Designed for start-ups: how can we bridge the legal advice gap for UK entrepreneurs?

12 October 2020 | Company news, Thoughts and Opinions

Designed for start-ups: how can we bridge the legal advice gap for UK entrepreneurs?

Almost half of UK small-business owners and the self-employed agree that the legal advice sector is ‘not set up for them’.

Perceptions around cost, difficulty of access and a lack of technology were the main barriers reported by SMEs put off from looking for legal help in a 2019 survey conducted by Nesta.

Even the Solicitors Regulation Authority recognises the problem. Anna Bradley, Chair of the SRA Board, said: “Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. From helping complete a new lease to taking on the first member of staff, sound legal advice is crucial if businesses are to succeed. But it’s clear that too many small businesses struggle to access the legal support they need.

This call to arms has been mostly ignored by the legal industry but a new breed of law firm is challenging the norm.

Harper James Solicitors was founded by Toby Harper precisely because he’d seen first-hand the struggles faced by small businesses in accessing quality legal support often at stages critical to their development. While working as the in-house counsel for a Midlands venture capital firm, Toby hit upon a radical idea:

Toby Harper, CEO & Founder of Harper James

What if a law firm operated like a nimble start-up, focusing its most valued assets – solicitors – on giving legal advice without the bureaucracy or administration found in a traditional law firm? And what if those solicitors were to work remotely, could it then offer ambitious businesses more affordable rates for its high-quality legal services?

Armed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of business financing and all things start-up, Toby left his in-house role and secured a government start-up loan to set up his own law firm in 2014. His aim was to transform business legal services by creating a modern law firm purpose built to meet the demands of entrepreneurs.

In the space of just six years, Harper James Solicitors now works alongside an impressive 1,200 companies. What Harper James’ clients have in common is innovation, ambition and a determination to survive, succeed and thrive.

‘Supporting entrepreneurs and new businesses has always been my passion,’ Toby says. ‘As an entrepreneur myself, I know the barriers that exist to getting your idea off the ground. Harper James believes in providing access to first-class legal advice which businesses need – at a cost that won’t bankrupt them at the first hurdle. Helping our partners achieve their business dreams is at the heart of the service we provide.’

It’s thanks to Harper James’ innovative pricing models that many of the start-ups – who may have felt legal support was out of reach – are able to access high-quality legal advice. Built around a low-cost subscription model, Harper James’ legal services are tiered according to how much legal support your business needs.

‘I wanted to create a service that was dramatically different in the way it was priced that would get people talking,’ Toby says. ‘We’ve achieved that and attracted a lot of new clients along the way.’

For many, that starts at just £99 per hour: a fraction of the price rival City firms offer their services for. Under other plans clients can bulk-buy hours, meaning the more they buy, the lower the hourly rate they are charged.

And, as businesses grow, Harper James offers packages that grow too, meaning its clients can access all the help they need on the journey to reaching their goals. Like the ambitious clients he is proud to support, Toby is no mood to slow down.

‘Unless you continually evolve your offering, it is hard to thrive,’ he says. ‘I have big aspirations for this firm. We’ve grown rapidly in six years. And, at some point we will become a top 100 firm. It may take us a while to get there, but we will. And we look forward to supporting lots more clients along the way.’

Futureproofing your business

Advice from experienced lawyers can help prevent issues later down the line.

Harper James’ lawyers typically have a minimum of 10 years post qualified experience and have either been employed at a top 100 UK law firm or worked in-house at a large international business. They practise remotely and this flexible way of working has broken down geographical barriers and allowed Harper James to build partnerships right across the UK.

Toby explains: ‘Our experienced lawyers work flexibly, which allows them to achieve a good work-life balance. This in turn reduces our overheads, so we can pass on those cost savings to our clients. But one thing we never compromise on is the quality of our service.’

That service allows the clients Harper James work with to access all the legal support any business needs to scale.

Transparency from the start

Sector pioneers

It’s a tough world for businesses starting out, and no more so than in 2020, still reeling from the consequences of a global pandemic. Counting sector pioneers like Hopin, Hospify and Howamigoing as their clients, Harper James was conceived to enable start-ups like these to scale with legal support that’s swift, straightforward and subscription-based.

Pay-as-you-go subscription models might sound like something you’d expect to find on your smart TV, but Harper James’ modern pricing structure has been designed for forward-thinking firms.

The Enterprise plan, a legal support package specifically designed for start-ups and smaller businesses, has a £189 monthly subscription fee. This provides clients with one hour of legal advice per month which rolls over if unused plus access to additional legal support from just £99 per hour.

This allows businesses to spread the cost of legal advice while enjoying peace of mind that additional support can be quickly accessed without costs rocketing.

‘It’s like having my own in-house counsel’

From CBD oil to graphene, online event conferencing to high-speed electric motors, Harper James’ client list reads like a rollcall of British innovation right now. Clients of the firm prize the speed and efficiency of the Harper James legal experience, and the peace of mind that leaving the legals to the experts affords them.

Chris Mason runs Namos Solutions, an award-winning Oracle consultancy and likened the relationship with Harper James to that of a partnership, rather than a typical customer and supplier:

‘Harper James are our trusted legal adviser and having them by our side at key moments in our business growth, knowing we are protected, is immensely reassuring. Each of the individuals we’ve worked with at Harper James has always shown incredible expertise and the utmost professionalism with very much a “can-do” attitude.’

For Jo Evershed, founder of Cauldron Science and online experiments builder Gorilla, there are real benefits to working with Harper James as her business scales:

‘It’s been a breath of fresh air to work with Harper James Solicitors. It’s like having my own in-house counsel, but at a fraction of the cost. It’s an invaluable service for any small business.’

When it comes to the business of raising finance and working with investors to help scale start-ups, Harper James’ strong corporate team is valued by leading VC and investment companies. Kieran Hill, COO of Ascension Ventures comments:

‘Our long-standing relationship has enabled us to get deals over the line quickly and efficiently – with minimum fuss.’

Discover the range of transparent support plans and enjoy peace of mind with quick and easy access to business legal experts.

A national law firm

We mainly work remotely, so we can work with you wherever you are. But we can arrange face-to-face meeting at our offices or a location of your choosing.

Our commercial lawyers are based in or close to major cities across the UK, providing expert legal advice to clients both locally and nationally.

Floor 2, Cavendish House, 39-41 Waterloo Street, Birmingham, B2 5PP
Stirling House, Cambridge Innovation Park, Denny End Road, Waterbeach, Cambridge, CB25 9QE
10 Fitzroy Square, London, W1T 5HP
13th Floor, Piccadilly Plaza, Manchester, M1 4BT
Harwell Innovation Centre, 173 Curie Avenue, Harwell, Oxfordshire, OX11 0QG
2-5 Velocity Tower, 1 St Mary’s Square, Sheffield, S1 4LP

Our other locations

Immeuble Danica B, 21, avenue Georges Pompidou, Lyon Cedex 03, Lyon, 69486