Singapore’s legal industry is picking up speed for technology adoption, and now is the opportune time for LegalTech start-ups. Just a few months back in June 2019, the Singapore Academy of Law launched the Global Legal Innovation and Digital Entrepreneurship (GLIDE) accelerator programme, which is Asia’s first accelerator programme for LegalTech start-ups.
At the recent TechLaw.Fest 2019, ALN spoke with Titus Rahiri, the Founder and CEO of KorumLegal, a legal solution or ‘NewLaw’ company founded in 2016, to share his experience and reasons for venturing into starting a ‘NewLaw’ company.
Before starting KorumLegal, Mr Rahiri worked in private practice in New Zealand and London, before switching to general counsel roles at various tech companies covering EMEA and APAC; including British Sky Broadcasting, Expedia, Inc. and FinTech company Powa Technologies.
Thank you for joining us Mr Rahiri. Tell us what is most rewarding about founding a company like KorumLegal?
I think one of the most rewarding aspects for me, is the change that KorumLegal has been able to contribute to in the legal ecosystem. Big Law or traditional law has been predicated on the partnership model and the billable hour and exclusive to lawyers. This has led to legal services being expensive, difficult to access and unnecessarily complex and complicated.
KorumLegal was born out of my frustration as an experienced lawyer on both the ‘buy’ and ‘sell’ side, with the lack of innovation and utilisation of smart process and value-driven technology in the legal industry. Having worked in disruptive global technology companies for over 10 years, I could see how technology was changing traditional industries such as television and travel.
In the legal industry, there has been little incentive to make things better as profitability was driven by time input rather than value output. However, there has been a sea change and clients are demanding better on various levels.
In the current space where there is a sleuth of potential tech solutions, it seems that your solution is more focused on process solutions as opposed to point solutions, why is that so?
Correct – there is now a plethora of LegalTech solutions – with exponential growth seen in the last 5 years. What has also been seen is that LegalTech solutions on their own do not necessarily solve the pain points. Sometimes they create more! Nurturing and developing people and smart process are just as important if not more important here.
Our ‘People’ solutions provides a platform connecting flexible legal consultants with clients. This is really useful for a start-up or SME clients who see a need for value-driven legal support and who do not want to pay hourly rates to an external law firm. Or it can be for large multinationals, who need extra support within their teams for a fixed period to cover spikes in work volumes, specific projects or leave gaps. Further, we connect virtual legal consultants with clients if the client doesn’t have a need for the legal consultant to be sitting with the business. This provides greater flexibility to both the consultant and the client. We have also launched a Managed Legal Services business, where clients are outsourcing large projects, or high volume review work, or APAC legal team support to us to deliver a more robust, cost-effective legal solution.
On the ‘Process’ side, it is about capturing value innovation for legal teams. What we do is help clients to get better value, efficiency and effectiveness in their legal operations. We have developed our own proprietary methodology, called KPM (Korum Process Methodology). It incorporates Lean principles, Six Sigma and a management consulting lens on legal processes as a framework to deliver improved operational efficiency to our clients. That might include a Process and Technology audit; process mapping to optimise operational efficiency or a legal transformation mandate. With the current economic climate and in anticipation of a downturn, many GC’s and law firms are reviewing their operations and looking to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
And finally, there is LegalTech. You’re right in that we currently don’t have a point solution, but we have canvassed the LegalTech market, and provide advisory to our clients around tech solutions – usually, once they completed the ‘Process’ analysis with us. We are tech agnostic and identify solutions that fit with each clients specific needs and requirements – and also budgets. Ultimately, companies need to understand their people and their processes to get the most out of their tech solutions. What we see in the conversations that we are having is that clients are in awe of the hype of tech and want to rush to buy something to be seen to be ‘innovative’. However, that is the endpoint; the point solution. What they need to understand is the process and the people solutions to get to that point. This mirrors our own evolution as a scale-up.
You have been in operation for 3 years, what is your biggest initial obstacle you had to cross to get your first customer, in Hong Kong and now in Singapore?
