LawOnline – a legal document service for SMEs

Small business owners face many costs but when it comes to legal letters and documents, it is often a case of ‘I can’t afford that right now’. LawOnline aims to take the sting out of creating legal letters and documents for individuals and business owners.

LawOnline is a new website where small business owners, and individuals, can go and create their own high quality, customised legal letters and documents, for a fraction of the costs a solicitor or legal firm would charge.

For example, you can create and download purchase order agreements for the supply of goods; company formation documents; legal debt recovery documents; employee contracts; employee disciplinary documents; partnership agreements and more.

SME owners have an ongoing need for legal protection and regulatory compliance. The ‘traditional route’ can be quite costly.

Disrupting the legal industry online

Created by Oliver O’Shea, LawOnline was inspired by O’Shea’s personal and professional experiences. He thought ‘The Law’ was one of the last big industries to be impacted by the Digital Age and set about building a more affordable legal option for small businesses and people in general.

“In my mid-forties I left my corporate career to see what I could achieve myself,” says O’Shea. “The idea for LawOnline came from my personal experience as a law firm client and was also particularly inspired by the work of Professor Richard Susskind, author of Tomorrow’s Lawyers. The legal sector is also one of the last to be impacted by the Internet.”

How he funded the business

He funded the business with a combination of his own money, investment from William J. Brennan & Co. Solicitors, and funding from Tipperary North County Enterprise Board. This funding was then followed by an investment by Enterprise Ireland as part of its High Potential Startup Programme.

How LawOnline works

“Most providers of legal precedents (i.e. documents) only offer flat/static Word documents,” says O’Shea. “In our case the documents do not exist – instead, they are dynamically assembled as the user provides information. The end document is high quality and highly customised to the needs of that user.”

What all this means is business owners can create lots of contracts and legal documents without the need to pay a solicitor.

“For example, any SME owner can draft their employment agreements,” says O’Shea. “Or they can create legal documents to help them recover a debt.”

The costs and the savings for SMEs

And what kind of savings are involved?

While legal fees can vary enormously, one area where specific fees are often quoted is debt recovery. Take, for example, a debt of €5,000 in which case a typical fee for recovery could range from €1,000 to €1,750 depending on the age of the debt.

“We charge just €50 for a claim notice document process which, when stamped by a District Court office, may be sufficient to persuade a debtor to pay,” says O’Shea. “Where the debtor fails to respond we provide all of the documents (4) required to get a judgment for just €100 and if you want our solicitors to review your drafts the full cost is €165 (including VAT).”

Other areas of interest for SMEs

“Other areas of interest would be company formation, employment, buying and selling, and commercial property leases,” says O’Shea. “Succession is also often a key area in family businesses and our wills, powers of attorney and family law processes are relevant. If a user wants the added comfort of a solicitor’s input and review we also offer this as an add-on service.” 

What are the lessons you have learned as a startup, what would you advise your younger self to be aware of or to do?

Don’t be a busy fool. At the outset, it is too easy to convince oneself that ‘the idea’ is viable. Before you make any serious commitment – such as leaving your job – be as sure as you possibly can be that a concept has a reasonable chance of success. Then it is down to the quality of execution.

Where you are starting with just an idea, always prepare a detailed business plan even if you, or anyone else, never reads it again. It will force you to think through the business processes from A to Z and ensure that, as much as possible, you have thought of everything.

Finally, beware of ‘dreamers’ as partners – I learned a long time ago that ideas are ten a penny – what is rare is the person who executes an idea.