Legaltech firms are disrupting traditional legal practices and transforming the industry by providing clients with service improvements such as faster turnaround times and fixed fees. Two such legaltech start-ups, Sprintlaw and LegalVision, were established by UNSW Law alumni on the basis that traditional legal models could be improved by making services more efficient and affordable for clients.
At the 2019 Australian Law Awards, LegalVision was named New Law Firm of the Year, while Sprintlaw took out the award for Innovator of the Year.
How Sprintlaw founders identified a business opportunity
UNSW Law alumnus Tomoyuki Hachigo explains how queuing for lunch one day in the Sydney CBD with a colleague led to the establishment of legaltech start-up Sprintlaw.
“Before I became a lawyer, I had a few years of experience working in the legaltech space, so I always had this idea that technology has the potential to change legal practice. I then met my co-founder, Alex Solo, who also has a tech background, when we were both going through the summer clerkship process. We immediately bonded over how technology could improve the delivery of legal services,” Mr Hachigo says.
“We both became lawyers at a corporate law firm and, one day, we were grabbing lunch at a sandwich place in Sydney CBD. This is one of those places that always has a line, but it’s super quick and efficient. We both noticed how amazing their production line and systematised process was. One of us commented, ‘Why can’t lawyers be the same?’”
Mr Hachigo and Mr Solo eventually realised there was a huge gap in the legal market for servicing small businesses and start-ups. “There was a study that claimed over 80% of small businesses and start-ups don’t seek legal help when they need to. This sounded like a great business opportunity if we could make accessing legal services easy, affordable and online,” says Mr Hachigo.
He says winning Innovator of the Year at the 2019 Australian Law Awards – the top national awards program for Australia’s legal profession – is an honour.
“That a two-year-old start-up like us can win one of the most prestigious awards and be recognised as a leader in legal innovation sends a good message to those trying to innovate in the legal industry," he says.
“Especially when you look at the big names we were competing against as finalists for this category, I think anyone considering leaving their corporate jobs and starting a business should feel encouraged that anything is possible.”
While offering clients a simple and efficient solution to their legal needs is paramount, Sprintlaw founders also acknowledge the importance of providing a healthy workplace for their lawyers. Mr Hachigo says he’s very passionate about improving the everyday lives for lawyers.
“Mental health is a well-known issue within the legal profession and something which is very close to us. From our own experiences, we know that factors such as hyper-competitiveness, unpredictable workloads and lack of purpose greatly contribute to the ill-health of lawyers," he explains.
“We’ve created a workplace that is designed to eradicate these stresses and ensure that our lawyers are always doing meaningful work. Most of our lawyers work flexibly and remotely – we even have a lawyer working remotely from the ski fields in Canada. This has only been possible by putting a lot of thought into the project management systems and workplace culture of the company, and I’m really proud of this achievement.”
Mr Hachigo says it’s currently a very exciting time to be working in the legaltech space.
“You can really see the tectonic plates shifting in the legal industry. It’s not just in the commoditised end of the market which Sprintlaw occupies, but all the way up to the top-tier firms," he says.
“I personally think that there will always be a place for the top-tier premium legal services that will probably continue business as usual, but under a leaner and more tech-enabled outfit. In fact, many of the more innovative firms are already doing this and I think that’s a very positive sign.
“I get a lot of motivation from being part of this changing industry and I’d like to continue contributing to more innovation in our field.”
LegalVision steering away from 18th-century work practices
UNSW law alumnus and CEO of LegalVision Lachlan McKnight says: “After finishing my law degree, I spent a few years working in traditional top-tier law firms in Europe and Asia. I soon realised that many of the aspects of traditional legal practice could be improved, from hourly billing to slow turnaround times. So, we started LegalVision and built a law firm that placed the client first at every turn.”
Mr McKnight believes winning the New Law Firm of the Year award helps enhance the business’s credibility in the marketplace.
“Team members like to know they’re working at an award-winning firm, too. Winning the New Law Firm of the Year award for the second time is energising, as it motivates us to continue to improve the way we assist clients. Personally, I am proud of the team and how far we’ve come in just seven years,” he explains.
Mr McKnight says he wants to build a legal services business that will genuinely transform legal services in Australia and beyond.
“This means we will need to achieve significant scale by servicing a considerable number of clients. It also means we need to invest substantial capital in our team so we can build the legal products of the future.”
Mr McKnight wants to steer the legal service industry away from 18th-century work practices, to an industry as modern and innovative as the technology industry that focuses on the client and the team.
“Personally, I want LegalVision to continue to be a business with highly engaged team members. Otherwise, what’s the point of coming into work every day?”
Looking back at his time at UNSW, Mr McKnight says being involved with the Law community at university was one of the most memorable experiences as a student. His advice to future UNSW Law students is to make the most of your time at law school – whether it's hackathons or volunteering, get to know as many people as you can.