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"I'm a chicklet and I live in a hatchery"

10 December 12

One lawyer's experience in setting up an online legal services business through the “E-Spark” scheme to support entrepreneurs

by Stephen Vallance

The title phrase is not words I thought I'd hear myself say five years ago when I sold my legal practice. Nor did I ever see myself becoming involved with a legal business again. The world back then, though, was different. Banks still lent money, property prices went up as well as down, and law graduates could get a traineeship.

So, what is a “chicklet”? In brief, a young startup company. And a “hatchery” is not just free work space, but a whole support ecosystem set up by Jim Duffy and Bran Maguire, and supported by Sir Tom Hunter and Sir Willie Haughey under the name Entrepreneurial Spark (www.entrepreneurial-spark.com/). Its vision, “To create a business startup renaissance in and from Scotland, through the development of entrepreneurial mindsets and behaviours”. Already it's gaining huge recognition both politically and financially, with the Royal Bank and the Scottish Government both offering massive support for this social enterprise.

So, where do I fit into all this? Meet Legalbot (www.legalbot.co.uk). “We do your legal stuff online”. A wills and power of attorney system with a difference. With the help of E-Spark, we are building a GB-wide business.

According to The Guardian, 75% of people looking for legal services in the US do so online, with massive emphasis placed on recommendations and social media reputation. From our own research at Legalbot, 79% of the general public (in the UK) would use online services for law compared with traditional face-to-face practice, but importantly this needs to be backed up with highly accessible support. E-Spark has assisted us not just with office space, facilities, mentoring and guidance, but more importantly by allowing us to build our business in an environment where “go do” is encouraged and where failure is not to be feared, simply learned from. An environment that most legal firms would benefit from.

Starting with a clean sheet and no capital could have been a scary time. My fellow chicklets however are all in the same boat. Their stories are the same, people with a huge desire for success and acting on making it happen. The support and excitement of being in a space where everyone wants to see their businesses fly, not at the expense but with the support of each other, has been truly uplifting.

The E-Spark mindsets which are drummed into us have paid dividends for all. The lessons have been many, delivered through a host of different media, their messages constant, to the point and impartial. Some I knew but had forgotten; many cast a new light on old challenges or issues. All however were aimed at making us examine our business and making it the best we could. There are regular meetings to gauge progress, sometimes brutally honest, but always impartial. All this backed up with weekly seminars, events and support.

Being part of the E-spark hatchery, we have been able to look at grant funding and other support for the business. There is money out there; you need to look hard and show that you have a viable product and the skills required to deliver it. Being a chicklet is starting to open doors. Businesses and councils alike appear much more responsive to startups with the E-spark “go do” mentality. E-Spark itself is acting as a conduit, having received £375,000 from Royal Bank which it is distributing to its chicklets. Legalbot has already won one award and cash prize.

Life is becoming busier as we launch. We focus daily on site improvements, new and unique delivery channels. We work with our partners, affiliates and unemployed law graduates towards what we believe is a common vision. If there is time, there are always social media to be improved, things to be tweeted or FB pages to be updated. But there is a real excitement in being part of the birth of something.

Moving forward, our time at the Hatchery will come to an end in the next three to six months. There is already talk of “breakout” units on the periphery for businesses like ours. There are no fears about moving forward; we have a great business model and we’re putting together a great team. The “free” stuff has been nice, but we'll find other ways to replace those resources. The fellow chicklets, the sense of belonging to something new and exciting: that, I fear, will be much harder to replace.

The point of this article? You’ve heard it so many times. The world is changing; it won’t change back. There are new ways of doing things and there are companies today developing new products and services that will revolutionise everything. It might be Legalbot, but certainly the chances are much better when coming from the E-Spark experience or from a place very like it!
 

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