Whilst practising as a solicitor in criminal defence, Chris Sykes would, on occasion, find himself described as ‘the scruffiest lawyer in Manchester’ by his wife.
Six years on, Sykes is sitting in Legal Geek’s Brick Lane offices reflecting on what part his sartorial failings played in leaving a traditional law career behind in exchange for one as a LegalTech co-founder in Hong Kong (via a stint working as a legal trainer in Spain).
“Perhaps that did play a part in my leaving the law! But I also wanted to do something different and learn another language.”
So in 2012, after 3 years working as a solicitor, Sykes upped sticks and moved to Spain where he worked as a legal trainer for most of the big law firms in Madrid teaching junior lawyers, and working with universities.
Three further years teaching in the Spanish capital followed and Sykes now proudly lays claim to having helped lawyers all over Spain develop Mancunian accents “because I taught them the correct way to pronounce English words!”
“Jokes aside however, communicating in English is vital for the legal industry in Spain. Lawyers and law students are anxious to have these skills and firms are anxious to provide training.”
It’s at this point that the LegalTech bug bit Sykes, and it bit hard, taking him all the way to Hong Kong in 2014 as the Head of Legal and a co-founder of Dragon Law – initially a document builder that allows you to create, e-sign, manage and store business documents online but has now developed into a ‘legal software solutions’ in a much broader sense, utilising the cloud to manage workflows more efficiently.
As Sykes says “It was too good an opportunity to turn down, even though I loved Spain.”
Dragon Law expanded rapidly entering Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore, gathering a client base of more than 20,000 business users.
Following a re-branding in early 2017 (becoming ‘Zegal’) they entered the UK market in August of that year, with Sykes heading up the new business drive on these shores.
“The response to our set up in the UK has been amazing”, Sykes says. “We have had so many people signing up to our free trial that we haven’t been able to contact them all. It could be that the UK becomes our most successful market. It helps that the UK is a very progressive market where people are willing to try new things.
“Our typical clients are tech businesses so they are comfortable using technology to enhance their work, they are the sort of people who use collaborative works place tools, use Xero for their accounting, Slack for communicating and would rather look something up than call someone about it.”
As Zegal’s Head of UK Business, Legal Geek can’t resist asking Chris for his elevator pitch. Why should companies requiring legal solutions use Zegal – where’s the competitive advantage?
Sykes springs straight into action: “Businesses have four options if they want to create a contract at the moment:
- Do nothing until they have spare budget
- Search Google for a free template contract
- Go to a law firm and pay for it
- Go to a company that sells template documents and tailor one to their needs
“Zegal represents a fifth way: create your own document. Our platform poses a series of questions and it builds the contract for you based on those. There is no requirement to fill in a template.
“We are not trying to compete with a law firm, as there is no substitute for going to a law firm for legal advice. But in terms of what we do, and what we cost, we think we are unique.
“It is the automating of the contracts which is the key, and which is difficult to copy.”