Law firm spins out employment advice AI into standalone business

Monaco: The law is not owned by lawyers

An employment law advice service powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and now spun out of a London law firm is looking to team up with unions, charities and advice centres.

Grapple founder Alex Monaco argued that “the law is not owned by lawyers” and that “you’ve got to disrupt yourself or someone else will”.

Grapple allows users to track their workplace grievances, assesses whether they have a case and helps write legal letters to employers.

It is the brainchild of London firm Monaco Solicitors, which calls itself the largest employment law practice in the country that only works for claimants and in recent years created its Virtual Lawyer service.

In 2020, it received a £99,000 grant from government-backed Innovate UK, to develop the service to provide representation to people whose employment rights were infringed during the pandemic. The following year, it won the Law Society award for excellence in technology and innovation/

Mr Monaco said he was in advanced talks with unions, charities and advice centres to license the technology and offer it to their members and users, and “level the playing field” with employers who have HR and lawyers to back them.

Workers can try it for free but a premium version is also in the pipeline, while he said he was open to white labelling Grapple for other law firms.

It covers all types of employment law. “That’s why it was so difficult to build… and why you had to be a law firm and tech company rolled into one,” he said.

He trained for a year in data science “just to understand how to approach it” and after receiving the grant teamed up separately with Surrey University and Imperial College London as part of the development process. He has created a data science team as well.

Mr Monaco explained that his law firm could not accept most of the 100 new enquiries it received each day because they were too low value to make them worth doing on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis and the potential claimants could not afford to pay a solicitor hundreds of pounds an hour.

“So they just throw a brick through the boss’s window instead,” he observed.

“My philosophy is that the law is not owned by lawyers – not by anyone. If you’re located in this country, you’re entitled to the benefit of the law… I got into law to make a difference.”

Mr Monaco acknowledged that he was potentially cannibalising the law firm’s work. “I believe you’ve got to disrupt yourself or someone else will. There’ll always be employment law work… there’s a huge latent market. Most people don’t go to lawyers because they scare them.”

There was, he added, “a real lack of expertise in the employment law field”, estimating that the large majority of the 6,000 employment lawyers nationally acted for employers.

He said it has taken some time for the service to take off “but now people are clamouring for it”; as a result, “we’ve rebranded and spun it out” of the law firm. He is looking to organise a funding round to back the next iteration.

Grapple drafts the workplace grievance letter and provides an advice note on the user’s legal rights and how to enforce them. Users can also produce a ‘without prejudice’ letter to negotiate an out-of-court settlement and draft the ET1 grounds of claim, along with various letters in between.

In future, it will produce key documents needed for a tribunal hearing, such as a schedule of loss and witness statements. “Maybe one day” users could be prompted for the arguments to put during a hearing, Mr Monaco forecast.

He was also building human advice into the system, such as comments on letters. At the moment, it points users to Monaco but the solicitor said he wanted to broaden that out to other firms.

The state of the economy, with large numbers of redundancies, meant Grapple was needed more than ever: “In this kind of market, it’s where people do get discriminated against, victimised and so on – it’s times like now that something like Grapple is going to really make a difference.”

The solicitor added that he had global ambitions. “Why stop here?” he asked. “Lots of countries out there have unions and workforces that need support.”

Mr Monaco argued that this was not AI replacing people. “All it’s doing is something that’s currently not being done. It’s saving people’s jobs.”

Also, ‘Gen Z’ wanted to be able to handle matters this way: “They’d rather order an Uber than ring a minicab. I think they’re ready [to take advice from an app] and it’s going to filter upwards from them.”

He was also confident about the risk of the AI providing negligence advice. “That’s where it comes in handy having the biggest claimant employment law firm in the UK. We have a big team of lawyers on it – it’s constantly being reviewed, revised and updated as the law changes.”

Around 10 people work on Grapple, with Monaco Solicitors employing 30.

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