The nexus between law and technology and its impact on the delivery of legal services globally has grown imperceptibly yet consistently over the last decade. Like every other industry, the legal profession is not immune to technological innovations that have disrupted traditional ways of doing things.
In Africa, legal tech- the application of technology in law practice- is a nascent sector compared to others like fintech, agritech, cleantech, etc. According to one report, there are over 43 legal tech startups in Africa with about 26% from South Africa, Kenya- 19%, Nigeria- 16% and Uganda- 11%.
Notwithstanding, African legal tech startups continue to design innovative, not to mention interesting solutions, helping to further extend legal empowerment to the general population. Two of such are South Africa-based Legal Lens and BriefCo.
In a recent conversation with techbuild.africa, Catherine-Jane Paulse, the Co-founder of Legal Lens, BriefCo, and a legal tech network, breaks down the complexities of operations in the legal tech sector using her startups as excellent case studies.
As a progressive leader in the field, she describes the state of the legal tech industry in South Africa as well as a wealth of opportunities open to legal tech startups in the region.
Can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Catherine Jane Paulse. I am an admitted attorney of South Africa, with experience at ENSafrica and Werksmans Attorneys. I left practice in November 2020 to pursue the exciting world of legal technology. I have co-founded three startups, two of which are legal tech companies, Legal Lens and BriefCo, and the other, a legal tech network- the South African Legal Technology (SALT) Network. In May 2021, I begin another exciting journey of studying legal design through a Canadian-based institution.
What’s the idea behind Legal Lens?
From our experience as attorneys and following extensive market research, we found that companies and individuals are unable or reluctant to review unpaid legal invoices, fee quotations, and attorneys’ terms of service, due to the administrative nature of the task; a lack of institutional knowledge; and a fear of disrupting the close relationship with their attorney.
Legal Lens is a legal spend management company, which utilizes experienced attorneys, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to digitally review unpaid legal invoices and reduce legal fees.
To curb legal costs further, we offer additional legal spend management services, which include developing, implementing, and enforcing bespoke billing policies, and reviewing fee quotes in accordance with industry data and insight.
We understand that you’re also the Co-founder of BriefCo. Can you tell us about it?
In South Africa, the winning party in a court case may be awarded costs and is entitled to recover regulated legal fees from the losing party. In order to determine the amount of legal fees which may be recovered from the losing party, a bill of costs is prepared.
Currently, the entire process is manual, from the preparation and delivery of files to the drafting of the bill of costs.
BriefCo is South Africa’s first and only legal cost consultancy leveraging technology. BriefCo utilizes an experienced team of cost consultants, natural language processing, and machine learning to automate the preparation of and opposition to bills of costs.
The time it takes for our customers to recover legal costs is thereby substantially reduced. We have also developed our own secure online platform, which allows for the digital delivery and storage of all relevant documents.
The use of our platform significantly reduces the costs associated with printing, delivery, and file preparation.
What technologies are driving the operations of your startups and to what effect?
Both Legal Lens and BriefCo are leveraging natural language processing and machine learning, which allows us to automate significant processes that form part of our core service offerings.
How would you describe the state of the Legaltech industry in South Africa?
Through the establishment of the SALT Network and my engagements with many legal tech startups and venture capital firms in South Africa, I firmly believe that South Africa’s legal tech industry is nascent.
In South Africa, there seems to a reluctance to adopt technology to provide more efficient and cost-effective legal services. This reluctance is often seen as a result of a lack of understanding of tech and the misconceived notion that tech will replace attorneys.
How is your organization, SALT Network, operating at the intersection of technology and law?
The SALT Network is an A2K platform (access-to-knowledge), which aims to connect all South Africans working or interested in law, technology, and its intersection. Students are given a platform to showcase their research and gain further insight into the practical side of law and technology.
Established and aspiring legal tech startups are given opportunities to pitch their ideas and connect with customers and funders. In-house counsel, attorneys, and advocates are able to showcase their experience and knowledge and gain exposure to the latest developments in tech and law.
Each week we release content from our contributors, who include talented students, founders of legal tech startups, prominent attorneys, advocates, and in-house counsel, and investors. Once a month, we host a free virtual training course presented by thought leaders in the law and technology space. We are also planning on hosting startup showcases and a pitch competition.
The SALT Network aims to put South Africa on the map as an eminent force in the development of knowledge related to law and technology and the creation and adoption of legal tech solutions.
Did your background contribute to your career as an entrepreneur?
My experience as an attorney gave me a holistic understanding of the repetitive legal processes that were ripe for disruption through the use of tech. Having a background in law definitely gives credibility to our solutions.
The reality is that being in the startup space, every day you learn something new and this really forms part of your knowledge of being an entrepreneur. I have also been lucky enough to be a part of a few incredible accelerators which have equipped me with the necessary startup/entrepreneurial skills.
As a woman in the tech industry, have there been challenges along your journey?
I have been lucky enough to connect with incredible South African female entrepreneurs and VCs, who have been extremely supportive and helpful. As a result, my experience as a woman in the tech space has been amazing so far.
Collaborating, networking, learning, and most importantly supporting other women in the space is extremely important to me.