Interview with Jimmy Vestbirk: Law and Innovation

The legal sector, a famously traditional industry, is typically slow in embracing innovation and technology. However, this is starting to change. We have recently met and had a chat about this with Jimmy Vestbirk, founder of Legal Geek, a LawTech Community which is dedicated to changing, inspiring and challenging the status quo of the legal profession. 

Ashley Dyson
by Ashley Dyson
jimmy vestbirk at legal geek conference on stage

How did you get involved in the legal sector?

I was previously involved in the Online Dating industry, however, my business faced heavy disruption as a result of free dating apps entering the market. So I decided to look for new opportunities.

While researching innovative ideas and startups in San Francisco for three months, I discovered quite a few emerging legal tech start-ups. I became intrigued by that area and the whole picture became clear – the legal sector as an industry has traditionally been slow to embrace innovation, but there is a lot of positive change happening right now.

To feed my curiosity, I started a dedicated meet-up group with only 30 people. Two meetups later we welcomed 250 people, and now we have a global network of 5000 people! As it all happened just over the last couple of years, we realised that the level of interest in the legal tech industry is huge. Now our mission is to promote London as a Law Tech Hub and create the possibilities for change to happen in the legal sector.

What are the main challenges that the legal sector is facing at the moment?

The legal sector is going through a wave of change as it begins to embrace rapid technological innovation, so we want to create structure in a chaotic world of startups. These early stage businesses can quickly pivot and evolve very fast and by mapping the current legal startup ecosystem, we help businesses understand and benefit from this organic industry. We take snapshots of what is happening in the startup world to ease their scouting efforts.

Have you noticed any trends in the Law Tech startup ecosystem?

There are so many and it is still an emerging market, so it’s really hard to define a trend. From the startup map that we have created, you can notice different categories like Contracts, Marketplaces, Law for Good, Practice Management, Risk and Compliance, as well as Analytics and Research. These are the main categories where law tech startups are innovating. There is a huge Artificial Intelligence hype and a lot of people who are talking about changes in the legal sector are focusing on Artificial Intelligence. Regardless of law, there is a lot of noise around AI but we try to cut through the noise and define what tangible and specific use cases are out there.

Who is responsible for innovation in law firms?

Roles in the legal sector are changing. We have noticed many new roles appearing like Innovation Director and Research and Development departments. In more advanced firms, there is usually a budget being allocated towards innovation and it gets board level sign-offs, so change is definitely happening. Generally, most firms are still in the scouting phase; looking for what’s new and researching what’s happening in the market. Some of the firms are building incubators, or investment hubs, as a way to really understand the landscape and also as a way to engage with these young companies. We will be seeing new intermediary roles emerging between tech startups and lawyers that can help implement and pull solutions together.

How to measure if an implemented innovation was a success?

I think there are a few things that will always challenge law firms and one of them is an opportunity to make more money and law firms are looking for ways on how to be more efficient in a fixed price world.  

Any tips for business leaders in the legal sector?

They should just listen more to their clients. I think it is a change of a mindset, so I would suggest engaging with technology, running pilots with startups, being open, and creating a safe environment to fail. No law firm wants to fail at anything, and in protecting themselves they obviously choose not to do anything risky at all.

Law firms should also stop shouting about small pilots with startups and instead use that resource to bring about change internally. There are some law firms that have really powerful initiatives going on, but they are not shouting about it, these are the ones who are going to win! Not the people who are doing press release after press release.

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