Launching a new company in the midst of a global pandemic might be too risky for some, but Ryerson University wants to help develop promising international early stage legal tech startups with its new program.
The Toronto-based school’s Legal Innovation Zone is currently accepting applicants for its latest legal tech entrepreneur program, Sprint Studio. It’s a free, web-based 12-week program that provides customer development skills and helps participants build a legal tech idea into a product, explained LIZ director Hersh Perlis.
The program is set to begin in September with a weekly online course focused on developing skills to create a product for a notoriously tech-averse market base. The program will also provide access to legal tech and general tech startup entrepreneur mentors, Perlis noted.
Sprint Studio is an extension of last year‘s Concept Framework and Sprint Lab programs, which were international spinoffs of Ryerson’s original incubator Legal Innovation Zone launched in 2015. Concept Framework and Sprint Lab brought Legal Innovation Zone to international early stage legal companies, Perlis noted. Sprint Studio, however, is geared toward legal tech companies that are further along in development, although a product isn’t required.
“You need a minimum valuable plan,” Perlis said of potential applicants. “You have to have more than a thought, and you have to be serious about starting a company in legal tech. This isn’t, ‘Oh I think I have an idea, it may work.’ That was more Concept Framework.”
Similar to must incubators, Sprint Studio is looking for applicants that pitch a unique idea that has a solid potential market base and founders that believe in the idea.
While much of the legal industry is still reluctant to adopt technology, Perlis argued that new legal technology is likely to succeed when it automates or streamlines a service a lawyer can’t or is difficult to charge a client for.
Still, “there’s a whole bigger question about legal tech and servicing law firms and the dichotomy of being more cost-efficient and the billable hour, which unfortunately hampers legal tech,” Perlis said.
Despite the stigma that lawyers are reluctant to embrace technology, budding legal tech companies are finding various international outlets to help break into the market.
Like Ryerson, universities have also become a haven for legal tech business development. Duke Law Tech Lab’s pre-accelerator program, for example, helps companies weather startup and legal tech-specific hurdles. Law schools are also encouraging students to develop legal tech entrepreneurial skills at Suffolk University Law School, Cornell Law School and Hofstra University, among others.
Law firms are also launching incubator programs for legal tech companies, including India-based Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, which in May graduated its first group of legal tech companies from its development program. Legal tech startups can also find mentoring opportunities in the Big Four, with PwC announcing its second class of incubator participants in May after launching its program in 2019. While PwC was the first of the Big Four to start a legal tech incubator, Deloitte also launched a similar program in December 2019.