Priyanka is the COO at Manupatra. She is also involved with LawSkills.in (an e-learning platform), mykase.in (a law practice management & corporate legal solutions SaaS platform), and Altivolus (the BPO arm).  

Priyanka has been with Manupatra since its inception in 2000 and have been in the LegalTech space in India for over 20+ years, which makes her one of the first movers in India.

With all this and more under belt, we spoke to Priyanka about everything Manupatra, the emerging interdisciplinary fields in law, the adoption of technology by legal profession, and the current LegalTech landscape in India.

 

Since you are an economics graduate, how did you make the shift from commerce to the legal field? How has your experience been in the legal industry in the last 20 years?

We are a Legal Tech Services company which has been introducing technology to the profession of Law. Thus I did not actually make a shift to the legal industry. PersonalIy, I was taking a shot at the sunrise ‘dot com’ industry (operations and management function) when I joined the Manupatra team in 2000. In effect, I moved from banking to ‘dot com’.

Since our bread and butter comes from the legal industry, one has got interwoven at many levels. The experience has been interesting given that one gets to deal with various stakeholders – law firms, academicians, corporates, government, individuals, litigants; and the perspective and approach with each of them is unique. So yes, very distinctive experiences.

One experience which I cherish the most is my interactions with the sitting and retired Judges of various courts. Each meeting has been special. They have each been most unassuming and welcoming. Apart from receiving feedback and inputs which have been vital in design and delivery of our products over the last 2 decades, in each meeting I was introduced to the food and culture of the state the judged hailed from. It gave us a sense of how Manupatra had reached out to the entire country.

 

Since you have been engaged in the legal field for more than 2 decades now, can you help us understand what the LegalTech industry looked like 20 years back and how has it evolved to be what it is today?

It will be an understatement to say that the way legal services are delivered has changed tremendously in the past two decades, changing the landscape entirely. Just as an example, way back in 2000, no one could have even imagined that one day courts would be held virtually, or one would be able to create a contract using technology.

On the product side, introduction of technology in law, in my perspective, started with the introduction of CD ROMs (in the late 1990’s), when print-publishers started disseminating the print journal on CD ROMs.

The year 2000 saw the dot com boom. Internet and world wide web were the pivot. In the legal field, we saw the advent of websites which offered digital searchable library of case laws and legislations. Manupatra pioneered bringing online legal research to the legal industry in 2000.

Source: Manupatra LinkedIn Page

The IT Act, 2000 gave impetus to the digitization of records and e-signature. This period saw an otherwise closed legal sector open up to the potential possibility of transforming into a sector powered by technology.

2005-2010 was marked by the internalisation of LegalTech. With Google Scholar for research, and various online legal news verticals starting up, incumbent junior lawyers, in a significant departure from their seniors, began to depend upon these LegalTech tools for their research and news feed. A beginning had been made and lawyers had understood that technology is not here to replace them but to assist them.

2010-2015 saw LegalTech solutions moved beyond just online legal research. From Ed-tech platforms aimed at imparting practical skills to students to online solutions connecting consumers directly with lawyers (market place), and legal research offering smart search using AI (artificial intelligence) and NLP (natural language processing), the legal industry experienced big strides.

Legal jobs went online increasingly, legal processes started getting virtually outsourced and one saw the gradual rise of online legal recruitment firms which facilitated geo hiring with no bar to where someone is based out of. This phase of evolution of the LegalTech solutions showed that it is not just legal research, but also a number of legal services that can be enabled or made more efficient using technology.

The importance of LegalTech solutions was further reinforced during the recent pandemic. From e-signature solutions to automation of contracts, compliance management and legal practice management solutions to artificial intelligence solutions are now surfacing that have the potential of further revolutionizing the legal industry.

LegalTech is the future and the way start-ups in this field have burgeoned in the past five years stands testimony to this fact. In effect over the past two decades, legal technology has transformed from providing simple solutions to complex solutions with unbridled potential. 

 

We have been observing a number of intersections between the legal industry and other disciplines (eg: Law + Design, Law + Tech, etc). Why do you think this has happened and how does it tie in with Continuing Professional Development (CPD) in the legal space? Do you think CPD should be mandatory for Indian lawyers?

The importance of multi-disciplinary approach has gained momentum across all verticals. Law is a dynamic field with significant intersections in every industry and our everyday lives. It is only natural that multiple user centric hybrid disciplines of law are evolving, be it law + design or law + tech, law + management , law + forensics.

Law + Design and Law + Tech in particular give impetus on the user being the focal point, which is a welcome change and would help serve justice better.

The legal field being one of constant change and refinement, deserves a knowledge system that matches its dynamism and spirit of perpetual reform. Add to it the landscape of globalization, fast and increased changes in the law, the need for business, project management, management skills etc. make a compelling need for CPD. Legal professionals need to recognize that a formal legal degree is the preliminary step in their legal education. Given the evolving nature of law and legal practice, it is their professional obligation to keep abreast, and continue to learn as they progress in their careers in order to be effective and successful. CPD which is a proactive and conscious form of learning becomes pertinent since that’s the only way one can stay abreast, of the new fields, studies, subjects, theories that are emerging regularly.

