Since January the Legal Industry has seen a flurry of maps, meetups, hackathons, awards, and conferences. All these activities are aimed at sizing the market and finding the next big hit. But what are we really looking for? And are we looking in the right place?
What is legal technology? More then Core
Before we can answer the question where and how to find Legal Technology, we have to address what it is. In general, there are two schools of thought on defining legal technology. First is the technology that makes legal work more efficient for experts or non-experts alike. At its core, it is the technology that infuses lawyers with superpowers. Software such as eDiscovery, Draft- and Research Assistants enable professionals to process more legal work with fewer experts. For consumers, there are marketplaces and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) services that provide exclusive legal support at fixed or lower costs.
Second is a broader view of Legal Tech which looks at whatever technology impacts the law in a meaningful way. Looking at areas where engineers develop smarter ways of protecting legal rights. The same protections previously provided by law experts using contracts, litigation, and regulation can now be resolved with technology such as Blockchain. Here are 11 examples out of 209 we found, ranging from protecting ownership of personal data to securing transactions for anything of value. If we could digitally own our personal data by locking it on the Blockchain, we wouldn’t need the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Data revealed how this trend slowly emerged in the areas that face the most regulatory scrutinies like Finance or Health. Better yet if you measure by either institutional investment, acquisition or initial coin offering (ICO), the most lucrative Legal Tech sector is managing Intellectual Property rights with technology. If we want to effectively document this displacement of the legal industry, we have to take a broad view of what legal technology is.
Where is legal technology? Beyond the Beacons
The quickest way to get up to speed with core legal tech companies is to follow the industry beacons. Here’s what we use to follow new tech:
- Bloggers (and their Twitter streams);
- Legal Tech Maps & Country lists;
- Accelerators & Incubators;
- Hackathons & Tournaments;
We previously shared some samples from the list above. This year we joined the Global Legal Hackathon in Warsaw, Poland and we were the unexpected keynote speaker. Another highlight is our Dutch Legal Tech map collaboration which garnered over 15,000 views on LinkedIn. It also provided inspiration for this monster collection of Legal Tech maps.
Yet, if the news and announcements zip by too fast, you can always stop and search company directories like Angellist, Crunchbase, or Producthunt. Most databases include a tag for Legal or Legal Tech. If you like to dial back the noise, there are a couple of legal industry lists like Stanford or Robert J. Ambrogi. The Germans even went as far as to locate Legal Tech companies on a map by address. Something we also twice experimented with in Barcelona (video) and in New York (video).
However, one challenge most databases face is how to classify the different types of companies. Something we uncovered while hunting for legal apps is that fixating on categories may limit us from finding more. There is a risk of creating an echo chamber of Legal Tech because protecting our rights goes beyond technology. It isn’t driven by one specific business model or destined to be practice by one profession. You’ll find it in many places and in the weirdest forms.
How to find legal technology? Robots & Reason
Once you sailed past the beacons, you’ll discover the sea of Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter. Especially Twitter is a pretty rewarding space to find new Legal Tech so we partnered with Orhan Yalcin to build a special machine to find Legal Tech. We dubbed our bot Legalpioneer Recon and ran it a couple of times for it to reveal the other challenge databases encounter: duplicates. The first time we unleashed our baby on Twitter it was like drinking from a fire hydrant. But once you start filtering out the duplicates, the subsequent passes become nothing more than just a drip. Recon now processes between 300 to 400 startups each month to sniff out at best 22 or at worse 6 Legal Tech startups.
If you noticed some dark spots on the Legalpioneer Where map and wondered why that is. It is because our bot learned from us and we only taught it English. When we started Legalpioneer, our mission was to be a global community. One reason is that locals have a much better shot at discovering gems. Something we call the Holger Effect. This strategy resulted in us doubling the size of startups in Russia and Eastern Europe this May. And there was an additional side-effect: Telegram bots doing legal work. We found 9 of this new species of Legal Tech running wild in the Caucasus.
We’re still tweaking the algorithm on what to include in the Legalpioneer dataset. We started with private companies founded after 2010 which should at least have a unique domain name. With CivicTech and Hackathons, we have extended this to communities and projects on Twitter, Facebook, WordPress.org, and Github. We are contemplating incorporating App Store and Google Play apps just as Slack, Messenger, and Telegram bots.
Why look for legal technology? Rather be Safe, than Sorry
Legal Technology is actually an answer to a human riddle: what is fair? At some point in the future, we may trust Google Duplex to give us the best answer. Legalpioneer aims to estimate when we’ll reach that point, calculate our ETA and plot the safest route.
Course set, buckle up!