LegalTech Trainwreck #8

LegalTech Trainwrecks #8 – 4X Not Always Gold

This is the eighth instalment of legaltech trainwrecks, and this time it’s a bit different. 

Firstly, Daniel will be covering not one but four of his previous failed LegalTech products. Each of these only made it to the concept stage (speaking with potential users) rather than the prototype stage (testing with potential users). But while they were short-lived, they still taught Daniel some valuable lessons.

Secondly, this will be the last time Daniel writes a product post-mortem for a while. You can only fail so many times before you either give up or learn enough to start succeeding.

Notarisation marketplace app

The problem

If you’ve ever had to get a document notarised, you will know that every step of the process is painful: finding a notary; emailing the generic address on their website; hoping they’ll respond; finding a time in their busy schedule; making sure the notary is happy with all the documents; and stressing about apostille or legalisation timelines.

The role of a notary is an ancient one, but does the user experience need to be that way too?

The solution

A marketplace app seemed ideal for tackling this problem. For notaries, an app would eliminate the drudgery of triaging clients, scheduling appointments, ensuring clients were organised for their appointments (e.g., bringing the correct ID), and chasing payments. For clients, an app would be a one-stop shop, allowing them to browse and instantly book a notary at a time that suited them.

The evaluation

Firstly, building a marketplace is notoriously difficult because of the cold start problem: no notaries will join unless there are lots of potential clients already on the app; but no potential clients will join unless there are lots of notaries already on the app.

More fundamentally, though, I discovered that notarisation isn’t really a repeat pain point for many people in Australia. Most individuals and businesses only need to notarise documents very occasionally. As a result, the cost of making individuals and businesses aware of the app (i.e., marketing spend) would be very high compared to how often those individuals and businesses might use (and generate fees for) the app over their lifetime. 

Is the situation different in other jurisdictions? Potentially yes, but starting out in an unfamiliar market, in addition to the immense challenge of building a marketplace, was a bridge too far for me.

Advanced electronic signing platform

The problem

The major electronic signing platforms (DocuSign, Adobe Sign, etc.) work well for simple signature workflows. However, they struggle with the sorts of complex signing workflows commonly required in matters run by law firms, such as holding signatures in escrow (e-signed or wet ink), swapping out pages in signed agreements, changing signatories at the last minute, and witnessing e-signatures.

Lawyers have, of course, found manual workarounds to deal with these situations, but the workarounds are cumbersome and erode much of the efficiency promised by electronic signing. 

The solution

It’s unlikely the major platforms will address these issues. Introducing these sorts of features will only confuse the majority of their users. This leaves room to create an alternative electronic signing platform designed not for the masses but for sophisticated power users like lawyers. The market size might be smaller, but law firms would be willing to pay a premium to access advanced features to support their specialised needs.

The evaluation

There’s little doubt that signing processes are painful. What I learned, however, is that the biggest pains for lawyers tend to come from managing clients’ signing preferences, dealing with last-minute changes to documents, and navigating unclear electronic signing laws. While the feature limitations of existing electronic signing platforms are frustrating, lawyers regard these more as annoyances that can be dealt with by junior staff. 

In other words, while the features I was proposing would likely provide some improvements, people just didn’t seem to care enough. Perhaps I could convince them otherwise and show how much efficiency would be gained and how much this would improve the experience for clients. But deep down, I was uncertain myself if enough additional value was truly being created for it to be worthwhile for people to change from their current solution.

Legal project management canvas

The problem

Isn’t it strange that lawyers still use Word, Excel and email for legal project management? While most industries have their own dedicated project management software, lawyers are emailing Word tables that need to be updated manually, lack a single source of truth, have no permission abilities and no audit trail.

There are obviously various legal project management tools out there, but these are typically only used for very specific purposes (e.g. closing checklists for debt finance transactions). They are often too rigid and difficult to configure to be useful for more general legal project management needs. As a result, people fall back to the familiarity and flexibility of Word, Excel and email.

The solution

Imagine if there was an app that enabled users to create whatever legal project management portal they needed for their particular matter. There would be pre-built components (like LEGO) such as checklists, trackers, wiki pages, timelines and document repositories that users could drag and drop into the portal, and configure how they wished. Other users (whether internal or external) could be invited into the portal and granted view, edit or admin rights on a granular level.

The evaluation

This was a tough one to evaluate. Most lawyers I spoke to didn’t think they needed better technology. As one person put it, “When you’re deep in the matter, you just know where things sit. If you aren’t, then reporting becomes more important, but you can easily ask someone who is in the detail for whatever you need.” On the whole, people thought Word, Excel and email were “good enough” and that where things went wrong, it wasn’t because of tools or technology but because of “people not communicating well”.

I don’t have any doubts that communication is the underlying problem, but surely replacing Word, Excel and email with a more modern solution would help to streamline communication and ensure everyone is on the same page? And surely it’s not the case that Word, Excel and email are actually “good enough” for legal project management, but rather there’s nothing better out there that’s fit for purpose? And surely once people see the clear benefits of a proper project management solution, they would be ok with the slight inconvenience of logging into another system and learning how to use it?

All great questions, but ultimately I wasn’t confident enough to roll the dice on them.

Cross-organisation instant messaging app

The problem

MS Teams and Slack have cornered the market for instant messaging within organisations, but what about instant messaging between people at different organisations? While MS Teams and Slack have some capability to do this, it requires configuration from IT departments (which nobody has time to wait for). In reality, people are using WhatsApp, WeChat, and ordinary text messages, whether officially approved or not. This creates significant security and data governance risks. People need a better option.

The solution

What if you could download an instant messaging app on your phone specifically designed for business communications with people at other organisations? It would be free for individuals, but employers could pay a fee to have admin rights and manage their employees' data using the app. 

There seemed to be limitless ways to optimise the app for business use and make people want to use it over WhatsApp, WeChat, or text messaging. Once enough people were using the app, there would naturally be a network effect, creating exponential user growth.

The evaluation

There are many reasons this would be extremely difficult to execute. It’s clearly very ambitious and would be capital-intensive from both a development and marketing perspective.

There was a more fundamental reason I decided not to pursue it, though. After talking to a number of lawyers, the consistent feedback was that people felt overwhelmed by existing communication channels and didn’t want another way for people, and in particular clients, to contact them. They disliked receiving work-related text messages, particularly WhatsApp and WeChat because it felt like an intrusion on their personal lives. They actually liked the friction of email. This is something I hadn’t thought about before. 

Technology often treats as self-evident that things should be faster, easier and more efficient. But sometimes, that’s the opposite of what people need and what we should be building.

 Daniel Yim
Daniel Yim writes and speaks about legal technology and transformation. He is the founder Sideline and previously worked worked at Gilbert + Tobin and Axiom.

Also read: LegalTech Trainwrecks #7 (Tracking Knowledge Resources).

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