The future of legal technology is now, declared the organizers of a vibrant launch party last week at Toronto’s MaRS complex, to introduce LegalX, an industry “cluster” designed to help the legal profession connect with “the technologists, designers, coders, engineers and lawyers who are driving change.”
The event was orchestrated by Aron Solomon, innovation lead for LegalX and senior advisor for MaRS, and Jason Moyse, consulting innovation lead at MaRS and manager, legal business solutions, at Elevate Services. The two envision LegalX as a “global hub that straddles markets, and is aligned with the present and poised for growth.”
Among the current startups active with LegalX are Syngrafii (e-signatures), Closing Folders (dealrooms), Midatadin (court statistics) and Citasca (buy and sell cited points of law).
The LegalX party drew an eclectic audience of more than 200, who mingled effectively while enjoying regional wine, beer and tasty hors d’oeuvres. The program lineup included two start-up presentations and a panel discussion with five speakers who are active in our CodeX community: Dan Lear, director of industry relations at Avvo Inc.; Sanjay Kamlani, executive chairman of Matterhorn Transactions and founder of Pangea3 (sold to Thomson Reuters); Noah Waisberg, CEO and co-founder of Kira Inc.; Beagle’s “Top Dog” and founder Cian O’Sullivan; et moi. Mitch Kowalski, author of “Avoiding Extinction: Reimaging Legal Services for the 21st Century” was the sixth panelist. (O’Sullivan, Kira’s CMO Steve Obenski and I will be participating in CodeX’ “Shark Tank-style” start-up track at Legaltech West on July 14 in San Francisco).
First up was the official launch of LawScout, a startup designed to “connect small businesses to legal services at an upfront, fixed price.” The team includes lawyers Derek Hopfner and Shane Murphy, and Travis Houlette (lead developer and technical founder). Hopfner spent six years focusing on corporate law and litigation at a mid-sized firm; Murphy worked as a litigation lawyer for small businesses and franchises.
Then, an update on Beagle, from O’Sullivan, who explained that Beagle is designed to reduce contract steps by providing parties with an easy-to-use, collaborative workspace. The Beagle team is currently participating in Microsoft Corp.’s highly competitive Ventures program, and is scheduled to join LegalX at MaRS after the conclusion of the program, said O’Sullivan.
The third act was a very spirited panel discussion that dove into everything from outsourcing legal work; how Big Law’s partnership structures can hamper technology adoption; the use of technology to handle “commodity” work, citing immigration as an early adopter; to the delivery of legal services in an affordable and accessible manner. The panelists circled back to Solomon’s opening conviction that innovation is happening right now—these aren’t pie-in-the-sky” ideas for the far future, they insisted.
“I think it’s exciting to see how legal tech entrepreneurship is expanding not only in Silicon Valley and around the U.S., but around the globe,” said CodeX director Roland Vogl today. “I think the LegalX concept is great, and I will be actively looking for ways to have our CodeX community collaborate with the LegalX community.”
LegalX at MaRS
The event also aligned with the recent opening of the third wing of MaRS, which occupies a massive complex in the research cluster in downtown Toronto. Opened in 2005, MaRS is a 1.5 million square-foot glass and brick complex that was built on the grounds of the former Toronto General Hospital, and incorporates some of its original architecture. The project launched as the Discovery District for Medical and Related Sciences (hence MaRS).
“MaRS connects capital, product development expertise, market research, contacts, customers, talent and access to new markets,” said Solomon and Moyse after the event. “MaRS is a place but also an ecosystem,” they said. It is both a physical and digital hub—a global innovation center that eclipses the capacities of any accelerator, they noted.
According to its website, “MaRS’ ventures have created over 6,500 jobs and, in the last three years alone, they have raised over $1 billion in capital and earned over $500 million in revenue.” Clients and tenants include some household names—the likes of Airbnb, Autodesk Research, RBC Royal Bank, Norton Rose Fulbright, Merck, GlaxoSmithKline Inc. and Etsy.
“The focus of MaRS has typically been cleantech, health and the information and communications technology sector, but LegalX will have specific focus on the legal sector and commercialization of new ventures,” explained Solomon. “LegalX is focusing on moving the legal sector forward by working with legal startups, established corporates and law firms.”
Here’s what three attendees had to say about the event:
- “Stanford’s CodeX, Michigan State’s ReInvent Law Lab, Chicago Kent’s legal technology program and other similar organizations/endeavours have been and likely remain the centre of gravity for legal technology innovation, both in the states and abroad,” said Seattle-based panelist Dan Lear. “MaRS LegalX [is a] non-academic, for-profit community endeavour to promote legal technology and innovation. As such, MaRS specifically (and Toronto more broadly) have the opportunity to establish themselves as a new center of gravity in legal technology. It’s exciting,” Lear said. “I can’t wait to watch the LegalX community evolve.”
- “The LegalX Toronto launch demonstrated a breadth and energy in legal tech entrepreneurship that is maturing across geographies,” said Miami-based panelist Sanjay Kamlani. “Aaron and Jason brought together an energized group of lawyers and technologists who appreciate that innovation in law requires advances in technology, inclusion of global talent, and the breaking down of traditional territorial regulation.”
- “While it is inevitable that technology, innovation and the rapid adoption of new and improved client friendly services has been quietly discussed in mahoganyladen law offices for some time now, MaRS LegalX has launched a movement and delivered a very clear message—innovate or perish,” said Toronto-based Matthew Gibson, president and CEO of Syngraffi Inc. “Assembled in one room: lawyers, VCs, coders, innovators interspersed with a gaggle of disrupters—LegalX is sure to become a powerful force in generating change, which can only mean good things for the client.”
Interested in LegalX? Learn more about the startups and advisors that work with MaRS’ LegalX cluster.