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A person working at a desk in the evening.

Innovation

Three Eagle Lab startups transforming the law industry

07 January 2021

Startups in the lawtech sector are finding ways to transform the legal industry, from tackling notoriously long working hours to automating some of the more arduous but essential tasks. Three founders based at Barclays’ dedicated lawtech Eagle Lab share their thoughts on the future of law – and how the bank is helping to grow the sector. 

The lawtech sector is young but growing – and the new ways of working brought about by the pandemic have only accelerated interest in the companies seeking to overhaul an ancient industry.

Barclays has been working closely with the UK industry’s main players – from universities like UCL and the University of Liverpool, to events organisation Legal Geek – to support the sector and in 2018, the bank collaborated with the Law Society to open a dedicated lawtech Eagle Lab in Notting Hill Gate, London.

We hear from three startups based on the Lab about how access to this dedicated workspace, as well as an extensive mentoring and events programme, are helping them accelerate change in the industry.

‘We’re using AI to change the law Industry’ – Rafie Faruq, CEO, Genie AI

Machine learning and law might not seem like a conventional blend of disciplines – but Rafie Faruq isn’t a conventional lawtech founder.

His business, Genie AI, is a contract drafting platform powered by machine learning. It collects and synthesises lawyers’ experiences with contract practices and automatically generates contracts tailored to specific needs.

Reflecting on the origins of the startup, Faruq says: “I was a bond trader at an investment bank whilst running another tech startup, before I began a master’s course in machine learning at UCL.”  It was here that he met Genie AI Co-Founder Nitish Mutha, and together they began exploring ways to apply machine learning algorithms in business. With huge volumes of structured text that could be analysed, finding a solution to help lawyers with legal contracts was an obvious path for their startup. 

Barclays doesn’t just provide office space. They’ve introduced us to commercial contacts, networking events, and generally just a window into the market that we wouldn’t otherwise have

Rafie Faruq

Genie AI CEO and Co-Founder

Rafie Faruq, CEO, Genie AI.

Rafie Faruq’s company Genie AI uses machine learning to help lawyers with contracts.

Faruq and Mutha spent two years creating and testing the Genie AI product, while they consulted lawyers to identify which challenges an AI platform could solve. “We began as technical people without much commercial insight,” says Faruq. “We were piloting with major law firms to zero in on the exact lawtech products they needed.”

The experience convinced them that the entire legal contract system was in need of modernisation. But, as Faruq explains, “It’s not about convincing individuals that change is needed – it’s about creating the right market dynamics to naturally force a new course of action. That’s what we’re trying to do with Genie AI’s community-led approach.”

Today, Genie AI allows firms and businesses to benefit from each other’s knowledge. “Our community allows lawyers to share legal clauses and intelligence, to help others draft contracts better,” Faruq says. “For example, we help companies to sign service-level agreements or adviser agreements at a much cheaper price than an external legal adviser would charge.”

Faruq and Mutha were among the first founders to join the lawtech Eagle Lab following its 2018 launch, and Barclays has been a close strategic partner to Genie AI ever since. This collaboration has played a useful role in Genie AI’s development. “Barclays doesn’t just provide office space,” says Faruq. “They’ve introduced us to commercial contacts, networking events, and generally just a window into the market that we wouldn’t otherwise have.”

“They’ve also set up collaborations with other lawtech providers,” he adds. “Their convening power is a real asset. It’s so easy to make new connections at the Lab – there’s always a good conversation to be had when you’re getting a coffee.”

‘We’re putting an end to lawyers’ all-night shifts’ – Samuel Smolkin, Founder and CEO, Office & Dragons

Early in his corporate law career, Samuel Smolkin became all too familiar with the arduous task of sorting the legal documents of major business deals.

“I remember working on my first one,” he recalls. “I was up all night every night, sifting through hundreds of documents to make last-minute changes. After we had finished, everyone was saying it was the hardest thing we had ever worked through.”

