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#LegalTechLives with Stevie Ghiassi, CEO of Legaler
Stevie’s list of accomplishments is long. He is the son of a famous athlete and played professional tennis himself. He is immersed in Australia’s legaltech community and wants to use technology to help billions. And Legaler has ventured into a Token Generation Event, aka an ICO — and he tells us all about it.
Stevie Ghiassi is the CEO and co-founder of Legaler.com, an Australian legal technology company focused on advancing the delivery of legal services and expanding access to justice through the blockchain. He is also the host of the LegalMeets podcast, showcasing global legal industry thought leaders and a co-founder of ALTA — Australian Legal Technology Association.
First off, as we e-speak today, it is 47C in Sydney, AU and (feels like) -47C here in Montreal, CA. Do you have a logical explanation as to why we live in such places?
If it wasn’t already apparent, as Australians we generally try to proliferate as much anxiety-inducing propaganda as possible in order to keep people away from our idyllic island paradise. Killer great white sharks, deadly spiders and snakes, dingos stealing innocent babies, that sort of thing. So surface-of-the-sun temperatures are just another ruse to keep everyone away. But we really like Canadians so don’t let any of that stop you from visiting! Unfortunately, halfway between Sydney and Montreal will land us in the Pacific Ocean so there’s no perfect middle ground between the extreme heat and cold! I live 50 metres from the water on beautiful Bondi Beach so I know why I’m here (and how to cool down!).
You have a diverse background. Tell me about your journey to Legaler. What were the key moments of your professional life that led you to today?
I grew up idolizing my father who was both a famous athlete, captaining the national football team, and an extremely successful entrepreneur. That inspired me to pursue a career as a professional athlete and I was fortunate to be able to travel the world playing tennis until my early 20s. Four shoulder surgeries later I had to find a real job and together with my father we built a retail group to over $40m annual turnover across a diverse range of industries. When we saw how the internet was going to disrupt retail we turned our focus to building software and like many startup ideas, Legaler was born out of the shortcomings of our own experiences in navigating the legal system and working with lawyers in our prior software startups. Armed with the fresh perspective of non-lawyers, we instantly saw a great opportunity to change the way lawyers and clients worked together. That led to Legaler.
It could be just me, but I don’t automatically associate Australia with legaltech. What is the scene like there? What has been the biggest “hit” so far?
We may be far away from the action geographically, but we punch well above our weight when it comes to innovation in the legal world. Slater and Gordon was the first law firm in the world to become a public company, and long before LegalZoom, a platform called Incorporator was establishing companies online in minutes (albeit their website still looks like it’s from 1998!). Christian Beck, best known as the founder of Leap Legal, a back-office solution, recently raised $350 million to grow both Leap and his latest venture InfoTrack, which provides a suite of tools for personal, property and company searches for the legal industry. That’s a pretty significant round and possibly the largest ever legal technology funding event! The next two most prominent startups are perhaps LawPath, an online document and lawyer marketplace, and LegalVision, a technology-enabled online legal services provider. So I would say the future is pretty bright for Australian legal tech… we’re just extremely modest and humble!
You mentioned you will be embarking on an ICO shortly. Why an ICO? What do you hope to gain? What is the process like? Tell us everything!
Legaler’s vision has always been to empower lawyers to better serve their clients. Our first step into the market was our online meeting tool, which is now being used in over 80 countries, to help lawyers meet their clients more easily and securely. We’re now ready to take the next step in our mission by leveraging the power of blockchain technology to create a cryptocurrency for the global legal industry. Through a Token Generation Event (a more legally friendly term than Initial Coin Offering) we’re able to raise funds via a crowdsale rather than traditional venture capital. This means we are more engaged and responsible to our users and community as opposed to a handful of investors for equity.
The Legaler token combined with the benefits of distributed ledger technology open up a whole new world of possibilities and go a long way in solving many of the issues faced by the current legal system. As an example, the Legaler platform will use AI to match lawyers and clients in a global marketplace whilst allowing them to transact instantly via tokens without paying any commission or fees; something that is only possible through decentralized technology. With decentralization also comes the need for more secure digital identification and we are currently working with law schools and law societies on Legaler ID, a way to issue and maintain legal certifications and identity on the blockchain, putting an end to lawyer fraud i.e. no more Mike Ross [from the TV show Suits]!
Within the Legaler ecosystem, lawyers will be able to earn and spend their Legaler tokens, which are easily and immediately tradable for local currencies, through features like a global legal network which includes recruiting, a referral network and even a CLE marketplace. Lawyers and developers will also be able to buy and sell smart contracts in a collaborative marketplace, letting them set rewards for code review and bug bounties to ensure due diligence is carried out on their work. These are just some of the possibilities but at the heart of the token utility is something we hope becomes the greatest access to justice movement ever. More on that below.
That sounds absolutely fascinating. And makes perfect sense.
I know you’ve just started ALTA — Australian Legal Technology Association. What motivated you to do so?
