Luis Alves Dias is the CEO and Co-Founder of Legaü, which is the first full-fledged (legal documents, court decisions and legal papers) tech solution that enables lawyers to draft legal documents, share their experience and perform legal research without leaving Word.
He’s also the Co-Founder of Ockham Legal, a London-based global platform that wants to change how startups access legal services by enabling them to get a general counsel for just the necessary time and for a fraction of the cost; and a Co-Founder of the Lisbon chapter of Legal Hackers.
A lawyer by background, Luis worked in two large international law firms for almost a decade before starting my journey as entrepreneur. Luis interested in Legaltech, but also in education, technology and its effects in our social, economic, and psychological structures, the future, and creative thinking and problem solving.
In an interesting conversation with Luis Alves Dias, Co-founder Legaü & Ockham Legal, Prolawgue takes you through Luis’s personal journey, his experiences as a practicing lawyer and an entrepreneur.
You started as a practising lawyer at Linklaters and then moved to Uría Menéndez (one of the most prestigious independent law firms in the Iberian market). Can you tell us a bit about your time here. What were your key learnings?
The time I spent in both law firms (Linklaters and Uría Menéndez) was very positive. I had the privilege of working in two very demanding places, with excellent people, on very interesting matters and with clients from various jurisdictions, and with all the means at my disposal.
Often younger people studying law and interested in entrepreneurship ask me if it makes sense for them to work in a law firm. People are all different, of course, but I usually encourage them to do so. First, I believe experimentation is important throughout our life. And second, there are many things you gain from working in a good law firm.
For me, the work ethic and methods of working (alone and in a team) is one of the most relevant.
The network of contacts (colleagues, clients, etc.) you create is also important.
The fact that you are well paid also allows you to save money that will later give you some peace of mind to take risks and start a journey by yourself.
In addition, there are also a number of other aspects and skills that are transposable to whatever you want to do outside the law. For example, the ability to learn fast and execute, negotiation techniques, attention to detail, among others, which are still useful today in my life as an entrepreneur.
Also, brands have relevance in our world and being associated with two excellent brands makes people more willing to at least give me 1 minute of their attention. This is important, for example, with investors.
That said, of course there are also less positive aspects. For instance, I have felt over the years that skills I had and liked have become more forgotten or dormant (for example, creativity). But this is natural; there are certain skills that are enhanced because you need them every day (for example, analytical skills) and others that are less enhanced because they are less needed on a daily basis when you work at a law firm.
You need to be mindful of this and if so you will know how to get the best out of each context. And the good news is that, in my opinion, we can always look for other things outside to balance this, or leave and do other things.
You then moved on to Ockham Legal. Can you help us understand the business of Ockham Legal?
A good friend and I founded Ockham Legal when I decided to leave my career as a lawyer. He had been working with startups for some time and realised there was a gap in the market.
Indeed, when startups need quality legal advice, they essentially have 2 options: (a) they turn to an external lawyer, which is expensive and only answers questions that the startup has already identified, or (b) they hire an in-house lawyer, which is ideal because startups often can’t even identify their legal needs and risks, but only makes sense from a certain stage onwards (in terms of revenue or investment), as it is also expensive and there is not enough workload to justify a full-time position.
What we created was a solution that allows startups to get an in-house counsel for just the necessary time and for a fraction of the cost and it is fully predictable because it works as a subscription. Thus, startups can now count on someone within the team with whom they can exchange ideas regarding legal topics, who is responsible for legal workstreams, who proactively identifies risks and improves internal processes, etc. And this allows lawyers to have more control over their life.
You are also the Co-Founder at Legau that works in the documentation space. How did you conceptualise the product? What are its key differentiators?
Legaü is an add-on that enables lawyers to draft legal documents with clicks,
We are three founders: myself, Diogo and Luís Lopes. Diogo and I have a law degree and have been lawyers for almost a decade, having spent almost all of that time in large international law firms. Luís Lopes is a computer engineer and has about 15 years of experience in national and international technology companies (startups and large companies). We have been friends for many years and we have always been exploring small projects in common.
