Starting a company is an exciting endeavor; however, it can be a daunting task no matter what industry an entrepreneur chooses to operate in. While the journey would pose innumerable hindrances, navigating one’s way through legal woes can be particularly vexing.
Especially if you were going to start up in Nigeria, you would know of the cumbersome and overly bureaucratic systematic legal processes here. Lawyer Odunoluwa Longe too was well versed with this. While running her law firm, she also discovered how unaffordable were the services of traditional corporate law firms for hard-up entrepreneurs.
With no tech background per se, Odun, along with Bola Olonisakin and Funkola Odeleye, set upon to take the edge off, with DIYLaw ─ a legal tech startup launched in early 2016 in Nigeria.
Some of the services/ products offered by DIYlaw.ng include DIY Registrations, DIY Documents, DIYEngage and DIYResources. DIY Registrations automates business-related registration processes for users through the completion of a questionnaire and DIY Documents automates business and personal legal documents for users also by completing a survey. While DIY Engage allows users to access a repository of lawyers across Nigeria and hire one, and lastly DIY Resources, which is where various subject matters can be studied and understood from.
Although very late, a part of the process has been taken up online by the government, but some junctures still require your physical presence. DIYLaw ultimately does away with this need which is taken care of, by their in-house logistics services.
The women trio faces challenges regarding power and data issues among others. There are other complexities like multiple taxes and a high cost of doing business in Nigeria. Moreover, despite a large population of unemployed youth, it is difficult to find the right skillsets among candidates, and hence putting the right team together has been one major challenge faced by them. They currently have a team of 12 including the founders.
Traditional as the legal sector has hitherto been, it has lately joined the technology bandwagon and has been embracing technology at a rapid pace. A recent study by Thomas Reuters says that there has been a 484% increase in the number of patents filed covering new legal services technology globally in the last five years.
According to the online database of CodeX — The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics, currently, more than 700 startups are attempting to disrupt the legal industry worldwide.
As per to venture capitalist database CB Insights, legal tech startups have raised over $700M in funding since 2011 worldwide. Hot categories include online legal services, e-discovery, and practice management software among others.
Avvo and Reletivity (previously known as kCura) are more prominent and highly funded players from the US with $71.5 and $125M raised respectively. With more than 100 legal tech companies in China, Wusong Technology is a leading player that grabbed $17 Mn funding in Series B at the end of 2016. Other big names are Alpha and Legal Miner. Indian equivalents include LawRato, VakilSearch, Lawyered, MyAdvo, LegalRasta among others. Other Asian counties like Singapore and Indonesia are following suit.
In Europe, while London has a relatively vibrant legal tech scenario, Germany’s counterpart scene falls roughly 5-10 years behind the US, due to far fewer legal tech startups and lower adoption rates among law firms and corporate legal departments than in the United States. But it is now growing at a substantial rate.
Odun finds Africans to be very entrepreneurial and says many young people are heading towards creating their own business in the light of lack of jobs and wanting to alleviate the plethora of problems faced by their society and economy. So long as new companies keep coming up, there will be an addressable market, and this, she says is bound to grow in the coming future.
Though the company faces direct competition from traditional corporate law firms and few technology companies that have cropped up to automate legal processes but claims to beat them on price points and the sheer convenience that their services entail.
The company plans to branch out to other African economies. Based on a market research carried out by them, Nairobi and Johannesburg have been identified as of now, to be easier markets to penetrate into.
Expanding offline services too is in the pipeline. “We wish to bring legal resources closer to the common people and entrepreneurs with no deep pockets, through our physical presence. Hence we will offer on-ground free and pro-bono consulting to them. We are already working with two Nigerian banks towards this, and are on the lookout for more partners and sponsors.” exclaims Odun.
The company has been bootstrapping as of now. It received a $40,000 cash prize along with the Innovative Justice Award last year during the Innovating Justice Forum, an international event organised by The Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law (HiiL). They are currently in the process of raising a small round of family and friends. Going forward, they shall look at raising funds from institutional investors.
Upon being catechized about how the entrepreneurial journey has been, especially as women, Odun is found to have an uncanny smile on her face. She told us, “Sometimes people think that we would not be as adept when it comes to technology and bring in all kinds of prejudices, but largely the ecosystem has been encouraging and supportive. We wish many more women can come up in this sphere and leave their marks as great entrepreneurs.”