By Grahame Cohen,Founder, Product & Technology Director Epoq

In today’s economic climate SMEs need easy and affordable access to a range of professional services if they are to survive. From accountancy and legal services, to human resources and marketing expertise, SMEs frequently lack the financial and people resources to fulfil these essential business management functions in-house. Outsourcing is the obvious solution, but in addition to the cost implications of engaging external resources, easy and daily access to specialist services and advice is not always on offer with these arrangements. In particular, easy and affordable access to legal advice and support is vital for many SMEs, especially those just starting up.

Given this requirement, what can legal service providers do to make their services more accessible and affordable to small businesses? Online delivery is a simple and easy-to-implement solution, but not one currently associated with the legal profession, which has tended to favour traditional face-to-face meetings to engage with and serve their clients. However, in recent months a number of more progressive law firms have embraced the Internet to deliver legal services to small businesses, directly addressing their need for convenience and flexibility of access, clarity of pricing and for legal expertise and professionalism.

This new and efficient way of legal service delivery has been made possible through DirectLaw (www.directlaw.co.uk), a web and document automation service that enables law firms to offer their business clients access to legal documents directly from the law firm’s website. These documents can be drafted online by the business client at any time and from anywhere and then submitted to the law firm — again online - for legal review and approval. This system deploys sophisticated document automation technology which presents the user with easy-to-complete online interactive questionnaire, the answers to which create the draft document.

The benefits of this method of delivery are simple but compelling. Primarily, it negates the need to spend vital working hours in solicitors’ offices and yet still offers the small business a personalised service from a professional commercial law firm. Furthermore, as online services are more cost effective for the law firm to deliver, they will be in a better position to offer more favourable rates to their small business clients. Documents can also be offered at a fixed fee and paid for online, providing greater convenience for those businesses which need an occasional one-off legal document.

Law firms can now deliver a comprehensive range of documents online via the DirectLaw platform, including business start-up documents, employment agreements, debt recovery and health and safety compliance. Many of these documents form the backbone of a safe and compliant small business operation. Making them easily accessible and affordable, but with the support of a qualified legal professional, can make a big difference to the survival of an SME. And, from the law firm’s perspective, online engagement is more cost-efficient and frees up solicitor time to spend on giving expert advice and guidance directly to their clients.