Legaü came up following our personal frustrations as lawyers and after a season that Diogo spent in Singapore, which has a very advanced Legaltech ecosystem. When I visited him in Singapore, we talked about doing something that would fit into the digital transformation of the legal sector, which we saw (and see) as inevitable.
We kept looking at our daily lives and thinking that it would be possible to make a tool that would truly simplify our lives and that did not entail big learning curve. We wanted something that combined three things:
(a) be focused on the reality of lawyers, because typically we have very little time and we are always under a lot of pressure – in other words, it would have to be a tool integrated into the lawyer’s routine, very intuitive, easy to use, and with almost zero friction;
(b) really contribute to creating a happier generation of lawyers, since, according to available data, lawyers are actually 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression and chronic anxiety – that is, it would have to be a tool that would allow lawyers to carry out their tasks and manage their workload in a much more efficient way, freeing them up for tasks they enjoy more or to invest in their passions and commitments outside work. We believe that, by doing this, we can have better lawyers and, consequently, more satisfied clients;
(c) address the inefficiencies at the heart of the legal profession – that is, it would have to be a tool focused on legal drafting and legal research, as it is around these tasks that most of the lawyer’s specific added value gravitates.
What differentiates us from the rest is that we tend to full legal content (internal know-how, case law, legal papers, etc. – except legislation), are integrated in the lawyers’ routine and in a tool they already know, and are very lawyer-centered in terms of features, UX and UI.
Can you tell us about a few services/ products that are in high demand in the legal industry? What are law firms, in-house legal departments, and clients primarily looking for?
This is a rather vague question and therefore difficult to answer. But trying to give an answer and perhaps simplifying things a little, I would say that law firms are mainly concerned with two aspects:
(a) Digitalisation of processes
This is one of the key aspects in the digital transformation of the legal sector. For technology to effectively help law firms, their processes and data must be in digital format. The pandemic has greatly helped accelerate this process. This is why we see an increase in the demand and adoption of cloud solutions, knowledge management, e-signature, CLM, etc.
(b) Margins and communication with clients
Historically the legal sector has always had high margins and managed (through the billable hour model) to pass on inefficiencies to clients. This, amongst other things, acted as a disincentive to process optimisation. However, this has changed a lot and increasingly there is pressure from clients to reduce fees or make them predictable (capped fees, fixed fees, etc. are now the norm). The reduction of information asymmetries of the last decades and the last financial and pandemic crises have helped a lot to solidify this process.
To combat this and maintain or increase margins, law firms have, at least, three alternatives: (a) optimise processes (do more with less), (b) productise services (products are scalable, services are not), and/or (c) improve the value perception associated with their brand.
This is why we see an increase in the demand and adoption of time keeping solutions with analytics, CLM, drafting tools, e-Discovery, web portals to communicate with clients, collaboration with clients, etc.
On the side of corporate legal departments, the digitalisation and optimisation of processes is also relevant, but I believe that their biggest concern will be in being able to take on the more strategic and asset (vs. cost) design that is increasingly being asked of them. Therefore, we will continue to see the demand and adoption of tools that help quantify legal risks, such as CLM, change management, compliance, etc.
What are the growth and investment trends in Legal Tech around the world? Is there still instances of resistance to technology from the legal sector in EU?
Legaltech has grown a lot in terms of buzz, investment, number of startups, partnerships, acquisitions, etc. during the last two years. 2021 has been a fantastic year so far, with several big investments, with IPOs, etc. We see that the US and the UK remain the most mature and active markets, but we have also seen very relevant growth in Europe. This is, of course, fantastic for those who are working in this area.
Nevertheless, I wonder if, at the level of customer adoption, we are not still a bit slower than all this buzz and investment.
Simplifying things a little bit, when we talk about Legaltech we essentially talk about two audiences/targets: (a) the legal service providers (mainly lawyers/law firms), and (b) the recipients of legal services (businesses and consumers).
It is undeniable that, in both cases, there is relevant demand and willingness to experiment with technological solutions that solve their problems. However, in the second case (companies and consumers), there is much more willingness to adopt technological alternatives that enable them to access legal services (or similar) in a more convenient and cheaper way. In fact, this is one of the big problems in this area: the unmet needs of consumers and SMEs. Therefore, we have a “thirsty” audience that wants solutions. Adoption in this case is easier.