Like most great Australian ideas, ALTA was conceived over a cold alcoholic beverage (I think we’ve hit the quota for Aussie cliches now) amongst legal industry colleagues looking for a community to share ideas and knowledge. In hindsight, it was very surprising that with all the legal innovation Australia has produced, there was no formal association or community. Through a series of informal catch-ups the group quickly grew from month to month and gained momentum thanks to the energy of Jodie Baker, founder of in-house counsel software Xakia, who was very instrumental in bringing together like-minded people that were passionate about building game-changing legal tech.
It was a very organic start, mostly founders sharing their war stories, which I think was something very rare in the startup world and it allowed everyone to really bond. We quickly realized that there were more people just like ourselves yearning to be a part of an engaged and informed legal tech community and so ALTA was born. Thanks to our early sponsors we will start by hosting a series of demo days featuring some of the best local startup talent showcasing their technology in rapid-fire presentations. Judging by the immense interest so far, ALTA has a bright future and will hopefully help foster further innovation across the broader industry.
What do you think this year will hold for legaltech? Read some tea leaves and reveal what you see!
I truly believe that 2017 was a watershed year for legal technology in the sense that law firms and lawyers finally put their hands up and gave in to technology being their fate!
Products like ROSS and Clio have played a big part in educating firms as to the benefits and efficiencies that can be gained from implementing great technology and have for example helped shift conversations from ‘if I should use the cloud’ to ‘how should I manage my risk in the cloud?’
2018 will still belong to AI and blockchain, much like last year, but will see exponential adoption, naturally by the larger firms initially. It will also be the year that the two technologies merge to bring new capabilities along with AI starting to become more and more like electricity, omnipresent but invisible, throughout many existing offerings. 2018 should see smart contracts going mainstream conceptually but most likely to see practical, real-world solutions the following year.
Finally, it will be the year that law firms start accepting Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies for payment more widely. You can mark my words on that!
We talk a lot about access to justice on this blog. How does Legaler fit in?
One of the driving forces behind our token crowdsale and possibly the part that I’m most passionate and excited about is Legaler Aid, a first of its kind legal crowdfunding platform for the disadvantaged. Currently, over 4 billion people, the majority of the world’s population, live outside of the rule of law and access to justice. It’s a massive problem.
The vision for Legaler Aid is a completely decentralized charitable entity that runs on smart contracts over a blockchain, allowing social justice legal cases to be crowdfunded via tax-deductible donations and shared on social media. Lawyers are then matched with the cases, earning Legaler tokens for their work along with reward points for any pro bono work. This has the potential to create a tectonic shift in the access to justice movement because it matches underutilized resources from both side, lawyers that are eager for work and to help, with funds that are currently sitting on the sidelines.
Decentralized technology solves many of the key problems that charities face like high administration cost, transparency and accountability, making it the perfect solution for Legaler Aid’s grand vision. We’re beyond excited about this.
“With all this in mind, along with the arrival of quantum computing, I believe a lawyer’s ‘toolbox’ will consist predominantly of tools that facilitate digital forensics and allow AI like ROSS to assist lawyers in their decision making through providing intelligent insights beyond human capabilities.”
What do you think a lawyer’s “toolbox” will look like in 10 years? Find those tea leaves again!
Amara’s Law suggests that “we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” Basically, a lot of the things we’re excited about right now like smart contracts, machine learning, AI, etc. will take some time to mature but will be completely indispensable down the track.
I think it’s also important to note that lawyers will not be working on the same practice areas in 10 years time. More nascent areas of law will have emerged and matured into more specialized disciplines like genetics, AI, virtual reality, autonomous technology, and blockchain or smart contract law to name a few, including others we cannot foresee right now.
With all this in mind, along with the arrival of quantum computing, I believe a lawyer’s ‘toolbox’ will consist predominantly of tools that facilitate digital forensics and allow AI like ROSS to assist lawyers in their decision making through providing intelligent insights beyond human capabilities. In other words, human lawyers will be working hand in hand with ‘robo-lawyers’ but adding value in areas that require emotional intelligence like managing relationships, empathy and creativity. Document generation will also be of a completely different nature involving smart contracts and requiring platforms sitting atop of blockchains that pull live data from IoT and integrate cryptocurrencies. And of course, most interactions will be virtual in nature and will require Legaler for collaboration!
And finally, the question we ask everyone: What is one non-work related thing not yet invented you’d like right now?
I get the feeling that everyone from my generation instantly thinks of hoverboards. Not sure why! We will all probably be so jaded when they actually arrive because we’ll be too old and daggy to ride them. I guess we’ll have to wait until Elon is done sending rockets to space and building underground tunnels. What I would personally love to have invented is the remote control from the Adam Sandler movie ‘Click’. It would be great to rewind and pause certain moments in life just like you do with your digital TV. Things seems to move too fast already so I don’t think I would need the fast forward function too often, unless I was sifting through tedious legal research without using ROSS!
Well said! This has been fascinating, Stevie. Thank you for your time and your very insightful answers — and best of luck with everything!
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