MDR LAB: What is it really good for?

At the risk of going legal tech lab mad, here is an article from the July/August Orange Rag, where we looked at Mishcon de Reya’s MDR LAB and asked – aside from the headlines it generates – how does it benefit the firm?

Mishcon de Reya on 17 July staged its second MDR LAB Demo Day, when the start-ups and scale ups in its annual 10-week incubator present what they have learned, although chief technology officer Nick West and his team will now be working out whether, going forward, the format ought to be repeated or shaken up.

The second cohort of startups, as with the first, covers a range of commercial use cases that potentially complement Mishcon’s own practice areas, including an integrated legal workflow tool for transactional lawyers, dealWIP, which was founded in Brooklyn; price prediction and management tool Digitory Legal which originates from San Francisco; London-based LawPanel, which is an online trademark management platform; Tel Aviv-founded litigation argument analysis tool Litigate, which is at prototype stage; and London-founded web hosted software platform Thirdfort, which facilitates the exchange of money in property transactions.

Speaking before Demo Day 2018, West told Legal IT Insider: “We’re looking for early stage companies focussed on the legal sector where the product is good, we like the technology and 1) they are solving a pain point that we at Mishcon recognise and 2) we like the way they are solving it.”

Competition for the incubator was high – 130 applied – and if the success of a number of the first cohort was anything to go by, it’s not surprising. Orbital Witness and Ping, both part of the 2017 MDR LAB and now both in pilot with Mishcon, kicked off the 2018 demo day by talking about some of their successes over the past year.

These were very human stories that had a slightly Oscar-type feel to them with West singled out often for praise and thanks. Ed Boulle, co-founder and CEO of Orbital Witness described how having access to Mishcon’s legal brains and input gave the company the leg up that has now led to them getting funding from the European Space Agency and partnering with HM Land Registry. Their experience at Mishcon helped them raise pre-seed funding and the company now has three independent law firm clients.

Ping, whose product automates timekeeping for lawyers and provides data analysis for law firms, is one of two companies that Mishcon invested in out of the first cohort of startups. CEO Ryan Alshak described how having unfettered access to Mishcon’s lawyers has been transformative and a stepping stone to Ping’s fund raising in Silicon Valley.

It has just wrapped up a law firm pilot and seen a 13% increase in revenue. Ping is no stranger to accelerators – it was part of the LexisNexis 2017 accelerator program run by Lex Machina – but Alshak said the reason he returned from the US to speak in London is because the people at Mishcon had become friends.

Friends is good, but the question naturally arises: exactly how does the LAB really benefit Mishcon: is the output worth the huge amount of time it takes to run the 10-week session? If you care about publicity, the LAB is extremely positive and has given rise to all sorts of coverage that positions Mishcon as an innovator. But, thankfully, that’s not the main reason they do it.

Out of the first LAB, aside from the pilots above, Mishcon is now working with two of the companies: encrypted communication platform SaltDNA and case management platform Everchron.

West said: “The more interesting story is that we are using these technologies. Outside of the LAB, we’re at the mercy of how the companies present themselves to the partners. They might do a bad presentation and then that’s that, but with the LAB it’s different.

“Ping had half a product but we could take them through a journey and people got excited about them solving a pain point. Now people are invested in them and people have more tolerance each time.

“Last year we had the early adopters, the people on the fence and the sceptics but this time round people were right with us on the starting line.”

A property partner at the most recent Demo Day inadvertently supported this observation, commenting: “Culturally this is having such a positive impact on the firm.”

West will now consider whether the format of the Lab needs to be tinkered with, commenting: “If we find a startup in June, currently it will be January before they can apply for the next Lab by which time they might be dead. “I’m aware that at the moment our fixed schedule doesn’t fit with the startup cycle. We could run more than one programme a year or rather than having everyone start on the same day break it up but that needs some looking at.”