In the case of service providers (mainly lawyers/law firms), typically market penetration is more difficult. It is a traditional sector and one that still has very antiquated processes. In addition, there are a number of structural issues (business model, partnership structure, agency issues (managers vs shareholders), never be the first mover mentality, partner remuneration, generational mismatch, legal education, etc.) that discourage the adoption of new technology solutions.
Fortunately, at Legaü, we have had a lot of interest from law firms and we have noticed that there is a real concern from all those we work with to change internal processes and ways of working. In these changes, the mindset and buy-in from key people/decision makers is very important.
Anyway, given the data, it seems to me that we are at the beginning of a fabulous phase for Legaltech. We are perhaps as Fintech was about 7/8 years ago, and that is a good indicator.
How did you make this shift to entrepreneurship, from being a lawyer? Did being a lawyer help you in setting up multiple startups?
Although I am very proud of my career as a lawyer and I have learned a lot during those years, the truth is that there came a time in my life when two ideas kept running through my head:
(a) I really wanted to try to set up a company and learn things other than law and I was beginning to be afraid of doing so because I had neither the time nor the energy to explore those interests in a serious way and I was also not getting any younger. That fear did not make me happy at all.
(b) I came from a family where everybody is employed and I often thought about how this has an impact on our lives without us realising it and that I would like to leave an alternative message to the younger members of the family, that it is also possible to do things differently, by building our own path.
At that point, I decided that leaving the law firm I was in was the best solution because it forced me to actually look for solutions to my challenges. Using a metaphor, I didn’t know how to build a house, but now I was out in the cold and rain and I really needed to learn how to do it.
I’m still taking the first steps, but so far my experience and training as a lawyer definitely helped me in this journey. As I said in one of the previous questions, there are several skills that are transposable to my reality as an entrepreneur.
However, there are also some challenges that I would like to talk about in the hope of helping other lawyers who want to become entrepreneurs. I give you two simple but relevant examples.
The first has to do with the fact that, given my training and professional experience, my analytical skills are very trained. Now, in a startup where you have to make quick decisions and always in a context of uncertainty and with risks, that was a bit paralysing at the beginning. It was an automatism. Any topic that came up, my brain was trained to analyse it, identify the risks, find more information about it, and so on. And that can make you lag on your decisions. The good news is that by being aware of this, you can adapt and create other automatisms.
The second has to do with the fact that, having worked in excellent and very demanding law firms, there is a certain inclination to do everything perfectly. And that is not possible in a start-up. The pace is fast, you have to do a little bit of everything, there are many things you don’t know how to do, and you gain much more when you have several interaction cycles with the team or customers and you improve the product or the processes based on real feedback (and not only based on the ideas you have in your head). This is one of the most valuable lessons for me: better done than perfect.
Is it essential for a lawyer/ law student trying to enter the startup space, to study business, particularly since you’ve studied at IE Business School and Said Business School (University of Oxford).
I don’t think it’s essential to enter the startup space, but it definitely helps a lot navigate it. However, I would say that it is essential in the medium term because when you build a company from scratch you will have many business issues to deal with. Strategy, people management, marketing, sales, financial management, among others.
In my case, those training you mention were very directed to specific subjects or contexts (Fintech + law firms), so they didn’t help me that much. What has helped me is reading a lot and listening and talking to more experienced people (mentors, interviews, etc.).
And of course, experimentation is very relevant too, because many times you don’t even have time to read or learn, you have to execute the best way you know how at that moment. I think the relevant thing here is to recognize that we won’t always get it right and be comfortable with that (and this is challenging for lawyers, especially from top law firms) and take lessons/learn from failures/less successful experiences.
Since you’ve worked in EdTech and you possess an interest in the field of education; what new approaches of legal education can law schools adapt to stay relevant in this fast-growing, digital economy?
Unfortunately, I have done very little in the field of education and EdTech, so I am far from being an expert on the subject or even someone who knows the best market practices.
I believe that the big challenge for education in general (including, therefore, law schools) in the near future will be to answer the following question: what methodologies and contents should school adopt in order to ensure that human beings remain relevant and capable in a world in constant and accelerated change, where human beings live more years and where, for the first time, there will be other (non-living) beings with comparable levels of intelligence?
