“When we first launched, legaltech was still very foreign. But as we’ve further developed our offerings, as more players have come to the space trying to offer technological solutions, it’s definitely at the forefront of the minds of lawyers and law firms. Legal technology is all the rage now – to the point, I believe, that it has become a buzzword,” says the LawAdvisor founder.
“There are law firms out there … they’re throwing money at questionable directions just so they can do a press release saying they are involved in legaltech. I think the key problem is a lot of these law firms want to be involved, but it hasn’t permeated across the entire organisation.”
He says law firms are obviously still making quite a lot of money the traditional way, which is why even though they might say that they are investing in legaltech and that they see that the business of law is heading that direction, they don’t make that much of an impact in developing the nascent field.
“As the next step of the evolution, I want to see law firms actually embrace [legaltech], actually let that filter throughout their entire organisation and practice what they preach, rather than putting money into, say, a startup accelerator, and all of a sudden pretend that they care about legal innovation,” he says.
Ong says he doesn’t see other legaltech startups and the prevalence of incubators for them as a threat to LawAdvisor. He says he is chosen as a mentor or as an entrepreneur-in-residence for a lot of the accelerators that are being established in Australia.
“I mentor these startups and I’m actually very supportive of these startups. I like what they’re doing, but at the same time, I can actually see what’s happening in the flip side,” he says. “There’s not enough support from the law firms who are trying to dabble in this space. They may give them money, but at the same time, they need more than money. They need to be able to access these partners 24/7. They need to be in on their business operations. They need to be at the coal face, so to speak.”
Ong says that legaltech startups need to know what problems legal firms are facing. More than investing money into programs, the next big challenge for legal firms is to invest at a people level, he says.
“Unless you actually experience these problems front and centre, you’re developing a product that may or may not be actually needed. So there are a lot of inefficiencies and there’s a lot of waste simply because these programs aren’t fully being invested in properly, at a people level. They might resource these startups, but at a people level, and to really educate these startups about like what their real problems are and then to get these solutions firmly embedded within the law firm, that’s the next big challenge,” he says.
Ong poses a challenge to law firms who say they’re committed to legaltech.
“Now that there is a solution, how are you going to utilise the solution? Are you really going to make the most of this technology?” he says. “Otherwise, you get all these bright-eyed startups thinking that they are solving big problems, and then by the end of the program, they realise that there’s been no support whatsoever and there’s nothing to come out of it. And I’ve been involved in far too many of these programs now.”
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As the founder and CEO of a thriving legal technology startup, Brennan Ong sees how law firms all want to be associated with supporting legaltech. However, efforts to support legaltech and the startups in the space often are just paying lip service to what has become a buzzword, he says,