Postcard from Australia

In Moscow and Singapore we met a fistful of dynamic new start-ups but amazingly the bulk of our Around the World Tour 2018 is still to come. And our next stops are in Sydney on 31st May and Melbourne on 4th June.

So ahead of our arrival, we spoke to Lexoo’s David Bushby and Legaler’s Stevie Ghiassi about what to expect from the LegalTech scene Down Under.

“The legal industry in Australia in general does tend to be pretty forward thinking,” Bushby tells Legal Geek (via Skype from his kitchen in Sydney).

“There’s around 30 LegalTech start-ups out here. It’s not huge but we don’t have a huge market.

“We do have a record of being early adopters though. When I moved to the UK in 2014, Lawpath [the online legal services marketplace] was already up and running in Sydney, with funding behind it. And I actually felt the London scene at that time was a little under-cooked.”

David Bushby

David Bushby: David is the Managing Director at Lexoo Australia having previously acted as Lexoo’s Chief Operating Officer for almost two years. Lexoo is an online marketplace for legal services.

Australia’s record of innovation in the legal industry certainly underlines Bushby’s statement. Slater and Gordon (which is headquartered in Melbourne) was the first law firm to go public in 2007. And only last year, Australian tech entrepreneur Christian Beck made headlines by doing the opposite: ignoring calls to float his company Australian Technology Innovators (ATI) to instead raise $350 million to invest in his two LegalTech ventures InfoTrack and Leap Legal. As Stevie Ghiassi told ROSS Intelligence’s #LegalTechLives blog: “that’s a pretty significant round and possibly the largest ever legal technology funding event!”

It’s this track record which makes Ghiassi say: “we may be far away from the action geographically, but we punch well above our weight when it comes to innovation in the legal world.”

Stevie Ghiassi

Stevie Ghiassi: Stevie is co-founder and CEO of Sydney-based start-up Legaler, as well as acting as the President of ALTA. Legaler is a smart communication platform for the legal industry.

Yet when it comes to LegalTech specifically, Bushby feels that the Australian scene “hasn’t reached anywhere near its potential”.

“The market is not that diverse right now. There are a lot of start-ups doing contract automation for example but not too many in other areas such as smart contracts, blockchain or due diligence.”

Having been London-based with Lexoo before returning home to head up the company’s Australian operations, Bushby’s comparisons between Australia and the UK make interesting reading.

“I saw and experienced what felt like a boom in LegalTech when I was in the UK and I think that is going to repeat itself in Australia. In London in 2014, I felt there were a number of start-ups who were bubbling away under the surface but then in 2016 it really boomed. That is where I feel the Australian market is right now, bubbling away especially amongst the younger lawyers. In Australia we are in for our boom around 2019/2020.”

What is undoubtedly now helping shape the Australian LegalTech scene is ALTA – the Australian Legal Technology Association – which only officially launched in January.

Ghiassi (along with Jodie Baker, the founder of in-house counsel software Xakia) has been one of ALTA’s driving forces. He said to #LegalTechLives: “Like most great Australian ideas, ALTA was conceived over a cold alcoholic beverage amongst legal industry colleagues looking for a community to share ideas and knowledge. Through a series of informal catch-ups the group quickly grew from month to month and gained momentum thanks to the energy of Jodie Baker, who was very instrumental in bringing together like-minded people that were passionate about building game-changing legal tech.”

“We quickly realised that there were more people just like ourselves yearning to be a part of an engaged and informed LegalTech community and so ALTA was born.”

While initial meetings consisted of LegalTech founders “swapping war stories” – as Ghiassi describes – ALTA is now hosting demo days where start-ups can showcase their products to the wider legal industry. Two demo days have been held already, the first at the offices of Australia’s largest investment bank Macquarie Group, and the second at popular co-working space Clarence – held the night before Legal Geek spoke with Bushby, an influential member of ALTA himself.

“Off the back of last night we have had emails coming through asking ‘who was that specific start-up because we know lawyers who might be interested in their product’,” Bushby explained. “We hadn’t even anticipated that happening but it’s fantastic to see the effect these events are having.”

ALTA will be co-hosting the Legal Geek events in Sydney and Melbourne.