Companies developing new technology for the legal industry face an obstacle course that includes a tight window of opportunity, a short product cycle, a high hurdle of exacting requirements, and the demand for development capital. Helping these startup legal tech companies navigate these obstacles is the goal of the LexisNexis Legal Tech Accelerator Program.
“We saw an opportunity to leverage our commercial experience more broadly and leverage the learnings from quite a few founders of legal tech startups now working in our organization,” said Jeff Pfeifer, chief product officer, North American Research Solutions at LexisNexis who oversees the program.
LexisNexis, with technology operations based in Raleigh on the Centennial Campus of North Carolina State University, provides computer-assisted legal research, business research, and risk management products. The LexisNexis Legal Tech Accelerator program identifies companies around the country that are about to enter or that just entered the market.
“The goal of our program is to help these organizations scale and share with them our commercial expertise in the legal field to help them as they make choices about their business,” said Pfeifer.
“The founders of successful startups are a group of people who are able to diagnose problems quickly and who can continually evolve their ideas so the products for lawyers are finetuned and help solve problems or gaps. They need to get the product to the point where lawyers can use it. At the same time, the companies need to stay lean and progress toward their broader product development road map planning.
“Unlike other industries where you may have more tolerance for experimentation, failure and iteration on a design idea, in the legal market product performance expectations are high at product launch,” Pfeifer continued. “Our clients tend to be exacting in their requirements, and they tend to reject quickly things they don’t find directly address their problems.”
One of the biggest hurdles for startups in any industry is finding capital for growth. “As part of the program, we introduce participants to venture sources who have invested in the legal market. LexisNexis does not take equity positions in companies in the program.”
PROGRAM MEMBERS FROM THE TRIANGLE
More than 60 companies from around the country applied to this year’s program. Nine were selected. “The criteria we use is first, how unique is the idea. Second, where is the company in its commercial readiness; and third, we examine the quality of the leadership team.”
Two Triangle companies participated in this year’s cohort. Civvis, an online application that helps laymen quickly understand what legal services are available to them based on their needs. Courtroom5 provides tools for people to handle their civil law cases on a pro se basis. Both were featured in recent Legal Innovators stories.
IMPROVED LEVEL OF SERVICE
Any discussion of legal technology prompts questions about lawyers becoming obsolete.
“The amount of work that would be fully replaced by legal technology is limited, estimated at less than 15% of what lawyers do today,” said Pfeifer. “We see a legal industry that is replacing lower value work with work that delivers higher value to consumers.
“Today, a lawyer may provide a certain level of advice to a client; when aided by automation activities, the level of service to the client goes up,” he continues. “The lawyer is able to counsel the client in new ways because of the diversion of time and activities to other tasks.”
ACCESS TO JUSTICE AND A STRONGER RULE OF LAW
Product applications that help improve access to legal services are an increasing area of focus. With a large percentage of civil lawsuit participants unrepresented by legal counsel, many see an opportunity for technology to fill the gap. LexisNexis sees technology solutions as a way to strengthen the rule of law more broadly.
“Access to justice is a huge focus of legal tech startup activity. We see hundreds of companies looking at problems related to access to justice, and we think accelerators like our own and the Duke Law Tech Lab are supportive of those objectives. Building a stronger legal technology ecosystem requires a broader commitment to supporting companies at their earliest stages of development. Longer-term, we believe these products will advance a stronger rule of law.”
The LexisNexis Legal Tech Accelerator program also partners with the Durham-based Duke Law Tech Lab, which also assists early-stage legal tech companies. Pfeifer was a judge at this year’s Duke Law Tech Lab competition, where companies focused on access to justice solutions.