asap, whilst not trying to raise too early and/or too much.  If you over value at seed stage, it could have a big impact at the next round.

Finally starting a new business has an impact on your personal income and your family – no start up success is achieved without a huge effort in terms of time and opportunity cost.  It can be easily overlooked that your family are in the firing line as well – both in terms of the quality time you have available and the disposable income you suddenly lose.  My family have been super supportive but, we under estimated the impact it has.

Was there ever a weird moment happen in your life where you felt you are destined to do this?

Not sure about weird but I’ve always been more motivated by the journey than the arrival. I had a very successful career working with the Bar but always felt there was a separate calling.

I launched and enjoyed working with a corporate deals firm, helping SMEs achieve exit but never totally comfortable in suit and office.

With technology providing endless opportunities to disrupt and transform, I’ve always felt that LawyerFair and a small online project beforehand, are the most suitable platforms for my skill set and for driving best value into traditional sectors with very mixed value propositions.

And where would you like to see your business in the next say 3 years’ time?

I want us to be a dynamic market place for the buying, selling and analysis of commercial legal services and to be helping business owners meet great lawyers across the world.

Finally, for someone considering their own startup, what one bit of advice would you leave for them?

Half your forecasts, double your timeline, enjoy the ride but learn quickly and iterate continuously.

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