Mills Oakley’s ‘Shark Tank’-style Innovation Accelerator for legal start-ups has been selected as the winner of the 2017 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards, over finalists Proximity, Bannermans Lawyers and Legal Economy.
The Mills Oakley Innovation Accelerator is the first time an Australian law firm has used a full accelerator process to identify, invest in and help commercialise promising new ideas in the legal industry.
“This is a brilliant example of a law firm taking a highly creative approach to facilitate innovation across their firm,” Mr Andrew Barnes, ALPMA President and CEO of the Lantern Legal Group said. “The safe pathway by forming an innovation committee was not taken.”
“The Mills Oakley accelerator provides an accessible, equitable pathway for entrepreneurs to test their innovative mettle. It is delivering projects that improve accessibility to the legal profession and also allowing lawyers to concentrate on more sophisticated work – a highly desirable balance,” he said.
“We believe that innovation should be a meritocracy of ideas, but couldn’t see evidence that innovators were being given a fair go in the market,” Daren Curry, Partner at Mills Oakley said.
“The normal process is pretty restrictive – firms either develop their own technology or partner with an established organisation – they don’t go typically looking for new ideas.”
“If you are an entrepreneur, you need access to influential people, access to capital or you need to work in the right organisation. You also need to be able to prepare a business plan and have the confidence and skills to be able to sell it – and none of this is easy for new entrepreneurs.”
Denise Farmer, Executive Manager of Legal Software Solutions at LexisNexis agrees.
“Having good ideas is one thing, but being able to execute on them is quite another – and the Innovation Accelerator directly addresses this challenge,” Ms Farmer said.
“This kind of law firm innovation raises the bar for all firms and propels the whole industry forward,” she said.
The accelerator was fully funded by Mills Oakley and results in the firm taking an equity stake in commercialising products and start-ups. Mills Oakley had $500,000 on the table in supporting capital, and invited entrepreneurs to pitch for it in a Shark Tank-style presentation.
“We were also proud of the fact that we were able to provide new entrepreneurs with training on how to pitch their ideas, so that everyone had access to a level playing field,” Mr Curry said.
The accelerator received 30 applications, 10 of which proceeded to the pitch presentation. From this two start-ups, Speak with Scout and Neural Contract, were selected to proceed to the incubation stage. They have spent the last six months in an intensive education, testing and business model development process. Mills Oakley has taken an equity stake in both start-ups.
“We believe both of our start-ups will provide significant value to the legal profession, clients and those working within the profession.”
Speak with Scout is an intelligent chat bot that provides guidance to people conducting legal research online prior to engaging a lawyer.
“Research has shown that 80% of legal problems are never referred to a lawyer. This means that individuals, particularly consumers, are unaware of their legal rights.”
“The chat bot breaks down the barriers between lawyers and potential clients by giving them a platform to explain their problems in plain English.”
Neural Contract utilises machine based learning to quickly and reliably review contracts and provide advice. Neural Contract’s launch product, Contract Probe, is an AI-based contract review tool that can identify potential missing or unusual clauses in a contract or drafting errors in less than a minute. Contract Probe identifies which side of the contract the user is on and tailors its advice accordingly.
“Contract Probe will save its clients’ money while freeing up lawyers for more valuable work,” he said.
Established in 2013, the ALPMA Thought Leadership Awards recognise innovative projects undertaken by Australasian law firms in response to the changing legal landscape.
The Awards were judged by an industry panel including Terri Motorshead, Director of the Centre for Legal Innovation at the College of Law, Shelley Dunstone, Principal Legal Circles and ALPMA Life Member; Shirley Hamel, Director of Operations, Cornwall Stodart and ALPMA Life Member and Whit Lee, Executive Director of Strategy & Customer Research, LexisNexis Asia Pacific.
Previous winners include Maddocks, LegalVision, Hive Legal and Anderssen Lawyers.