Orbital Witness secures £1.2m funding & raft of BigLaw clients including Clifford Chance

Legaltech startup Orbital Witness has secured funding of £1.2 million following a period of significant client wins that include Clifford Chance, Mishcon de Reya, Reed Smith and Macfarlanes.

The funding is provided by property technology heavyweights JLL Spark and LiFE Ventures, alongside Europe’s leading seed fund, Seedcamp. The round includes grant funding for research and product development through Innovate UK’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund aimed at transforming legal services.

Orbital Witness, which was part of Mishcon’s legaltech incubator MDR LAB in 2017, ran its first pilot only a year ago. It helps property lawyers to significantly reduce the time it takes to build a detailed understanding of the properties or sites they are working on and profile relevant transactional risks, in order to advise their clients.

Over the last few months it has seen its product dramatically change. Co-founders Ed Boulle and Will Pearce come from the space industry and initially satellite imagery comprised the core of their platform, which was then aggregated with property and legal data from a range of sources, including the Land Registry, Ordnance Survey, and local councils. The latter has become the core offering, with all of the analysis that they can provide using that data.

Speaking to Legal IT Insider, Boulle said: “Thanks to MDR LAB we worked out what was important and what we needed to do to build our product.”

Mishcon signed up with Orbital Witness in September last year and have rolled the tech out across their entire real estate team. Boulle says: “One of the things that’s really good about our technology is that we are used by all the lawyers, not just one technology lawyer. All the lawyers get it and we see 70-80% using it on a weekly basis – it’s right at the heart of what they do.”

Other customers such as Clifford Chance have more recently come on board. Boulle says: “We worked with them on a pilot in December 2018 to the start of this year and they signed straight away.”

The 2017-founded company has also recently launched its first product for in-house teams with FTSE 100 retail giant Marks & Spencer and is working with Lockton Companies LLP to provide insurance solutions to cover a wide array of transactional risks identified through the platform.

In terms of the funding round, Boulle says: “It was always going to be part of our strategy – there is a lot we need to continue building in terms of legal risk profiling.” At the end of the summer the company hit the investment trail and began talking to investors and Boulle says: “What we knew is we wanted an investor with property sector expertise and we wanted people who are super well connected and know all the of the moving parts of the property market. It’s a great match with JLL Spark and LiFE Ventures.”

Orbital also needed the experience of a technology VC and when the team met Tom Wilson from Seedcamp, Boulle says: “It all just clicked into place.”

Boulle says there is a need to bring transparency and immediacy to property legal assessments: “Real estate is the most valuable asset class there is. Everyone involved in a real estate deal naturally wants visibility of any red flag legal issues with the property ahead of time. The trouble is, if you’re weighing up multiple properties or sites, it just isn’t possible or practical for your lawyer to go into the detail of each one without incurring significant expense and delay.”

“Orbital Witness is a prime example of how technology is solving challenges in real estate and moving the industry forward,” said Mihir Shah, co-CEO, JLL Spark. “Legal assessments of land and property are critical, but today, they are also very complicated and time consuming. Orbital Witness is automating the process by combining property data and user-driven analysis to pinpoint risks. We are leveraging the expertise and reach of JLL to help the Orbital Witness team refine and scale its offering.”