THE STARTUP FREEING UP LEGAL SERVICES

Written on the 10 December 2015 by Laura Daquino

THE STARTUP FREEING UP LEGAL SERVICES

THE team behind Melbourne-based LawAdvisor - a combination of lawyers and engineers, digital and marketing young guns knew too well that legal services are costly, confusing and difficult to access in Australia.

They quickly found consensus, attracting an advisory board comprising accountant Bruce Dungey and his more than 40 years' experience, two-decade-long Gadens partner Andrew Denehy, and senior marketer Phillip Wise, whose career has included stints with companies such as Kodak and Optus.

The product is an online platform that, since its launch in July this year, has signed up more than 1000 practicing Australian lawyers, over 2500 clients and 13,000 Facebook followers.

Lawyers address client questions, and to date, 99 per cent of questions coming through the platform have been answered. The LawAdvisor process is engaging the client, responding to the lawyer and, once communication opens, the lawyer can give fee estimates to be paid if the client accepts.

The plan is to 'democratise legal services' after LawAdvisor founder and CEO, Brennan Ong, became acutely aware of underlying issues when researching his PhD on the future of legal practice.

Out of 8.5 million legal problems encountered yearly, only 16 per cent end up before a lawyer.

"I wanted to shake up the legal industry, reinvent its image, and find a way to make lawyers more accessible to the general population," says Ong.

Ong knew he couldn't rely on the 'herd startup formula' of 'create a minimum viable product and bootstrap' to solve the problem, and also knew the platform had to be built in a way that engendered a high degree of trust from both clients and clients.

His attitude appealed to a partner of a major law firm, who offered a $2 million investment upon realising the potential of the product.

"I sensed though that this investor wanted full involvement in the development of the product and that we didn't see eye-to-eye with various components of the project," says Ong.

"It was a scary moment but I ended up refusing the deal, I wanted to create the system my way."

Bucking trends and finance, Ong still knew LawAdvisor had an intrinsic fan base - a vast number of young professionals wanting to shake tradition, and the even vaster number of people who can't access legal services.

It turned out to be the right call, he went on to raise $680,000 in seed funding.

Investors include StartupGrind global startup director Chris Joannou. This partnership is going one further, with LawAdvisor and StartupGrind developing a product that it hopes will give startups and small business better access to legal services, already signing up major firms including Gadens, Holding Redlich, Marshalls + Dent, and Madgwicks.

Ong has recently flown to Silicon Valley and met with potential investors, as the startup looks to close its next funding round early next year.

The LawAdvisor team is preparing for aggressive growth, but aren't all too keen on subscribing to 'the disruption buzzword'.

Ong says the startup has the scope to disrupt, but is initially playing in an unmet market and filling a gap.

"LawAdvisor will transform the legal services industry by making legal knowledge more widely accessible," says Ong.

"Our generation and probably people up to their 70s go to Google with their problems, and the array of responses for a legal question is just mind-blowing and covers numerous jurisdictions.

"We want to funnel every legal search on Google and let the person find a suitable lawyer instantly, starting in Australia, but we will expand very quickly."

The founding team of LawAdvisor includes Corrs Chambers Westgarth lawyer Thomas Denehy (pictured right), IP and technology lawyer Lilian Dikmans, commercial litigator Simon McKenzie, and software engineer Jason Torres.

Quality attracts quality and, since inception, a number of other key appointments have been made including Silicon Valley-based software engineer Sam Uong, legal researchers Rhys Ryan and Emily Boutard, former StartupSmart editor Kye White, and creative producer Wilfred Patriarca.

Speaking exclusively to Melbourne Business News for Business News Australia, LawAdvisor's business development manager says this interdisciplinary approach extends to the startup's overarching goal: for lawyers to become more like doctors.

"As soon as someone has an inkling of being sick they go to the GP, but traditionally people are scared or prohibited by cost thinking that lawyers will drain their bank account, and have difficulty even getting to a lawyer," says Denehy.

"We use the phrase that law is a credence good and, when you go to a lawyer, you almost fall under their spell and put them on their pedestal you take their word they can solve your problem.

"You couldn't shop around for a lawyer until now, and this way your legal questions can be addressed by many different lawyers at the same time and you can instantly check their profiles for qualifications in dealing with your kind of matter.

"We just want to give more transparency to the process."

Pictured top left: some of the LawAdvisor team and Advisory Board members, clockwise from back left, Phillip Wise, Wilfred Patriarca, Simon McKenzie, Brennan Ong, Emily Boutard, Thomas Denehy. 


Author: Laura Daquino Connect via: Twitter LinkedIn

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