Two-fifths of SMEs believe the UK legal system only works for big businesses and those that can afford it, according to the results of a new study.
A survey by Nesta Challenges has found that 43% of small business owners and self-employed people believe the legal advice sector is not set up for them - a stronger perception than in the wider population where the figure is 32%.
The majority (79%) of small business owners said there should be an easier way to check whether a problem they are experiencing could be resolved through the legal system. Almost half of self-employed workers and business owners polled (45%) said they would embrace digital services to help with a legal problem.
Innovators and entrepreneurs are being invited to submit new ideas that demonstrate how technology can narrow the "legal gap" and make it easier for individuals and SMEs to access the legal system. This might be a solution to help someone identify whether they have a legal problem in the first place, or perhaps help them to create tailored documents or contracts.
The Legal Access Challenge aims to build new opportunities for collaboration and create a growing community of innovators seeking to use technology to widen access to legal services and to identify any barriers to their success. So far there have been more than 85 expressions of interests in applying for the funding, including from entrepreneurs, legal professionals, technologists, law schools and charities.
Four finalists will each win a prize of £50,000 to develop their product and bring it to life with the support of Nesta Challenges and the SRA. One winner from the four finalists will also go on to win a further £50,000 to continue advancing the product.
"It's clear that too many small businesses struggle to access the legal support they need," said Anna Bradley, chair of the SRA board. "We want the Challenge to move things on and open up legal services for small businesses as well as the public."
Chris Gorst, head of Better Markets, Nesta Challenges, said: "It's deeply worrying that so many small business owners feel they can't make use of our legal system … With 5.6 million SMEs in the UK, employing 16.3 million people, it's vital they can get the legal advice they need, when they need it."
The Legal Access Challenge is accepting applications until 11 August 2019.
Written by Rachel Miller.