Please tell us something about yourself and the LegalTech startup space in India. How has your experience been here so far?
I am a student of B.Com from SRCC, Delhi. I have always been an entrepreneur at heart. I was very intrigued by how startups are created, how they generate wealth and help in solving a number of different problems. So, I always wanted to work with a startup or begin one of my own. That’s how I started looking at different projects and ideas, and MikeLegal came into the picture.
When we started, in 2018, LegalTech was still rising in India. If you look at other sectors like healthcare and fintech, LegalTech is quite behind and if you compare the LegalTech market in the USA, the Indian space is years behind. But over the course of years, we have seen that a lot of new companies have started coming in. Over the last two years, legal teams, especially law firms have started to realize that efficiency and automation can give them a competitive advantage. Where previously they would look at technology as a cost center, now they have started looking at it as an investment for the growth of the organization. That shift is extremely important for LegalTech companies to grow and survive. With LegalTech or any B2B SaaS, we have seen that if you provide good service and a good product at a good price, legal teams would like to continue with you for years since the customer adoption rate ends up on the higher side.
Lastly, if you have to build a LegalTech company, you need to go global because that is where the money lies.
You mentioned that you are a graduate of SRCC and have not studied law. How did you conceptualize MikeLegal and what made you step into the LegalTech space?
My co-founder Tushar is a lawyer. And around 2016-17, a lot of AI companies started coming in and that’s when we looked at what sectors can AI kick in, and what sectors have not been innovated in. So, that’s when the concept of beginning a LegalTech startup came in. Most lawyers were doing a manual intervention for tasks which in our opinion could be automated. So that’s when we thought that we should build an ecosystem of solutions where multiple legal processes can be automated.
What was the inspiration behind the name of your startup “MikeLegal”, how did you come up with that?
We are all fans of Suits (the TV Series). It is inspired by the famous character ‘Mike Ross’. We started with this name and eventually got caught up with work and didn’t happen to relook at the name. So, we stuck with MikeLegal. And now, all our products start with Mike in the beginning. And there’s been a lot of curiosity around the name!
Most lawyers are of the opinion that artificial intelligence will replace them. Is this challenge for MikeLegal and other LegalTech startups? How do you deal with this?
There have been instances where lawyers say that AI is taking up their jobs. But this is due to a lack of understanding. AI can’t replace a professional; it can only assist you in the processes and it does not make any decisions for you. The type of products that we are building are assistance technologies.
So, I think any LegalTech company can circumvent this by two factors: One, you should know who you’re talking to – Is it a partner at a law firm? Or an associate? Or an in-house counsel at a corporation? And the second is you have to portray the return on investment (ROI) that the tool can bring.
To be honest, the legal teams do not care if you’re using AI or some other technology; what they focus on is the impact you’re bringing to them. Are you able to use the technology to reduce their costs by 20% or increase revenue by 50%?
Does your approach differ when reaching out to different end clients?
We look at customer segmentation.
For example, if you look at a boutique law firm with five associates, we focus on scalability. Normally, if they want to scale the work, they will have to keep adding more people, which to be honest, is not possible for boutique law firms or smaller firms on a sustainable basis. Our technology allows them to do 10x more work with the same number of members and solves the problem of scalability.
For the big law firms, we focus on the ROI per associate. We actually focus on the percentage revenue increases that our technology can bring. Every law firm is competing with the other – so, they have to maintain quality and have a competitive edge.
In our interactions, we have also realized that a lot of legal teams also have FOMO (fear of missing out). Because naturally, if their competitor is using a technology that is helping them serve their client better, then, they are also interested in such technology.
For an in-house department of a company, I think the focus is not on profits; it’s more about helping them organize their processes. The legal team of a corporation is usually much smaller. They manage a very large portfolio. And even if they outsource a lot of legal work, they still need to streamline and be on top of their matters. So, for in-house departments, we’ve seen that focusing on a more process-oriented approach and quality control is what makes sense.
How efficient or cost-effective does artificial intelligence make the legal space? What has your experience been and what do the numbers say?
There are various ways to go around this. It obviously depends on what stage you’re at, with the product. When we first started selling the product, there was no way to really know, what is the potential revenue increase that can come in. So, what we actually did, in the beginning, was – rather than focusing on numbers, we made people experience the tool, because they were able to instantly know (compared to what they were doing before the tool) how technology can help them. That’s when we were focusing a lot on the demo of the tool.
Once we started working with more customers, we started doing case studies, where law firms would tell us the percentage increase that they were able to see in revenue, etc. And that became a benchmark for us and that actually gave us a very good idea about how the tool has impacted their business in terms of numbers.
Tell us something about MikeLegal’s products: Trademark Search, TM Watch, IP Manager, and DocuSieve.
