Mishcon de Reya showcased the work of its six MDR LAB-selected startups yesterday (12 July) in quick fire presentations that brought to an end an intensive ten weeks of collaboration with the UK top 40 firm.
MDR LAB, a technology incubator launched in January as part of Mishcon’s 10-year vision to put technology at the heart of the business, has been working with collaborative litigation management software company everchron; real estate satellite imagery company Orbital Witness; timekeeping challenger Ping; AI-backed contract management tool Surukam; mobile privacy solution SaltDNA; and cloud-based automated contract negotiation platform synergist.io.
Led by Mishcon’s chief strategy officer Nick West in conjunction with innovation specialists and investors L Marks, Mishcon has over the past 10 weeks helped the selected startups to refine their products and better understand the legal market and how legal services are provided, including giving them extensive access to the firm’s lawyers.
Speaking before the presentation, West (pictured) said: “One of themes of our 10-year vision was to be tech transformed and one limb of that is MDR LAB – it’s about working with the people who are bringing technology that changes our world. We want to get close to them. We want to capitalise on a culture change, all working together and thinking differently about how technology changes our lives.”
Kicking off the MDR LAB night was Tom Adeyoola, CEO and founder of online shopping tool Metail, which in the last few days has closed a £10m Series B funding round, taking Metail’s total funding to £22m.
Adeyoola, who said he has only just started earning more money than before he began this 10 year journey, identified three key challenges for startups to overcome: 1) IP generation – which typically takes longer than you think but is critical to long term success. 2) Proving value – is your product good enough to make customers switch? And 3) driving adoption and traction, which in light of the typically slow law firm and corporate sales cycle can be gruelling.
First to kick off the startup presentations was growth startup everchron, where Ofer Bleiweiss said: “Lawyers find that their documents, data and knowledge are fragmented and spread across different sites. Our litigation management platform puts it in a centralised workspace for sharing knowledge, which allows collaboration and automation.”
He added: “During our time at the lab we met with over 80 people and now have 15 active pilots with Mishcon.”
With an intuitive search interface, dynamic key document chronologies and automatically generated bundles, everchron has also been working on a secure translation tool that links the translation to the source file. It has created an on demand translation feature available in Word that it will now spend a couple more months developing before releasing it to the market.
Early stage startup Orbital Witness was up next, demonstrating how they are leveraging satellite imagery for use by real estate lawyers. “The problem is that every property transaction starts with due diligence: evaluating the risks associated with the property by looking at multiple different data sources that might be from the client, council or surveyor. It’s only possible to build a full picture later,” said co-founder Francesco Liucci.
Orbital Witness, which was founded this year, uses satellite imagery to provide up to the minute as well as historical details about the property and flag risks, overlaying datasets from the Land Registry, Ordnance Survey and local councils.
“When an issue does arise, the imagery gives you the ability to look back in time quickly,” Liucci said. “It still takes the trained eye of lawyer but we curate it and present it.
“We’d like MDR to be the first adopter and believe this fits in with the firm’s 10-year vision,” he said, adding: “After MDR LAB we will continue to explore other high growth industries.”
Synergist.io provides a secure cloud service to automate the negotiation of contract terms and founder Ed Taylor said: “In the next 20 years, 50% of deals will be negotiated by machines.”
Technology is already overhauling the contract review process which “used to take weeks and now takes hours.”
Taylor added: “Assembling contracts used to be a tedious copy and paste process but now it just takes a few minutes on Mishcon Smart Draft.”
Synergist.io provides a platform that allows customers to draft, negotiate and sign contracts and includes pre-approved clauses from a negotiation playbook. “At the end you can see how that negotiation went compared to your peers and identify patterns in behaviour,” Taylor said.
Ping, meanwhile, promises that its software will mean fee-earners will gain back around 10% of their billable time as a result of using its solution, which tracks phone calls, emails and documents.
Ping is in pilot but co-founder and COO Kourosh Zamanizadeh said: “We got Mishcon’s feedback on what lawyers want from the perfect time keeping software and as result we have a new version of Ping which can track phone calls through Cisco and integrates with iManage.”
“It is integrated with Microsoft Exchange to capture mobile and desktop emails; we automate the capture.”
Surukam, a later stage startup that already has a number of users, provides AI-powered solutions for the automation of contract management. Their platform – CruxIQ – is based on the principle of predictive analysis and can assist in the automation of contract extraction, redline contracts and deviation analysis.
Mentored by BT’s general counsel TSO and COO BT legal Chris Fowler, founder Krishna Sundaresan said: “The AI-powered platform tracks contractual relationships and looks at who else is out there.” He adds. “Our visuals show deviations to total files, contract types, status, and issues.
And finally, SaltDNA, co-founded by Joe Boyle, focusses on providing a fully enterprise managed software solution that enables privacy in mobile communications.
Boyle said: “It used to be easy. The IT manager would give you a BlackBerry and set up the controls. On your last day they would take it off you and recycle it. It gave you security and compliance. Then in 2007 Apple launched the iPhone and that was that.”
“We saw an opportunity to take back that control, ” he adds
SaltDNA’s desktop and mobile apps works on iOs and android. It offers secure conference calls and SaltDNA has been working with Mishcon to build new features including better language support.
“We’ve had so many great interactions in past 10 weeks,” Boyle said: “The key takeaway is we understand more how to talk to law firms. I think we can grow our customer base.”
He adds: “We have found clients are pushing the law firms. Very few are taking the bull by the horns.”
Mishcon itself must now take the bull by the horns and decide if and when it will fall back on pre-negotiated contracts to invest in the startups, which will determine how closely their solutions will be tailored to Mishcon’s needs.
As a general observation, one thing the startups need to be very clear of is their value proposition, which comes in part from benchmarking their solution against existing products on the market – it was clearer among some than others that this has already taken place in any depth, although that was probably more a reflection of the presenters only having a few minutes to cover a lot of ground. As Adeyoola from Metail spelled out at the beginning and his advice is worth revisiting, it takes more than a good product to win market share.
But the interaction between startups and Mishcon has been – both sides say – invaluable, and Mishcon has earned the right to feel like a child in a sweet shop, albeit not a cheap one.