Picture this: you’re less than a year into life as the Founder and Managing Director of a boutique law firm. Business is progressing well and recently you’ve been finding yourself with a couple of hours spare at the end of each day. So what do you do? Take up taekwondo, become a pub quiz regular, read Russian literature?
You surely wouldn’t consider using those precious hours to start another venture in LegalTech and incubate it through your current company? Or would you?
For Azmul Haque the answer is that he would, and, what’s more, he has.
The 39-year-old entrepreneur, and former big law lawyer (with stints at Berwin Leighton Paisner and Olswang), set up Collyer Law LLC in Singapore in 2015, as a licensed Singapore law practice to provide cradle-to-exit legal services for entrepreneurs, high-growth start-ups and SMEs.
Yet, just eight months later found himself starting up a LegalTech side project called FirstCOUNSEL which uses technology to enable efficiency in service-delivery, and is aimed at a smaller subset of the same clientele as Collyer Law.
He says his two legal ventures are now, in total, servicing approximately 150 clients with a workforce of just 12 (although that doesn’t include FirstCOUNSEL’s ‘gig economy’ lawyers delivering “on-demand” legal support services). Haque’s day is split unequally between the two ventures working for approximately 8 hours on Collyer Law and an additional 2 hours on FirstCOUNSEL (where he has a COO handling the day-to-day operations).
Azmal Haque is evidently passionate about servicing the early-stage economy and he describes his decision to set-up FirstCOUNSEL so soon after founding Collyer Law as borne out of the realisation that new law alone “was not sufficient as there were completely under-served parts of the legal market, such as first-time entrepreneurs and (very small) SMEs who saw lawyers, and – therefore sound legal advice – as being unaffordable and unattainable.”
The services provided by Collyer Law and FirstCOUNSEL dovetail nicely. FirstCOUNSEL targets the very early-stage economy by automating part of the legal support delivery process and providing a team of roving in-house counsel who are hired on-demand by clients.
Whilst Collyer Law offers a traditional attorney-client relationship, it still seeks to disrupt the big boys by, in Haque’s own words, “moving away from hourly billing, offering personalised senior-level attention, combined with a pragmatic problem-solving approach.”
On the immediate horizon in Q1 for Haque is closing a seed round for FirstCOUNSEL which will be focused on raising funds from friends, family and supporters. Whilst in the pipeline there are commercial partnership arrangements with a corporate services firm and a platform for SMEs.
Haque elaborates that longer term objectives include automating a process for curating the selection of the on-demand lawyers and using data analytics to ensure their areas of expertise can be easily assessed by FirstCOUNSEL’s clients.
“We are building up a database of feedback from each lawyers’ work as well as a database showing what work each lawyer has previously done for other clients,” Haque explains.
“But lawyers don’t desperately like reviews, so this will take a bit of time. It’s a bit like the fear restaurant owners had of TripAdvisor in the beginning. But this transparency can be their friend as well.”