Manupatra has been collaborating with Justice Adda, a Legal Design empowered access to justice platform. Can you help us understand design thinking and how can it be useful to legal profession and legal professionals?

Design Thinking in its purest sense, isn’t about drawing a picture or building a logo. It is about trying to build a process in a way that is repeatable and useful for the end user. It extends thinking beyond the normative patterns & existing processes, and shifts towards a more user-centric solution.

Thus at its core, design thinking can be said to be a solution-oriented process. Lawyers too, are problem-solvers and are called upon by clients to find solutions for complex legal issues. Today’s lawyers need to innovate and find solutions, that often cannot be found within the bounds of case law and legal theory. The application of design thinking isn’t to revolutionize the incumbent legal practices but to bring about small improvements using design thinking and technology that would make the process simpler and more effective.

Design thinking increasingly features in various aspects of legal practice, such as legal drafting. The recent practice of application of design thinking principles to create a privacy policy that is accessible, concise and transparent, to satisfy the GDPR requirements is as much a question of legal drafting as it requires the application of design thinking principles. (To read more about visual contracts, head over to Visual Contracts: The What, Why and How | Prolawgue)

Our collaborations with Justice Adda are all in the space of promoting understanding of legal design amongst law students and legal professionals. 

 

Manupatra is already a favourite among the legal fraternity. Tell us something about your upcoming venture, myKase.

This statement is always music to our ears!

Launch of myKase is in line with our endeavour of continuing to build on our knowledge and expertise of over 20 years, in delivering legal solutions by leveraging technology.
myKase is a Practice Management Solution for law practices and corporate legal teams. It is a web based cloud solution, that gives end to end visibility and control over management of:

  1. Litigation Life Cycle
  2. Matter Management
  3. Operations of Corporate Legal Departments
  4. Notice Management
  5. Litigation Tracking
  6. Litigation Verification Check for Companies and Individuals

myKase was conceived before the pandemic. During our conversations and meetings with our subscribers and prospects in the industry, we became privy to the pain points and gaps in managing the life cycle of matters, documents and operations. These inputs became the foundation for the concept of myKase.

The above are available as separate and combined solutions based on the requirement of every prospect. It enables teams to collaborate and communicate seamlessly across locations, offices and time zones through a single unified platform. The metrics allow that objective decisions are made, instead of relying on the ‘gut feel’ (based on judgement, experience, intuition or qualitative information).

In the pipeline are solutions for: Contract Management, Compliance and Vendor Management.

 

LawSkills, Manupatra’s startup, provides legal education in local languages. What was the inspiration behind this startup?

Inclusivity in the opportunities available in any industry is very important; and in a diverse country like India, only English and Hindi can’t be the medium for online legal education. The whole idea of taking education online is that it brings opportunities to everyone irrespective of geographical locations easily and overcoming language barriers is a part of that. Lawskills was conceived with this in mind – self paced courses in regional languages so that anyone who wants to learn more has that option to do it in a way that they are comfortable.

 

You’ve been in the LegalTech space through multiple startups and Manupatra is one of the first companies to enter the LegalTech space in India. Are you satisfied with the way the legal industry has been tapping into technology?

The legal industry has got started with the process, though the adoption could definitely be faster. But since adoption of technology is as much about people as it is about technology, the cultural change cannot be overnight.

From typewriters to computers and from fax machines to email, each advancement has been transformative in law, and the fraternity has accepted and adopted each of these evolutions. The law practices are under immense pressure to embrace the technology, operate more efficiently and enhance team performance. The need to digitally transform legacy systems, workplace and customer experience is imminent, and they will eventually transform.

Adoption is an ongoing dynamic exercise. On product side, there will be innovation and new releases as we move along and with digitally native lawyers coming in the fold every year, overall change will definitely be accelerated.   

 

With the new found accelerated intersection of law with other disciplines, a number of new age roles have emerged for lawyers – such as Legal Project Manager, Legal Operations Manager, etc. What would your advice be to a law student or a young legal professional trying to engage with these roles? 

Recently, there has been a lot of conversation on the need for change in curriculum to incorporate technology, design and other emerging multi-disciplinary areas. To that effect, a change seems imminent. But since these are systemic changes, any development will take time.

While the formal changes happen, each individual should take it upon themselves to learn and stay abreast. Constantly add to their repertoire of information and experience. Make the most of the webinars, workshops, dialogues conversations which are being offered online.

On non traditional roles – legal education is a well-rounded degree, and law today seems to be even more pervasive. As a result, the options within the legal industry and outside are many. Few of the non-traditional roles are:

 

If you had to give three pieces of advice for a young woman trying legal entrepreneurship, what would they be?
  1. Don’t let impostor syndrome stop you.
  2. Women have to play multiple roles. Thus, keep your focus and learn how to prioritize stuff and do not expect perfection every day, at everything, and at every stage. Do not shy from asking for help.
  3. Develop a thick skin; but stay approachable. As a woman you will be judged at every step. Don’t let anyone bully you. Appreciate what you have built, protect it and be proud of it.

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