The biggest challenge was and still is, challenging the mindset of clients and getting them to trust an alternative to what is usually available. Gaining the confidence of clients and establishing credibility is key. We are fortunate to have built a strong leadership and HQ team at KorumLegal – to help provide that confidence to our clients. On the flip side, we are agile, lean, and adaptable and not hampered by tradition or a set way of doing things. We can be creative and innovative in how we deliver solutions to our clients.
The alternative legal services provider model is more progressed and advanced in the UK and Australia for example – and regulatory change and development has helped to foster that. When we started in Asia, the concept of an alternative to a law firm was still new, and although we were not first movers (as there were already two existing players in APAC), it did take a lot of educating the market on various fronts.
In 2016 when we first set up KorumLegal, my role was very much about pounding the pavement and listening to challenges and pain points, and formulating potential solutions to those.
Our first major client was a global scale-up food delivery client assisting with their Asia set-up and expansion. This followed with a regional bank for in-house support, and then a global bank who needed a specialist to assist with their digital business. We have since worked with a broad range of clients including financial institutions, Fortune 500 companies, FinTech and other tech start-ups, SME’s as well as law firms and professional services firms.
So we’ve made a lot of progress since then – but there’s so much more opportunity as the economic climate starts to tighten and companies and firms are preparing for some tough times ahead. We’re well-positioned to help companies weather that storm through our flexible legal solutions.
Speaking of the Asia markets, in your experience, how different is Singapore in terms of tech adoption in comparison to Hong Kong?
I think the Singapore ecosystem is advanced. This is helped by the government making innovation and smart nation as a priority for Singapore’s development. With that, the likes of FLIP and GLIDE provide communities of like-minded people and companies to push the legal innovation envelope. We’re excited to be a part of those.
Hong Kong is focussed on the Greater Bay area and what innovation that brings for the region. However, in recent times, the political climate has been at the front of minds. Hong Kong is going to be continually challenged to innovate in these circumstances.
Looking at other industries, in Hong Kong and Singapore FinTech is a huge part of the technology innovation drive. Through the combined efforts of government, regulators and industry in developing a regulatory sandbox for FinTech, it has shown a willingness to be open-minded to innovation and change. There are recognised advantages for regulations to be reviewed in line with innovation and the opportunities that it creates. Obviously regulation is important – and the UK, Australia and some parts of the USA are good examples of how a balance can be achieved between regulatory frameworks and legal innovation.
Also, while an enhanced legal ecosystem provides more alternatives for clients, it also creates alternative career paths for lawyers and non-lawyers alike. The traditional law firm model is not for everybody. We have seen some of our legal consultants move into technology roles, project management roles or even business development roles. Technologists, data scientists and business managers have also made careers in alternative legal service delivery.
Given that KorumLegal is doing well, entering Hong Kong and Singapore in the short span of three years, what is your advice for other potential LegalTech founders?
We are in three markets now – Hong Kong, Singapore and we have also opened a London office. The London office is focused on inbound-outbound Asia.
While an enhanced legal ecosystem in APAC provides more alternatives for clients, it also creates alternative career paths for lawyers and non-lawyers alike. The traditional law firm model is not for everybody. We have seen some of our legal consultants move into technology roles, project management roles or even business development roles. Technologists, data scientists and business managers have also made careers in alternative legal service delivery. This is positive for the LegalTech.
I have seen LegalTech providers coming to the market without a robust product-client fit, or a clear customer-centric solution and without the traction of customers who are willing to buy. I think it is important to get down in the trenches to understand what the customers’ pain points are and whether the solution you are building addresses those pain points.
We have been very mindful of keeping our ears to the ground and making sure that we are having constant conversations with our clients. At the same time, it is important to keep focus on what you are building and your ‘why’.
Finally, I think it is pure resilience. There are good days and there are bad days. You need to have a clear vision and a clear mission, and make sure you build a great team around you and work together towards that vision. We would not be where we are today without our brilliant team. But most importantly, try to have fun in the process. It is a challenging, rewarding, scary and exciting journey all at the same time!
This article is written by Preyaz Kartigaysu from Asia Law Network.
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