Advancing the Legal Ecosystem by being all-inclusive: Challenges and Opportunities
An interview with Vishnu Prasad , CEO Law Pundits
Vishnu, among other activities you are Founder of Law Pundits evolving from a one-man law tuition service into a legal academic services firm and expanding into other areas of the legal ecosystem. What inspired you to start this company, what’s it about and what are the core activities?
Law Pundits indeed, was founded as a tuition service for law students when I was a postgraduate law student at the London School of Economics. As soon I graduated, I joined a law firm, but I did work on Law Pundits during my free time. It has pivoted quite a bit from its initial days and evolved over the years to do several activities. We were able to expand to several other areas of the legal sector. We are very focussed on experimenting and innovating in the legal field, it could be as minor as taking the legal recruiting process online in India or something like creating an advertisement platform exclusively for the legal Industry.
I feel, a sense of entrepreneurship, creativity and passion to solve problems could be the reason why any enterprise begins. Law Pundits also started on this premise. One of the reasons why I started Law Pundits was that some of the law students at LSE were facing certain challenges because students were coming from different legal systems and as I was a student doing an LLM after having gained some exposure and experience in law, I was able to help the other students especially those law students in their undergraduate studies. Many people from Civil Law countries that came in were not familiar with the Common Law system, I was able to help them out and support myself as well at the time. Then it branched out into a range of different services.
The core inspiration as I realized early on was that law, in spite of being a centuries old profession, had potential for doing things differently and I personally wanted to create something that would be beneficial to the legal community as well as for the public. That was the reason behind starting Law Pundits.
Our core activities presently include, law related events and legal conferences, connecting people from the legal community to the general public, promoting the rule of law as well as increasing access to justice and bringing together various stakeholders from within the legal industry. We have several other activities that we have planned on a global scale, predominantly one of them would be to make sure that we align ourselves with the UN Sustainable Development Goal of Promoting Peace and Justice.
Your mission is ‘’to create a better world through the advancement of law’’. In what way do you try to achieve this?
I mean, take any country in this world - Those countries that fall under the category of “developed” or “advanced” all have one thing in common, a very robust legal and justice system. While innovation, scientific discoveries, sports etc. are highly important as well for countries, it would be pointless to have all that without a progressive justice system, awareness of laws and proper access to justice. Our aim is to create a better world through the advancement of law and that is the motto upon which we operate.
We are doing multiple things to make sure that law is advanced and is attainable to the public. We do this through a combination of different activities - Providing information on law, helping with access to good legal education, spreading the knowledge about legal technology to the public etc. are ways in which we are attaining this objective. With one of our prominent events, we promote legal education through our partner law schools around the world so that the advancement of law is possible and also so that the law students based around the world are able to get access to the legal education of advanced countries like the United States or certain countries in Europe, after they get sufficient training, they go back to their countries and are able to implement the best practices into their own legal systems.
You’re now organizing the Global Legal Forum Conference in The Hague from August 23-24, 2018. There are many other legal tech events as well. What makes you stand out between your colleagues?
Global Legal Forum is not just a legal tech event by itself, we chose legal tech as the theme for it but GLF aims to bring together various stakeholders from the legal industry to a common platform so that Access to Justice goals are attained from different stakeholders. With what is going on in the legal sector right now and in the technology sector, we understand that the importance of having more discussions and creating roadmaps on a global scale to take it forward so that the legal sector and the public can benefit at large.
Of course there are many other legal tech events and most of them have been doing a fantastic job of promoting the legal tech sector. At the present stage where the world is at in terms of innovation in law, certainly multiple events and discussions surrounding topics are essential and I am really glad to see it happening. However, these events are usually region specific and with focuses mainly for legal tech or hackathon events. GLF is more about bringing together multiple stakeholders from the legal industry to create meaningful actionable plans that can be implemented at scale.
If you have to choose 3 unique selling points which 3 should you choose to describe your business and why?
Law Pundits is a platform where lawyers, the public, law schools, legal tech companies, the legal in house counsels, can come together. There is something for everyone. That is something not many organizations in our domain are able to provide. While we understand we can’t be everything to everyone, we also realise that there is no such organization or firm which where all the people can come together to interact with each other and learn from each other and we plan to be that firm which is able to bridge that gap. Having said that our three USPs would be Demystify, Connect and Innovate.
Many people who do not have a legal background have problems approaching lawyers or even knowing about their rights, we strive to demystify law to those people who have problem approaching lawyers or applying law to their situations, serve the legal industry through creative innovations and provide valuable connections and insight through our events.
How do you think tech will impact the legal profession? In what way, will it significantly alter the traditional role of the lawyers as trusted intermediaries?
I really believe a lot more innovation will happen in law in the next 5 years than whatever little innovation has happened in legal sector in the past few centuries. Many roles that were traditionally done by the lawyers will most certainly be automated, but with that several opportunities will be presented as well. Engineers and scientists could play a significant role in the legal sector now more than ever before. With chat bots being able to answer basic legal queries, it is likely that the public in general would learn more about rights and laws that would affect them since it would easily be accessible to them. With technology in place right now to predict the likelihood of winning the case if it goes to trial, clients can take a call on whether to pursue a matter. Furthermore, there are so many tasks within the legal sector which can be automated especially with regard to contracts, document review etc.
However this does not mean that lawyers will be totally replaced. Lawyers have this human component and emotional intelligence or emotional support which is needed for many legal matters like divorce proceedings or criminal defence. It will be a while before clients might get comfortable and willing to handle things on their own without the help of a trained lawyer.
Can you share some of the tech companies you follow closely?
We do follow tech companies very closely and one our top favourites is Ross Intelligence because they are among the pioneers when it comes to AI and legal technology.