Over time, Smolkin saw a pattern developing. “I noticed the same thing happening on every deal. All-nighters and a frenzy to the finish. Business transactions are getting faster and increasingly complex, from mergers and acquisitions to IPOs. But we were scrabbling just to keep up drafting the documents needed.”

Samuel Smolkin, Founder and CEO, Office & Dragons.

Samuel Smolkin says getting accepted to the Eagle Lab was “pivotal” for his business.

They’ve connected our team with law firms to discuss ideas and pilot our product. It’s been invaluable to bounce our ideas off the best of the best in our industry

Samuel Smolkin

Founder and CEO, Office & Dragons

With his background in law and software development, Smolkin decided to create the solution himself. Securing initial funding from partners at his law firm, he launched Office & Dragons – a transaction development platform to help lawyers and clients create and edit suites of contracts.

“Think of our solution like a term sheet,” he explains. “We provide a simple interface for working with the complex legal documentation for a deal – this can be literally hundreds or even thousands of documents.

“If a client needs to change the deal terms, the lawyer can just update the term sheet, and all the documents will then automatically update. The structured data in the term sheets is retained beyond the deal, which saves on work for future deals. It means lawyers can finish what I used to spend all night doing in under an hour.”

Since its launch, Office & Dragons has met a positive response in the law industry. “We’ve been blown away by our customers’ feedback,” Smolkin says. “They recognise that the efficiencies we inject into their processes benefit not only their bottom line, but also boost their people’s wellbeing.”

For over a year, the business has been based at Barclays’ dedicated lawtech Eagle Lab. Smolkin says the startup’s acceptance to the Lab was “pivotal”: “It actually persuaded me to make the jump to Office & Dragons full-time.”

He adds that the key to the partnership’s success is the time he’s had with in-house experts at the Lab. “They’ve connected our team with law firms to discuss ideas and pilot our product. It’s been invaluable to bounce our ideas off the best of the best in our industry – and the combination of commercial and learning opportunities has worked perfectly for us.”

‘We want to be known as the Google for law’ – Brennan Ong, Founder, LawAdvisor Ventures

LawAdvisor found its early success in the Australian market as a platform that helped consumers better understand, identify and pursue legal claims, and connected them directly to lawyers.

“We hypothesised that if people better understood their legal rights, they would be empowered to protect and enforce these rights,” says Founder Brennan Ong, who – serving as Senior Clerk to a Supreme Court Justice earlier in his career – helped create the digital case management system for the Supreme Court of Victoria. “After all, access to justice is a basic human right.” 

Brennan Ong, Founder, LawAdvisor.

Brennan Ong says a partnership with Barclays has helped him to connect with industry experts.

The experts we have been exposed to live and breathe the industry – they have an intrinsic understanding of what we want to achieve. Having that kind of strategic partner is really valuable as we look to grow our business in the UK and elsewhere

Brennan Ong

LawAdvisor CEO and Founder

With support from backers, including Google Maps Co-Founder Lars Rasmussen, LawAdvisor developed a series of tools to help lawyers service their clients in the digital world. These tools aimed to illuminate efficiencies and cost savings in the lifecycle of a legal issue. “This was an important chapter in our story,” says Ong. “We began looking at how we could automate repetitive processes in lawyers’ workflows and manage their projects better. It made our offer more complete.”

The customisable solutions LawAdvisor offered – from workflow and contract automation to collaboration technologies – allowed legal teams to transform their existing workflows.

Ong cites Barclays’ support as a catalyst for the company, whose team has expanded from ten to 30 in the last year. LawAdvisor has relocated its HQ to the heart of London’s legal district, where in-house experts have facilitated commercial and knowledge-sharing partnerships with UK law firms – with help from Eagle Labs. “We’ve been able to engage over 30 of Barclays’ partner law firms in the further development of our products,” says Ong.

He explains that the partnership with Barclays has been a success not only because of the connections and resources offered – but also because the bank is a crucial part of the UK’s lawtech ecosystem. “The experts we have been exposed to live and breathe the industry – they have an intrinsic understanding of what we want to achieve. Having that kind of strategic partner is really valuable as we look to grow our business in the UK and elsewhere.”