The Indian legal system, despite its obvious merit, is a particularly inaccessible one. Individuals and businesses in need of legal assistance often find themselves overwhelmed – with litanies of inscrutable documents, often predatory or detrimental to their interests, and access to the best lawyers is limited by availability, distance and an objective, consumer-centric definition of a “good lawyer”. Most consumers of legal services have no yardstick to assess the quality of services they receive or the price they end up paying.
Take medical consultation, for example. Until platforms like Practo emerged, this space presented the same kinds of problems. Patients were expected to approach medical professionals through hearsay, and malfeasance and negligence were rampant. Patients found themselves paying through the nose, for unnecessary procedures, expensive drug alternatives and misdiagnoses. That is where the idea of a service like Legistify was born. The brainchild of BITS Pilani alumnus Akshat Singhal, a serial entrepreneur and hands-on innovator, Legistify was conceived out of a humble college dorm room. And it’s come a long way since.
A 2016-graduate, Akshat set out to answer fundamental questions about the availability of legal resources for end-consumers. How do you use innovative technologies to address the critical gaps in supply and demand for legal services? How do you ensure transparency in the pricing and quality of services delivered? How do you enable customers in remote locations to access better legal resources available in major cities? How do you incentivise lawyers to offer standardised services? We reached out to Akshat with some questions of our own, and he was more than happy to answer.
What is Legistify? How does it abstract and expedite cumbersome legal processes?
Legistify is a technology-enabled, legal concierge platform. We work with individuals, startups as well as bigger enterprises and help them find, consult and hire the right expert lawyer PAN-India, on-demand. With a network of over 7000 pre-verified lawyers across 300 cities, we use technology to connect them with users in need of legal help effectively.
Our key proposition lies in effectively catering to low ticket size-high volume litigation matters, primarily for enterprises. Our flagship product – LegisTrak, a cloud-based ELM solution is designed to make the working of in-house counsels and legal teams way more efficient. Some of the world’s leading enterprises like Amazon, Acer, Havells, Dell, Xiaomi, JCB, HDFC Life Insurance trust us to get legally sorted.
How did you arrive at this idea? What motivated you to build Legistify?
I found out that there’s a huge gap between people, particularly first-time entrepreneurs, and legal services. As we entered the market, we also perceived the need for subject matter experts and how various startups require this kind of assistance from time to time. We wanted to address this gap between supply and demand, which is what motivated me to build Legistify.
What services does it provide its customers? What incentives does it provide its network of lawyers and legal experts?
We work on both the B2B as well as the B2C side; however, as an organisation, we are more business-focussed. For B2C customers, who may be individual profiles or SMB’s, we essentially offer lawyer discovery, legal consultancy, fixed-price services like trademark & other IP registrations, company incorporation, document drafting etc. Our primary focus area, when working with big-market enterprises, is long-tail litigation. These cases are larger in number but typically have smaller ticket sizes. For example, major e-commerce companies face hundreds of fresh consumer cases every month. Similarly, NBFC’s handle thousands of money recovery or check bounce matters every month.
According to a Bar Council Report from 2011, there were about 1.2-1.5 million lawyers in India, of which 30-40% were inactive. Of the active numbers, not more than 1-2% have solid, established practices. There are over 900 law schools in India which churn out over 2 lakh fresh graduates every year, and there are severe limitations to setting up practices, especially for younger lawyers, even among those graduating from top-notch schools. At Legistify, we help them reach a nation-wide clientele. We enable lawyers in far-flung parts of the country to be discovered by larger firms, who wouldn’t have engaged their services otherwise.
What core technologies does Legistify leverage in its product?
Our tech stack comprises React on the frontend and Python/Django on the backend. Our core strength lies in ML automation, and at a later stage, NLP and AI. Our Technology and Enterprise Legal Management solution- LegisTrak leverages these technologies primarily for workflow automation. We’re currently exploring the idea of generating inferences from judgement and order copies, to potentially predict the outcomes of legal matters. We are working to extend our scope of coverage as much as possible. As a technology-enabled marketplace, we believe in incorporating smart technologies to make our products more efficient, whether it be in day-to-day workflows or the development of advanced metrics for lawyer discovery.
Ultimately, we want our clients to do more with less.
Legistify’s web platform, available at legistify.com
How does it maintain the edge over competitors such as VakilSearch and PathLegal?
We operate on a completely different model. Firms like VakilSearch are more concerned with the listing of services, or work-in-house, whereas we are more of a technology-enabled marketplace.
Legistify is fundamentally a facilitator of legal services, not an arbitrator. It doesn’t represent its clients. Instead, it adds value by incorporating meaningful technologies at every stage of the legal lifecycle between customers and lawyers.
How does Legistify approach complex legal agreements? What role does technology play in streamlining legal processes?
There are three fundamental tenets of our organisation:
- Discovering the right lawyers
- Affordable pricing
- Use of meaningful technology to solve problems efficiently
We use machine learning algorithms extensively to help profile lawyers registered on the platform, by mapping their entire practice, based on over 15 metrics of performance. As an organisation, we believe that people shouldn’t have to rely on referrals, but rather make informed decisions based on real data and unbiased indicators of performance. Better performing lawyers naturally see higher client volumes.
How are prices/fees standardised across lawyers and services?
We maintain that standardising prices can be made into a win-win for both companies and lawyers on our platform. For the lawyer, it’s the promise of assured business, and for the company, it is reduced pressure on stretched legal budgets.
How do young entrepreneurs enter a competitive space such as yours? How do they deal with high barriers to entry?
Every organisation at every stage, every founder, whether a first-timer or with a proven track record, will face their fair share of barriers. Even in our case, we faced challenges setting up the initial team, convincing lawyers to come on board, and finding new users. Initially, we had to take multiple surveys, engage with potential clients, make cold calls in the hundreds every day, and so on.
And these things never change. Only the scale of the problem changes. Today, we may personally not be making hundreds of calls a day, but the calls we take on a regular basis have become more crucial and have a small margin of error. That is what you discover when you leave college and start something of your own. The struggle is perennial for all entrepreneurial ventures, and perseverance is the only way forward if you want to build something. The idea is to keep trying, no matter the difficulties you face. 7 out of 10 people you meet may not like or even accept your idea, so self-belief is crucial.
What part did your undergraduate experience at BITS play in the ideation and development of Legistify?
So, I’m a Physics + Civil graduate from the 2011 batch, and my college days were some of my most memorable ones. I engaged in various activities, including sports (I was captain of the Athletics team), and was also a part of CEL, where I was exposed to a rich entrepreneurial culture.
It was in 2016 that I worked on a ‘DIY Agreement Drafting Platform’ right out of my hostel room in Pilani, along with a couple of friends. While we received an overwhelmingly positive response, at a certain point, we realised that in order to provide more far-reaching value, we needed a dedicated platform to connect customers and lawyers. That is where the idea for Legistify was born.
What critical skill-sets should young undergraduates equip themselves with, in 2020?
The ability to keep hustling is the most important skill to have. Another important thing to do is read, ask relevant questions and be curious about the world around you. During my time in college, I read quite extensively about the things that interested me. That, along with advice from seniors and meaningful interactions, helped shape who I am and how I go about approaching problems I want to solve.