When it comes to accessing legal services, SMEs have traditionally been stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Tom Dunlop, CEO and founder of Summize, argues that legal tech is bridging the gap between SMEs and legal services, and says this is more important than ever.
Accounting for 99 per cent of all UK businesses, SMEs need access to legal advice just like any other organisation, but in many cases, costs can be prohibitively expensive. Research shows more than two-fifths of SMEs believe the legal system is designed with only big businesses in mind.
On the other hand, SMEs often won’t have an in-house legal team, meaning the task of navigating complex legal documents and contracts is frequently left to self-employed and small business owners without any real legal knowledge or background.
With legal obligations and liabilities often hidden within the small print, many businesses – through no fault of their own – may fail to pick out the correct data from their contracts or identify renewal and termination dates. These are costly mistakes that can often be more expensive and time-consuming to rectify in the long term.
Ultimately, businesses run on contracts – they sit behind any value and risk – meaning it’s not just a big business problem.
This is where the application of technology can help – by reducing costs and making legal services available to all.
The tech factor
The legal landscape is changing and technological innovations like artificial intelligence (AI) are becoming increasingly common.
Many legal professionals have already embraced new digital technology, with legal tech providing a range of benefits, from saving time to trimming overheads and improving workflow.
And, with the rise of technology companies devoted to providing legal solutions that increase productivity and reduce costs, legal tech is quickly becoming an attractive option for SMEs looking to access legal services affordably.
Time is money
The benefits of legal tech are particularly evident when applied to the processes of document generation and contract review.
Previously, businesses often had no other option than to manually wade through pages and pages of contracts. But now software powered by artificial intelligence can be used to upload and summarise documents that can be reviewed in minutes instead of hours. By shortening the otherwise drawn-out process of a manual contract review, legal technology could be key to improving productivity among UK SMEs. The importance of which cannot be overstated given that, even before the outbreak of coronavirus, the UK’s productivity was almost bottom of the G7 league table**.
In addition, legal technology like this means contractual queries and reviews won’t have to disrupt regular workloads. And, by storing all documents and information in one place, it simplifies previously complex filing systems and leads to faster response times for internal teams and clients.
Our own platform accelerates contract review processes by up to 85% by providing firms with an immediate contract summary containing clauses and terms, making a previously onerous task significantly slicker. We’ve also designed it with several pricing tiers and user levels to help teams be as flexible as they need to be.
Weathering the storm
Like most things, the legal system has also been subject to change in recent months. The coronavirus pandemic has seen many SMEs struggling to adapt to changing government and public health guidelines, often while also working with a reduced workforce or from home. Meanwhile, digesting already complex contract clauses around force majeure and business interruption has never been more important.
Legal technology can help to mitigate some of these challenges and act as a boon to businesses by removing the burden of manual processing, often reducing the likelihood of human error. Software is also particularly beneficial when working from home as it allows teams to collaborate effectively by sharing and implementing work remotely.
By automating or otherwise accelerating the pace of mundane tasks, legal tech products are reducing costs, increasing profit and shortening the gap in legal access for SME businesses – benefits which are more vital than ever as SME businesses continue to face ongoing uncertainty in the months ahead.