We ask Ventures head Laura Bygrave to explain how the programme will work in practice and how it differs from the incubators and accelerators out there

Deloitte Legal announced last week to much fanfare that it is launching a legal startup programme called Deloitte Legal Ventures, in which it will provide an initial cohort of 14 pre-seed Series A companies with access to consulting, technology, legal and investment experts from across Deloitte. Those companies are: Autologyx, Avvoka, CourtQuant, Crafty Counsel, Define, Genie AI, Juralio, Kormoon.ai, PING, Reynen Court, Sente Advisors and Tabled.io.

The chosen companies operate in areas such as execution technology, artificial intelligence, data analytics and predictive analytics.

What jumped out for us was Deloitte’s assertion that it will become “a user of the products and services offered by the chosen start-ups”. As part of the selection process, almost 400 pre-seed to Series A companies were analysed and evaluated based on their products, teams and alignment to Deloitte Legal’s current and future legal technology capability.

While there is no doubt that the likes of Fuse (Allen & Overy) and MDR Labs (Mishcon de Reya) select and work with startups to find relevant shared use cases – and they do – this commitment at the outset from Deloitte appears fairly extraordinary.

A statement from the accounting giant said that through Deloitte’s proprietary Venture Path methodology, experts will stress-test products, services, business models and strategies in a transparent and structured way to identify scalability. This will in turn accelerate the on-boarding, uptake and usage of the products and services.

Slightly nonethewiser, probably largely to do with a bug that has been doing rounds at Legal IT Insider towers, we asked Laura Bygrave, innovation and Ventures lead at Deloitte Legal to clarify the exact purpose of Ventures, and how it will work in practice, particularly if Deloitte commits to using the products at the outset. How sustainable is this?

In light of the dubious health and safety status of the office, Bygrave kindly agreed to answer over email.

How do you know that you will use the tech of the start-ups selected?

“Prior to our analysis of the 397 companies, we spent time consulting our legal executive to understand where the pain points are in terms of execution of work, how data could make more insightful decisions and to understand the areas where clients were consistently seeking Deloitte Legal’s guidance in relation to technology assessment.

“All of the companies selected have the potential to solve problems identified either internally or by clients; starting as the user enables us to understand how a product or service could transform how we work and how we can solve our clients’ problems.”

How will that work in practice?

“For each of the cohort we aim to run a two month proof of concept for Deloitte Legal’s lawyers to use the product or service internally. With each company, we will work together through a series of workshops based on our Venture Path methodology which focuses on assessing desirability, feasibility and viability.

“We will test with a set of prioritised assumptions that we will want to be true at the end of the proof of concept, these will use specific metrics that will allow us to know what success looks like. The proof of concepts will be phased into three sprints, starting early 2020. Once complete, the feedback collated from the proof of concepts will help to inform subsequent decisions associated with further deployment of the products and solutions across our business, or to our clients.”

Why do you have to adopt the tech in the business?

“It is the cornerstone of our strategy; Deloitte Legal was set up to combine market leading lawyers, consultants and technology experts to provide clients with new solutions to legal problems. Whether that be legal advice delivered in a more effective way, assistance in harnessing the considerable benefits created by advancements in legal technology, or advice on how to create a best-in-class in-house legal function, we have the breadth and depth of expertise to advise on the challenges that our clients face on a daily basis.”

 Is this sustainable if you have a further cohort of start-ups – surely there is only so much tech you can work with?

“Our overarching ambition through the programme is to identify a strong portfolio of companies with whom we can develop long term relationships with not only for use within Deloitte Legal but also with Deloitte’s other service lines. Our approach is sustainable given the size and scale of Deloitte. For example, in the UK, across all of Deloitte’s service lines, we have more than 200 people solely focused on innovation and venturing with early stage companies.”

How does Ventures differ to the likes of (e.g.) Allen & Overy Fuse?

“Deloitte Legal Ventures is complimentary to the array of incubators in the market as we are focused on solving a different problem: structuring and measuring proof-of-concepts. Deloitte Legal Ventures is not an incubator, but it is a programme that accelerates the on-boarding, uptake and usage of technology products and services by redesigning the proof-of-concept process.

“In addition, we have hand-selected the companies based on our extensive analysis as opposed to opening up applications to join the programme. We are also focusing on pre-seed-to-series-A companies as we can help these companies develop before their roadmap becomes fixed due to investment obligations.

“Furthermore, we do not ask for exclusivity as we do not want to impose any restrictions on these companies in terms of who else they are able to work with. Many of these businesses are very early stage, and therefore in order to optimise product development and growth, we believe that collaboration is important.

“Finally, many of the companies we are looking to work with are already part of other accelerator / incubator programmes within the market, and this is something that we actively encourage as both parties benefit from the cumulative learning.”