Postcard from Russia

In our new series, Legal Geek speaks to members of the legal community from outside the #LegalTech heartlands. Our second postcard comes from Moscow, where Legal Geek is hosting a pitching competition on May 14 as part of our Around the World Tour with:

Trend-culture in London moves quickly. It can take less than a month for a concept to go from early adoption to seeing it everywhere, literally everywhere. Trends that have fallen hard into this category include Deliveroo, Canada Goose jackets, and Spotify Premium (if you don’t subscribe to the Legal Geek Conference playlist, where have you been?).

Whilst you couldn’t put LegalTech in the same category as the takeaway sector or music streaming industry, it is experiencing a boom of its own. Its potential has gripped the UK market and optimism and enthusiasm currently outweigh reservations.

The same seems to be happening with LegalTech in Russia. Holger Zscheyge, a Moscow-based publisher who organises an annual Moscow LegalTech conference, told us: “We staged our first conference in 2016, when it was the first of its kind in Russia. And over the past two years we have seen lots of LegalTech initiatives starting up as well as legal departments beginning to employ software to help their processes.

“The need for business efficiency is driving it. A legal department in a business sense is seen as a cost factor. They don’t contribute to the bottom line and more often than not they will say you can’t do something.

“So legal departments are under pressure to show they are being as efficient as possible and to spend less money and you can only do that with technology. This pressure also gets passed onto law firms.

“There are some companies who are really leading the way though such as mobile phone operator MegaFon who have incorporated technological efficiencies but have said they will not release any legal staff. Instead they have started to offer legal consulting on the free market at a very cheap price.”

Change is occurring, yet the conservative side of Russia’s legal industry is still, understandably, approaching technology conservatively.

As Anton Pronin, the LegalTech Director as Russia’s Skolkovo Innovation Centre – a multi-billion dollar purpose-built city designed to stimulate innovation across Russia’s economy – told Legal Geek “the traditional side of Russia’s legal industry says that we are not ready to be early adopters, and that the justice system is not a place for research and development. They want to see what happens and maybe after several years, processes can be optimised by technology.”

“But there is now a move to use less physical paper in the law. Last year the arbitration court started to receive electronic requests and requests to government can also be made electronically.

“The Russian legal industry is happy with this, but there are problems about using technology for anything related to the decision-making processes.”

Skolkova Innovation Centre

In 2018, Pronin has noted a sharp increase in the number of LegalTech start-ups applying to the Skolkovo Innovation Centre – which is home to 1,600 start-ups overall.

“At present we have around 15 start-ups related to LegalTech,” he says. “But since the start of the year I have already had 10 more requests to join.”

One of the most successful LegalTech introductions in Russia has been implemented by Alexey Pelevin, whose platform helped modernise Russia’s Supreme Commercial Court by collecting data on cases and making the data available to the public for free.

From Pelevin’s vantage point he sees three driving forces behind LegalTech in Russia:

“No. 1 is that there is a new generation emerging. At the moment you would be surprised if you met a managing partner born in 1980, 1985, but that is changing and the new generation don’t want to work with the old systems.

“No. 2 is resources. Legal departments don’t have enough of them, neither human nor budgetary. Budgets don’t increase, they just stay the same or are cut.

“No. 3 is time. Ten years ago some lawyers could spent 6-8 months preparing documents. Now the environment is that you could be asked to make an ICO document in just 24 hours! Time is now working against lawyers.

“So these three factors are creating all this hype around LegalTech solutions.”

Legal Geek Moscow is taking place at the Internet Initiative Development Fund in Moscow. Russian start-ups wanting to attend and win a travel grant to come to the Legal Geek Conference in London on October 17 can sign-up for free! Holger Zscheyge and Anton Pronin will both be judges at the Legal Geek Moscow pitching competition along side our series partners Dentons. 

Legal Geek Conference