The answer to this question is extremely difficult, firstly because nobody knows the future and the answer is likely to be different from time to time. What makes sense today may not make sense in 5 years’ time.
In any case, two things seem certain, the world of tomorrow will be different from the world of today and the pace of change will accelerate. We will then need people capable of dealing with uncertainty and changing contexts.
In my view, this is what schools should be concerned with: increasing the likelihood that their students will be able to adapt to whatever their context. This means that initiatives that foster critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity will be important so that the individual has the ability to analyse and react in a capable way; initiatives that improve the ability to communicate and collaborate with others will also be very relevant as often adapting to new realities or solving new problems depends on our interaction with others; and initiatives that help students understand and process their emotions, take initiative, and be resilient will also be key so that we can be comfortable (as much as possible) with the mental demands and challenges brought by uncertainty and change.
How might this be reflected in law education? I think there are at least two important perspectives here:
(a) on the one hand (knowledge), the rapidly changing world (technology, science, etc.) and the trend towards deepening globalisation and complexifying relationships, brings new legal issues, new frameworks, new contexts to which to apply the old frameworks, new perspectives, new demands from the market, etc. This means that, from a content point of view, Law schools have the challenge of maintaining an important balance between the foundational knowledge that is essential for thinking about Law, and the topicality and relevance of new issues. To this end, close contact between Law schools and the market is important.
(b) on the other hand (skills), the digital transformation of the legal sector itself is underway, there are new ways of working, new legal professions, new business models (and therefore potential employers), etc. and with this will arise the need to adapt the training of students (those who will go to the market) to what is the new reality of the sector, as well as the need for reskilling and upskilling of people who are already in the market. This is a great opportunity for law schools.
There are some schools that have done good things at both levels. I know, for example, the cases of Nova School of Law in Lisbon (Portugal), Ryerson University (in Canada), Nottingham Law (UK), Penn Law (USA), and Santa Clara Law (USA).
Lastly, what are some common mistakes Legal Tech startup founders make and how should they avoid them?
I am still taking my first steps as an entrepreneur, so my contribution here is a little limited, but I can share some ideas that have been important to me and us at Legaü.
(a) Avoid complexity.
You don’t have to have a thousand features and all the latest technology. That typically means friction in adoption, high development costs impacting your runaway and the pricing of the final product, delayed time to market validation, among other things. With Legaü, we tried to be as simple as possible and go about validating the idea (and then the product) in cycles, notably by working with customers on pilot programs.
(b) This journey is a marathon.
It is not possible to radically and immediately change lawyers’ routines. Lawyers typically have little time, are (even because of their education and training) more conservative and traditional, are under a lot of pressure, and therefore changing routines is extremely difficult. Tools that demand long learning curves or learning to use new platforms are a long shot at this stage. I think that’s where the future lies, but we have to get users first to get to that vision. At Legaü, we are starting in a way that is perfectly integrated into the routine and tools that lawyers already have.
(c) Adapt your speech.
Partners have different incentives and visions than associates in adopting technology tools, it is important to adjust your speech to each reality.
(d) Be honest with yourself and your founders.
It is essential to have frank, deep, and direct conversations about the founders’ expectations, availability, and goals. In the case of Legaü, we have been friends for a long time and have always been doing things together on an informal basis and according to each one’s availability. When we decided to take Legaü to the next level, it was a natural step and we didn’t talk about each other’s expectations, availability, and goals. This led us to make some decisions that we later realised were perhaps not in line with everyone’s expectations, willingness, and goals. Fortunately, they had no impact on the team or the business and, in fact, served as a catalyst for us to talk about these issues.
(e) Focus makes all the difference.
As a startup you have limited resources and therefore don’t have the ability to do everything and shoot every target; if you do that it’s harder for anyone to hear/understand you and most likely you’ll quickly run out of resources.
(f) Take care of your body and mind.
Living with uncertainty, risk, and the unknown on a daily basis is not always easy, and, according to available data, makes founders quite prone to mental health problems. This is an extremely important issue. In my case, I don’t always manage to maintain the healthiest habits, but I try to do it, and running also helps me a lot.
(g) Surround yourself with good mentors.