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Legal Tech - Taking Law Into Their Own Hands, For Good

Legal Tech - Taking Law Into Their Own Hands, For Good
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Deep down we dread legal. And reasons are twofold - part because, we know justice delayed is justice denied, coming from an overburdened, archaic, and a broken judicial system - much like a broken lorry laden with more weight than its capacity. And part because, it is downright mentally and emotionally harassing, since not just most of us are pleasantly unaware of our basic legal rights but neither do we give a damn about it unless it becomes a necessary evil. Legal technology – the new kid on the ‘Internet’ block is here for some respite from the latter part.

Anita Singh is a semi-literate housewife living in Sonipat, a satellite town of Delhi, and was looking for ways to file divorce just after eight months of her marriage. For the next two months, Singh continued her futile pursuit to find the right lawyer and understanding terms of what legal recourse she can take. This was until a local attorney explained to her, her rights as per the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 and referred few online platforms for legal advice and even to find a suitable lawyer.

“I never knew that law doesn’t permit you to file for divorce within one year of the marriage except in few severe circumstances. The website actually told me this. The attorney even helped me get a lawyer from here. I am less worried now,” says Singh.

New Law of the Land

That’s the core belief for few start-ups, like LawRato, MyAdvo, MeeturPro, LegalRaasta, and Legistify, to break the fundamental barrier by making justice more accessible for people and businesses (small businesses and start-ups) –by helping them understand their basic legal rights, find right lawyers, as there is no public record for around 20 lakh lawyers’ performance data in India, and handle legal aspects of setting up and running hiring lawyers and free legal advice. Mahajan, an alumnus of Faculty of Law, University of Delhi – among top law colleges in India, started LawRato in February 2015.

A former associate vice president for media and entertainment company, Wizcraft, and son of a Delhi High court advocate, Mahajan realized things were quite old school and non-uniform in terms of paper works and finding the right lawyer or right legal advice in courts. The market size is equally overwhelming for Mahajan. It happens to be largely volume game for which there is no shortage. “There are about 16 lakh new cases filed every month in courts excluding consumer courts. This means 32 lakh new litigants coming into the market every month,” adds Mahajan.

This is in addition to the cases pending. “There is a pendency of around 3.5 crore cases. Also, 90 per cent of people who lose case in district courts go to high courts. The good thing about India is anything you do, volume automatically comes in,” claims Mahajan. On the business-to-business (B2B) side, start-ups like LegalRaasta offer services such as company registration, return filing, and legal connect for small businesses, similar to existing platforms like IndiaFilings and Vakilsearch. The idea is to cut the middlemen involved in offline route and allow entrepreneurs to fill forms for various documents via do-it-yourself platform like company registration. Preparing application, submitting documents to the registrar and obtaining registration certificate are done by the start-ups.

“Small medium enterprise is the larger segment worth more than Rs 20,000 crore in market size including registration and return filing, and Rs 10,000 crore for legal consultation, documentation etc.,” says Himanshu Jain, Co-founder, LegalRaasta. Started in 2015, Jain, who comes from a business family, faced challenges in legal compliances and transparency that drew him towards launching LegalRaasta. a business. This not just brings mental relief but also save time and cost.

Users can ask for basic legal advice for free (and pay for subsequent advice with the chosen lawyer either via call, chat or e-mail depending upon the duration of the interaction) and choose lawyers on the basis of their experience, area of expertise, city, court, etc., and further via reviews or ratings. Lawyers who are continuously rated low are taken off. The charges are prepaid for paid advice.

“Law is a complicated topic unlike healthcare to which we are exposed since childhood. Common man doesn’t deal with legal issues unless a situation demands for it. It is expensive and complicated because people are unaware. Hence, it is important for them to understand law,” says Rohan Mahajan, Founder, LawRato – a Delhi-based business-to-consumer (B2C) platform for hiring lawyers and free legal advice. Mahajan, an alumnus of Faculty of Law, University of Delhi – among top law colleges in India, started LawRato in February 2015. A former associate vice president for media and entertainment company, Wizcraft, and son of a Delhi High court advocate, Mahajan realized things were quite old school and non-uniform in terms of paper works and finding the right lawyer or right legal advice in courts.

The market size is equally overwhelming for Mahajan. It happens to be largely volume game for which there is no shortage. “There are about 16 lakh new cases filed every month in courts excluding consumer courts. This means 32 lakh new litigants coming into the market every month,” adds Mahajan. This is in addition to the cases pending. “There is a pendency of around 3.5 crore cases. Also, 90 per cent of people who lose case in district courts go to high courts. The good thing about India is anything you do, volume automatically comes in,” claims Mahajan.