We are also following one company from The Hague very closely, they are not a legal tech company but the application is very useful and important in legal technology as well. They have a tech where soldiers can interact with each other using a VR background. The application of that technology is going to be immense if it can be made acceptable into the judicial and legal system.
We are also looking at the application of this bot, it’s an American legal tech company that we are following closely. It is also very interesting in terms of the impact it can have on the legal profession as they help with the parking ticket situations. While this is being done only for parking tickets at this stage, its application could be extended to other areas as well.
The number of legal start-ups focused on tech has grown dramatically in recent years. Any thoughts on why?
Whenever there is a surge in any industry or sector, it is because of the potential or opportunity. Legal technology is no different. Legal tech is very much a part of the 4th industrial revolution. While all of the legal tech start-ups might not be successful, the innovation that is going on in this area should certainly be welcome. It is also much needed. Legal tech companies help in democratizing the legal sector with better access to justice. Legal tech is not limited just to lawyers or people with legal training. There are a lot of tech start-ups where the founders have no legal training or say a degree from a law school, they are purely people from a technical background. It is a field open to everyone. This combined with the advent of other technologies like blockchain, AI, machine learning in all other sectors have had an impact on the legal sector as well.
You closely watch the legal tech start-up community. What’s your advice for someone thinking about starting a new legal tech or legal start-up?
In the US alone the Legal sector is a $400 billion dollar industry, In UK it is approximately $42 billion and globally (including US) it is almost $1 trillion. It is undeniably a big sector which can accommodate a lot of innovative companies. While it is obvious, I would say a deep understanding of the problem that you are trying to solve and finding a faster and simpler way to resolve it is definitely a plus point. Places like Crunchbase have good data of the businesses that operate in the legal technology space. It would be helpful to analyse if what you want to do is already being done and if so, what can you do to make it better.
Do you think the legal industry disrupted by various technologies needs specialized attorneys to resolve the regulatory and operational challenges arising from a new technology?
As the legal tech industry grows the challenges that it presents is also going to increase. That has happened for every sector. For example, if we look at the banking sector, which is highly regulated these days were self-regulated in most countries in the 70s and 80s. Later on there have been several situations whereby governments have recognized the need to have more regulations and now it is one of the most regulated sectors.
With the legal tech sector, it is still in the early stages, that does not mean we have to wait for something really consequential to happen to have a discussion around the regulatory aspects. Very recently the Law Society of England and Wales have been having significant discussions on regulating the use of AI and codes in law. Regulatory challenges are definitely going to arise but I feel the sector should be left to do more innovation before being regulated. Lawyers who have a good understanding about Block chain, technology and AI would certainly be needed to advise not only companies operating in this space, but the legislators as well.
What’s overall your opinion on the current processes in the legal sector when you think about development, planning and implementation of (innovative) tech strategies?
Let’s be honest here, there is work within the legal domain that can be automated and done faster and with much fewer errors. We are at a stage where changes to the legal profession is happening really quickly and law is inherently a profession that has not changed significantly for centuries.
The biggest challenge facing the legal tech sector would be in educating the lawyers not just on how to use the new technology, but to embrace it. Many firms and in house departments based in some countries have been quick to adapt technology but the same cannot be said as a general trend.
Do you see differences between American and European firms in their daily operation and how they develop, plan and implement (innovative) tech strategies?
Absolutely. I have had the opportunity to analyse the different legal tech companies operating around the world. North America certainly has the highest number of legal tech companies around the world. One of the main reasons could be because law firms and legal departments in the US have been quick at adopting and implementing new technologies, which encourages more legal tech companies. A lot of innovation is happening in other parts of the world as well. A majority of the firms in Europe and Asia that have initiated the
process of adopting technology into legal practice seem to have their main offices in the US. Although there are domestic and EU centric firms that have been innovating and leading the way in technologically aligning their practice in EU, US law firms seem to be far ahead in the implementation process.
The legal profession is changing and professionals need to be more business and tech savvy. What do you see as the biggest challenge for the legal professional in let’s say five years from now?
The biggest challenge will be for the existing legal professionals who are in a state of denial that technology will not impact them or their practice will somehow be immune from technological advances. For others it presents them with opportunities in the form of being able to do a lot more meaningful legal work, greater time devoted for their clients, better access to justice, and significant reduction in time taken in decision making process in courts. The ancillary challenges could be a retraining of lawyers to include coding. This could also present opportunities for law schools to devise a curriculum to deal with the innovative law programs and courses needed to address the challenges and opportunities that legal technology presents.
About the author:
Vishnu Prasad is a Lawyer, Entrepreneur, Educator and Legal tech enthusiast. As Founder and CEO of Law Pundits, he leads a team of technologists, sales heads, designers, event professionals and marketers. He is also responsible for new initiatives, activities and expansion of Law Pundits. He oversees the various verticals of Law Pundits and conferences and summits that Law Pundits organises globally. He currently heads the Global Legal Forum, an initiative for promotion of access to justice through technology and attaining Sustainable Development Goal of Law and Justice.
He founded India’s first and largest Legal Tech Conference – The Legal Tech Fair and The first law exhibition in India - The Legal Education and Services Expo and created the first exclusive advertisement networking platform exclusively for legal sector – The Law Ad Network.
In 2014 he was also a “Fastcase 50” award recipient, the award recognizes 50 of the smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries, and leaders in law. He is also a distinguished Fellow of Royal Society of Arts in London. As part of his passion project, he is also the license holder for TEDxThiruvananthapuram, the largest TEDx event in the state of Kerala in India.
Prior to starting Law Pundits, Vishnu was a corporate lawyer having practiced in both India and UK. He was also the visiting professor at Regents Business School where he taught Business Laws to Management Students. Vishnu holds an LLM from London School of Economics and an LLB from University of Kerala.