Why I Made the Move into LegalTech
And why I want you to stop telling me the worst thing about the industry is selling to lawyers
About two months ago, I made the move to MDR LAB, the venture arm of the law firm Mishcon de Reya. I had preconceived notions about the industry but was quickly convinced not only about the potential for change, but why the LAB was going to be instrumental in that transformation and ultimately the impact that I could have on the startup ecosystem overall.
The UK is the hub of European legal technology, with UK startups making up 44% of all legaltech startups in the European Union. This is in spite of Brexit, where most startups are setting up in Germany or the Netherlands. Legaltech is still firmly ensconced in the UK.
What I found especially interesting about the industry is how difficult it is to innovate. You have the optimists saying that this is the next wave of transformation in professional services (think about how accounting has been disrupted with the likes of Quickbooks) while other camps believe change will be much slower to come because legal is a different beast.
Legaltech is picking up tailwinds, but to create a thriving ecosystem, legaltech needs support and I believe that MDR LAB can provide just that.
The biggest concern I had about going into the LAB was that it is ultimately a corporate program. As an operator, we like to position ourselves against the corporate — David vs Goliath appears in most startup battlecries. If this were any old corporate, I am not sure the LAB would work, but Mishcon prides itself on its outsider status.
Mishcon is acutely aware that legaltech will change the business and practice of law and wants to be at the forefront of technological development. If we look at how the Goliaths of yesteryear fell (think Kodak, Blockbuster, etc), it is because they ignored emerging tech instead of embracing it.
What if we, and stay with me here, could take David’s ingenuity and Goliath’s strength? While we are still working out the details, we think launching a legaltech venture studio does just that. A recent report by GSSN says
72% of startups coming out of venture builders make it to a Series A round, while it’s only 42% for traditional startups.
In legaltech, the percentage of startups that make it to a Series A round is closer to 30%.
MDR LAB aspires to be the global destination for legaltech — where anyone with any questions can come for help. To build a top-notch program, we cannot just rely on the usual suspects to hunt us out, it is also about finding those people often overlooked to really create a robust ecosystem.
My commitment to underrepresented founders
I previously wrote about the importance of diversity and inclusion and why they matter. The passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a poignant example of what that means in a legal context. Without Justice Ginsberg the US would lack some of the basic rights for gender equality simply because a woman had never been able to offer up a different perspective to a male dominated audience. Janeen Uzzell, COO of the Wikimedia Foundation, said in an interview,
…As with any product or any experience…the outcome is always going to be, the output based on what’s put into it. It’s as biased or not as the community or technologist, or the folks that actually build it.
What Janeen highlights especially resonated with me because of legaltech. Legal systems are the foundation of society; they are what uphold and dismantle systems of oppression. A recent report in Sifted highlighted that over the past 10 years, Black entrepreneurs in the UK received just 0.24% of VC funding. We have already seen the racial inequalities in facial recognition programs so what does this mean for the future of legaltech if we do not work to ensure that representation is present? What will this mean for our society in the future?
I believe we are on the verge of some incredible innovations in legal technology and I am fortunate to be in a position where I can work towards ensuring diversity and representation is in the DNA of the ecosystem.
In summary, I joined MDR LAB because of the promise of the industry, the forward-thinking Mishcon and the ability to make a meaningful impact. Legaltech gets a bad rap, it’s not just SaaS products that enable lawyers to bill faster so stop telling me how difficult it is to sell to lawyers. Legaltech is about providing access to justice; for those who could not obtain access to legal services, knowledge or tools — and that future is what gets me excited every day.