On the business-to-business (B2B) side, start-ups like LegalRaasta offer services such as company registration, return filing, and legal connect for small businesses, similar to existing platforms like IndiaFilings and Vakilsearch. The idea is to cut the middlemen involved in offline route and allow entrepreneurs to fill forms for various documents via do-it-yourself platform like company registration. Preparing application, submitting documents to the registrar and obtaining registration certificate are done by the start-ups.

“Small medium enterprise is the larger segment worth more than Rs 20,000 crore in market size including registration and return filing, and Rs 10,000 crore for legal consultation, documentation etc.,” says Himanshu Jain, Co-founder, LegalRaasta. Started in 2015, Jain, who comes from a business family, faced challenges in legal compliances and transparency that drew him towards launching LegalRaasta.

Driving Merit to the Top

For lawyers too, such platforms act as a gateway to not just more business but also act as a filter to avoid crook lawyers plaguing the system. Lawyers like Jai Dehadrai, a commercial litigator, practicing in high court and Supreme Court, have found such platforms to be good for the legal profession.

“It all comes down to free competition. Wherever governments or professional community like lawyers have allowed competition to thrive, the best have come to the top and merit has succeeded. These platforms are driving that merit to the top,” says Dehadrai, who has a niche interest in medical negligence cases. Dehadrai, available on platforms like LawRato and MyAdvo has been able to attract five-10 extra cases through them every month.

Investors too are upbeat about Driving Merit to the Top For lawyers too, such platforms act as a gateway to not just more business but also act as a filter to avoid crook lawyers plaguing the system. Lawyers like Jai Dehadrai, a commercial litigator, practicing in high court and Supreme Court, have found such platforms to be good for the legal profession. "It all comes down to free competition. Wherever governments or professional community like lawyers have allowed competition to thrive, the best have come to the top and merit has succeeded.

These platforms are driving that merit to the top,” says Dehadrai, who has a niche interest in medical negligence cases. Dehadrai, available on platforms like LawRato and MyAdvo has been able to attract five-10 extra cases through them every month. Investors too are upbeat about legaltech start-ups. There have been few small ticket investments in the space. The recent being an angel round raised by LawRato from Indian Angel Network in November 2016. Kumar Shiralagi, managing director at the tier one venture capital firm, Kalaari Capital, which invested in Vakilsearch, affirms the potential of the market.

“Online legal service is a very much fragmented hence there is a large market where Internet can make a difference,” says Shiralagi.

More than the expertise, Shiralagi is hoping for more clarity on how such businesses will fare against the lowcost services offered by local notaries sitting outside courts. “There is a good margin made by such service providers. The question is how it translates into an Internet-based business.,” asserts Shiralagi.

Lawyers – The Less Tech Savvy Community Since the Bar Council of India doesn’t permit lawyers to solicit clients or advertise in any manner which may influence users’ decision, there is not cut or commission involved in the revenue model of such start-ups. Usually lawyers are billed monthly or sometimes weekly or fortnightly.

“Lawyers who are associated with us on drafting lease agreements work on fixed salary basis,” says Akshat Singhal, Founder and CEO, Legistify – Noida based start-up offering online agreement making, lawyer consultation and legal advice services, started in January 2016. Started as a platform for answering legal queries, Legistify expanded to other services. The user fills up the legal form which is then drafted by the lawyer following which the Legistify technology team works on it and puts it online for the user.

“The charges are prepaid wherein typically 30-40 per cent goes to the lawyer or the chartered accountant and rest comes to us. In some cases, payment is also in installments,” says Jain. If the customer is not convinced with the service, then he/she is offered another lawyer of equal or more experience. Still not convinced, the money is refunded.

Mindset is an obvious challenge to maintain demand (customers) and supply (lawyers). For customers, it is like asking our relatives and people in network of a good doctor or hospital few years back as they are not used to find lawyers online.

“In India, lawyers are not allowed to advertise as bar council of India, so we faced challenge in on boarding lawyers but now they understand that it is only listing,” says Singhal. Moreover, lawyers, as a general belief, are a less tech savvy, much like doctors and teachers around half a decade back. “Apart from around 10 per cent, most of them are not very tech savvy,” adds Singhal.

However the young first generation lawyers entering the sector are all very much tech-savvy and so are expectations from the customers looking for techie lawyers to drive efficiency. Demonstrable value in terms of convenience, cost saving, etc., is what will bring them on the platform. Nonetheless, the market is very nascent and will take another threefour years to show sustainable action.

(This article was first published in the January issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)

 
Edition: July 2017

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