Leeds bids to rival London for lawtech as ABSs thrive

Leeds: Growth ambitions

Leeds is poised to become a lawtech innovation powerhouse, according to a report saying there is competition building for established practices among non-traditional providers of legal services.

The Leeds legal tech and innovation report, observed that 28 of the UK’s top 100 law firms were based in city, generating some £1bn a year.

Firms supporting the report included Addleshaw Goddard, Pinsent Masons, Shoosmiths, Eversheds Sutherland and DAC Beachcroft.

It claimed that lawyers and tech experts were present in similar numbers to those in London and that the digital sector in Yorkshire had grown by almost 50% in the last three years. Nine universities in the region produced about one in seven of the country’s law graduates between them.

The report said: “Competitive pressures are building in the sector for established law firms, especially from non-law firm providers of legal services, many of which are prominent in Leeds
City region.”

The most prominent disruptor brand in the Leeds region was litigation and commercial law firm rradar, which has a subscription-based business model led by former DLA lawyer Gary Gallen.

There were also a number of debt recovery-focused alternative business structures (ABSs) in Leeds and three of the Big Four accountants – Deloitte Legal, EY Law and KPMG – were “increasingly active” and had a “strong presence” in the region.

In addition, there were several of what the report described as “notable firms” operating in the legal services sector, such as multi-disciplinary ABS Alpaca and Entrepreneurial Lawyer, run by lawtech entrepreneur Chrissie Lightfoot.

Ms Lightfoot told an online seminar introducing the report it was essential for Leeds to have a joined-up business plan approach to boosting the region’s lawtech credentials, involving all stakeholders, including universities, local government, law firms, SMEs and lawtech specialists.

She added that it was difficult for smaller companies and law firms to find the money to invest in tech, made worse by the fact that lawtech providers had focused mainly on the larger business market.

She said: “We need a legal tech ecosystem where developers are developing for SME, mid-sized law firms as well as SME businesses…

“It’s a huge opportunity… The legal sector has been very slow in adopting lawtech… Most law firms have been muddling through at best… Funding and investment are the biggest challenges that we all face to move forward.”

Nick Emmerson, the president of Leeds Law Society, said: “Leeds is the UK centre of excellence for legal services outside of London, and this report highlights the region’s strengths across the legal sector.

“Exponential changes with technology, communications, data and algorithms mean we are now experiencing revolutionary change in the legal industry, and the Leeds legal offering is responding and leading the change in many areas.”

In 2018, Sheffield held a major tech conference as part of an effort to position itself as the most lawtech-friendly Northern city.

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