Local startups set to capitalize on legal-tech market

Emerging legal-tech sector received US$1 billion in investments last year

Qase Inc. CEO Dan Zollmann says his company is aimed at improving an “incredibly consumer unfriendly” environment for people seeking legal help | Rob Kruyt

When Rey Mui sought a lawyer a few years ago to help him with a legal issue, he enlisted someone he now diplomatically describes as “not so competent.”

“And I realized there isn’t really a service out there that protects the user and allows them to get a quality lawyer,” he said, adding people often resort to search engine results or blogs to make a decision.

“Legal services are not a product like shampoo, you know? You can use 10 different types and come to a judgment that this one is the best.”

But most Canadians can afford only one shot with a lawyer, Mui added. The experience took Mui on a path towards building a new legal-technology service, launching the Kikero Inc. startup last month to help people get virtual consultations before they decide whether they need further legal help.

Users go to Kikero’s website, select the legal questions they have and are matched with a lawyer the company has already vetted.

Kikero has a roster of seven partner lawyers based in Metro Vancouver. Users are charged $69 per 15-minute consultation over the phone or through video conference.

Kikero is among the latest batch of legal-tech startups emerging from Vancouver in recent years while a profession often still reliant on phone calls, paper bills and face-to-face meetings catches up to the digital age.

Israel-based legal-tech firm LawGeex compiled a list of industry deals last year, estimating investment in the legal-tech sector reached US$1 billion across 40 deals in 2018, up from US$233 million a year earlier.

“Joining the $1 billion club is a massive milestone for legal technology,” the company said in a December 2018 blog post.

“However, looking at other industries, ‘fintech’ [financial technology], legal-tech’s richer and more successful older brother, has seen [US]$41.7 billion invested so far in 2018.”

B.C.’s largest legal-tech company, Clio (Themis Solutions Inc.), launched in 2008, ahead of the recent explosion.

But over the past five years, its workforce has grown by 207% to reach 320 employees, according to Business in Vancouver research.

In the midst of this growth, smaller legal-tech firms have also been emerging locally.

“Right now getting help for a legal problem is incredibly consumer unfriendly compared to anything else,” said Qase Inc. CEO Dan Zollmann, whose Vancouver-based legal-tech startup launched two weeks before Kikero. “The crazy thing about this scenario though … is it also really sucks for lawyers.”

Qase specializes in matching people with appropriate lawyers by offering an online platform that asks people about their legal questions before allowing them to book a free consultation.

Users then pay as they go to use the lawyer’s services, while Qase makes money by charging lawyers who use the service to land new clients. Zollmann said the company has designs on collecting data that could be applied to machine learning to better connect potential clients with lawyers.

While its initial rollout is focused this year on B.C., the company plans to expand to other provinces in 2020 and eventually to the U.S.

“Because we offer a lot of efficiency to lawyers, we believe that we can make this a win-win,” he said. “The mantra for the last decade in tech is, ‘Move fast and break things.’ And frankly, perhaps that’s great if you’re disrupting the restaurant delivery model, but it’s not great when you’re talking about helping people with legal issues.”