We started the company with tools around the trademark space. With Trademark Search, we have built one of the leading trademark ecosystems, where we help clients use AI for trademark searching. With higher accuracy, they can get to know if there’s a similar trademark in the market just before filing it. Also, while launching a new brand, it becomes very important to do a trademark search. With our system, what you do in two hours, can practically be done in minutes.
The second tool is Mike TM Watch, which is an AI-powered journal analysis solution. As a lawyer, every week, I will need to check if there are any similar trademarks to mine published in the journal, which today is very time-consuming – roughly 7 to 8000 trademarks get published every week, and I have to go one by one against my trademark to see if there’s anything similar. But with our system tracker, one can view similar marks that have been filed in a dashboard. Our clients have seen at least a 30-40% increase in identifying similar trademarks as opposed to doing it manually!
And our third tool is Mike IP manager, which maintains an excel sheet, and is an automated dashboard that will tell you about all the changes happening to your IP portfolio. You can manage it on one single dashboard, filter it, create reports – it becomes a centralized system.
Mike DocuSieve is a new tool that we’ve launched a few months back since we are entering into the contract space. One of the most important parts of creating a contract is contract proofreading. At the end of the day, you have no option but to manually go through each and every word of the contract. It’s a lot of effort, and more importantly, it’s non-billable. So that’s when we created an AI system, which is inbuilt in Microsoft Word where at a click of a button it can tell you the various errors and inconsistencies in your document across definitions, clause referencing, amounts saving the associate’s or the team’s significant time and, more importantly, identify errors that were missed on before. So, we’ve had a bunch of corporate boutique firms like Jerome Merchant Partners, Touchstone Partners, Saakshya Law, and many more using this tool.
What are the trends in the LegalTech startup space in India? Is it easy to pitch for funding? Are people willing to invest?
Investors look at the market size. If you’re able to really put the idea forward, the problem you’re solving or how big the problem is, where you can be in the next few years, funding should not be a challenge.
Some active investors are Mumbai Angels, Indian Angel Network, O21 Capital. They typically look at bigger ticket sizes, but they have also invested in startups. We have seen a few startups raise funding, but in India again, there are a few handfuls who have actually successfully been able to raise a couple of million dollars. But I’m hoping that changes.
Where do you see the LegalTech startup space going from here? What specific services are growing?
I think, in India, a lot of questions come around practice management because COVID absolutely changed the functioning of a firm. So, we’ve seen a lot of requests for contract management, specifically from the corporate side. And I think what’s very interesting with LegalTech is that, because there’s slowly been a shift in the thinking of legal teams in terms of how they view these technology solutions, India can be a very interesting market to scale up on, and then eventually, one should look at going global.
What advice would you give someone who is trying to enter the LegalTech Startup industry?
First and foremost is to find a co-founder who is from a legal background. Not only does that add a lot of credibility to the company, but it also allows you to build a product with domain expertise.
Then, as I mentioned, start looking at the ROI that you can create for customers based on what type of customer they are. And I think, it should not be a challenge specifically in India, because today, if you’re able to showcase to someone that you can reduce their costs, and can provide cost-efficient pricing, they would be interested.
So, for me, personally, I think it’s a very interesting time to be in the LegalTech space.
Three mistakes a rookie in the Legal Startup space should avoid.
We have a philosophy at MikeLegal that is typically followed in other startups also – what’s the core product that one can launch that can be viable for the customer, which is called MVP, (minimum viable product). And that is important because it allows you to know what is most essential to the customer. If I remove features A, B, and C, and I just keep feature D, will the customer still pay me?
I think the first focus would be to reach the MVP stage; can I build a minimum viable product with the least amount of investment, so that I can learn from the customer rather than, spending months and months in development, with my own hypothesis? Customer learning is very important – the faster you learn, the faster you’ll be successful.
The second is to reach product-market fit.
The third is, spend time creating a culture at the company, and creating a solid team, because at the end of the day, even if you’re building a product similar to someone else, there are chances that you can actually beat them if you have a better team.
Lastly, did your first start-up Fabence (a personalized fashion discovery platform), which was a retail start-up, help you in a LegalTech space?
Absolutely. In fact, Fabence gave me a lot of learnings.
The concept of MVP, product-market fit, etc. were all alien to me when I started Fabence. Building the company made me understand the processes, execution strategies, etc. The concept of creating an MVP came out of Fabence; when I spent months doing a particular product feature that the customer didn’t really care about. That’s when I realized that you need to cut down the noise.
It also taught me about entrepreneurship in general. People only see the glamour around it because that’s what the news pushes. But it can be very challenging, and difficult. Fabence was a wonderful learning, in terms of what one needs to do to build a company, and more importantly, what to avoid.