The excitable corner of the legal tech universe that is the startup sector yesterday gathered to hear the first cohort of Barclays Eagle Lab in London pitch their wares, followed by Caribbean music, Pina Coladas and even the odd person dancing, but law firm CIOs and mainstream tech heads were notable in their absence.
The Eagle Lab London launch and demo day included pitches from eight startups, three of which have been involved in Mishcon de Reya’s incubator MDR LAB and two that are part of Allen & Overy’s incubator Fuse.
Ruby Datum, Law Panel and Third Fort pitched alongside Legatics and Avokka. Ayfie, Data Solver and Legal Utopia make up the eight, see below for a summary of each and some comments from the night.
The Law Society, which is partnering with Barclays on the lab was out in force as was Barclays itself, including senior lawyers such as general counsel UK Stephanie Pagni and Barclays former CFO and forthcoming mayor of London Peter Estlin.
The Law Society has made considerable effort to engage with startups, including backing Legal Geek, and one senior member observed to me: “It’s strange that there is such a huge degree of separation between this world and ‘mainstream’ legal tech – it’s weird that there are no CIOs here, it’s mainly lawyers.”
It was the same at Barclays Eagle Lab soft launch gathering in June, where only BLM’s IT director Abby Ewen showed up.
Does it matter that mainstream legal tech heads didn’t and typically don’t attend these events? I’d argue definitely yes, but let’s tick off a few nos first.
No, because often startup relationships in the first instance belong to the growing infrastructure within law firms dedicated to new tech, such as innovation heads (we hear that one well known recruitment firm is looking to fill 17 of those roles.) Although I didn’t see many innovation heads at Eagle Lab either.
No, because if an IT director wants to meet a startup, they just have to pick up the phone and the startup will come running.
No, because who knows how many startups will exist in 12-18 months’ time.
I’m sure there are lots of other nos, but ultimately they all miss the point.
For too long mainstream legal tech vendors have been able to be uncompromising and set in their ways and lawyers, the ones who do attend these events, will no longer put up with it. Shadow IT is a huge and growing issue and no wonder: if lawyers aren’t provided with tech where the user experience is to a standard that they are happy with, they will find an alternative.
These startups, with their heavy focus on UX, are putting legacy vendors under increasing pressure to up their game and should be encouraged by all parts of the sector on that basis alone. Some will be genuinely transformative.
There is a growing tendency among those not ‘part’ of the startup brigade to be dismissive of legal tech incubators and write them off as part of ‘the hype’ surrounding the sector. Firstly, and perhaps I’m feeling unusually magnanimous, I’m not sure why hype is such a bad thing. Of course, the major issue for legal teams is being overwhelmed by choice and having no idea which horse to back. But this market needs few excuses to avoid change and we should be careful about using language that gives it an excuse to do just that.
The benefit of a lab such as Barclays is that multiple firms can easily come and engage and the Lab does have the official backing of many of the big UK firms (see photo below).
One thing that’s for sure is that these types of events need to avoid becoming insular and self-congratulatory. The fact that many of the current Eagle Lab cohort have been part of Fuse and MDR Lab is a credit to their successes but they need a continual stream of fresh blood and I fear in Notting Hill they will have less of that than they would if based in the City.
Barclays has done a great job of providing a space that is open to all. Of course they have a vested interest – they want to accelerate the pace of change in the legal sector – and it’s important that it is supported by the entire legal tech sector, not just the high fiving jeans wearers.
Managing director Nick Watson
A virtual data room running 2.5 years.
“We took lot of features and asked 200 lawyers what is most important to them in a virtual data room. Our competitors have tried to do a bit of everything, which makes it hard to use. We’ve worked hard to make just a few features intuitive.”
Ruby Datum has introduced machine learning, so it’s easier to find and suggest what document you need.
Customers: Anyone who needs to use a data room. Idea is that it requires no training.
SVP of business development Peter Richards
A provider of text analytics solution to augment workflow, Ayfie has just launched its fourth workflow tool.
It is revenue generating.
Focuses on natural language processing: mapping language and being able to retrieve information across multiple channels within the legal sector.
Can do text-based OCR but not yet working with images or handwriting.
Developed over three years, self-funded
Specialising in trademark rights management
Selling point: Existing tech is clunky. Law Panel is an easy to use platform with advance UI to automate repetitive tasks.
Includes advance data automation and a collaborative environment.
The founders previously founded successful trademark registration company Trademark Direct.
Law Panel already have law firms clients in London and some trialling the software including Mishcon.
Law Panel is currently raising seed funding of around £350k.
Head of BD Daniel Porus
Legatics is a more efficient way to run large transactions. The major use case is across finance and but there are some corp use cases.
Founder Anthony Seale started as data scientist and became a lawyer. As a junior working on a schedule for a loan agreement he put it in Excel only to do be told to put it in Word.
The software enables you to create CP check lists and avoids back and forth, particularly over email.
Director of sales and marketing Beth Kendall-Hirons
Raised £1.2m in May
Originated when co-founders Claire Banwell Spencer met Vinay Nagaraju while doing an MBA.
Privacy management software that helps organisations to comply with GDPR and those processes become embedded across an organisation.
Next phase: APIs and plug ins
Co-founder Jack Bidgood
Thirdfort is a property settlement platform. Onboarding is digital based on a photo of your passport and a selfie.
The company was started after a friend was defrauded of £25k in a property deal.
Just received FCA authorisation for escrow account.
Charges per transaction.
Team of 11
Predominantly operates around the access to justice space.
Legal diagnosis engine enables consumers in natural language to identify their problem. License to law centres at cost.
Have just announced a collaboration with Blockchain company Atlas City.
Director David Howorth
User friendly contracting platform with the ambition of getting rid of the use of Microsoft Word and collaborating in this platoform.
Platform captures data that can then be further analysed.
Work with law firm and in-house legal teams.
“We’re excited by Eagle Lab because we want to work with as many people as possible.”