When you’re running a cash-strapped startup, signing off even the smallest of expenses can feel like burning through rocket fuel. While not exactly sexy, legal fees are for many founders a necessary evil.
Spotting a gap in the legal tech market, Yorkshire-based entrepreneur and legal futurist Chrissie Lightfoot is on hand to help. She is the visionary behind an AI-powered contracts tool called Robot Lawyer LISA, which promises to save startups, property businesses and consumers time, effort and money.
Lightfoot previously founded an internet company before qualifying as a solicitor in 2009 to better understand how to bridge the gap between the legal and business worlds, which she covered in her book The Naked Lawyer. Now the entrepreneur is focused on driving LISA’s sales with a view to educating the market on the tool’s effectiveness versus human lawyers.
First to market
LISA is multi-talented. An acronym for Legal Intelligence Support Assistant, it powers several products including the company’s flagship offering – a free tool used for creating legally binding NDAs – which helps startups negotiate and create legally binding agreements with other parties.
It works by taking the middle ground and asking questions that lawyers would usually ask their clients, only progressing when each side is happy with the proposed terms. Lightfoot says that, when it launched two years ago, LISA was the first AI-powered tool in the “DIY, self-help” space to take this bilateral approach to the mass market.
“The majority of the people in the UK – from business people to startups and consumers – cannot afford quality legal advice and contracts – it’s as simple as that,” she says. “It prevents a lot of startups getting to the next level because they haven’t got their basic legal documents in place and they can run into problems very early on. That’s a major problem for our UK economy considering it is an SME-dominated market.”
LISA has won several high-profile awards to date, including being named a Gartner “Cool Vendor” in 2018. It was also nominated in the 2018 Canadian FinTech and AI awards, among others.
Robot Lawyer LISA’s NDA tool
LISA also underpins three other contract tools which are part of a property suite used for creating commercial leases, residential leases and lodger agreements. It’s aimed at everyone from estate agents and investors to surveyors, management companies, landlords and tenants.
Legal parties are usually required to engage and pay a separate human solicitor as, by law, a solicitor can only act for one side. That rule doesn’t apply to a ‘machine lawyer providing a tech product’ carrying out ‘non-reserved activity’, according to current regulation, and as such Lightfoot says that using the tool can reduce costs by up to 90%.
Using a single robot lawyer to represent each side and reach the middle ground quickly is the company’s key purpose when assisting startups, businesses and consumers. Human lawyers, Lightfoot says, have a bad habit of dragging out negotiations.
“It’s nonsense as the clients themselves know exactly where they want to get to and a deal needs to be done,” she says. “If they’re educated, aware and have transparency of the legal and commercial nuances involved, they can make an informed decision as to what they want and get to the middle ground more swiftly.”
Lightfoot is often asked to talk about legal tech at events around the world. She says that she feels “deeply privileged to be in a great position” as an ambassador for women not just in tech, but all sectors.
“The tech industry is still very much male dominated, just like the legal industry at the top end,” she says. “I believe journalists and businesses should find and embrace more women entrepreneurs, techies and advocates because we’re still the few rather than the many.”
She is also a self-professed “non-techie”, and sees no reason why she shouldn’t be.
“I don’t have a clue how to write an algorithm, but I don’t need to; there are techie experts for that,” she says. “I just know that we need to develop solutions to problems that our customers want and that means understanding the marketplace.
“Part of being a woman entrepreneur is really celebrating and welcoming all different skillsets and being really honest and open about that.”
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