City firm launches lawtech start-up incubator

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17 January 2017

West: incubator will help make firm more comfortable with technology

Leading London law firm and alternative business structure Mishcon de Reya yesterday announced the creation of an incubator for lawtech start-ups, with the founder saying it was as much about helping to change the firm’s culture to embrace technology as investment.

Mishcon’s chief strategy officer, Nick West, said MDR Lab – set up in conjunction with start-up and tech investment fund L Marks – was aimed at “making us more comfortable with working with technology”.

He added that he expected a team from the firm would work closely with the start-ups selected.

Lawtech start-ups with innovations that could “help [Mishcon] lawyers make sense” of litigation, “streamline transactions”, or “help it run its business” will be invited to apply to join the programme by 12 March. A ‘wildcard’ category covers everything else.

After pitches, winners will receive mentoring from the 325-solicitor firm for 10 weeks, starting in May. Mentors “will include legal and business experts from [Mishcons], entrepreneurs and external subject-matter experts”.

While bespoke “early-stage investment” terms will be agreed before the programme begins, along with the equity share to be taken by the firm, decisions on investments will be finalised at the end in July.

Speaking to Legal Futures, Mr West said: “We’re a business like any other business. We’ve got to think about how technology is changing the world around us.

“My inspiration was Silicon Valley, the way that tech is changing pretty much everything that we do on a day-to-day basis. If we want to be a firm that is still doing well in 2025, if we don’t get serious about how technology is changing things then we have no hope.

“That applies to everybody who is a business; everybody in the legal space.”

He said the objective was integrating tech innovation into the firm: “I felt strongly that it’s not just about investing, it’s about learning how to work with start-ups.

“We are a firm that focuses very heavily on growth companies… so rather than simply go and push money into external companies, why don’t we bring them into the business?

“Why don’t we have a team of people from Mishcon working with a team of people from a particular technology company and have them co-create something for a period of time – and do it in a structured way?…

“It’s all about culture change. The people working on the coalface have got to like technology [and] buy into it… [Rather than] simply an accelerator or an investment fund, it’s about getting us more comfortable with working with technology, and bringing technology into our business.”

Mr West said that he was using the “language of research and development” within the firm, which meant “every individual getting a bit more techie than they are and a few people in each department being real techie innovators”.

More generally, he said “the impact of machine learning technology” on all industries was accelerating: “Therefore if you are a firm that is not spending some of your time seriously thinking about what that means for you – and it presumably means different things for different firms – then I think you are probably missing something. I don’t want us to be one of those firms.”

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