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The founders of new South African attorney-to-client match-making platform LexNove have been involved in a couple of online legal-oriented ventures in the past few years. But it was only after quitting their day jobs that the two former attorneys, Kyle Torrington and Andrew Taylor, launched LexNove to focus all their energy on shaking up legal services to SMEs.
Likened to a blend of Uber and matchmaking app Tinder — but for legal services — the Johannesburg-based startup was launched in June this year and aims to provide fixed prices and high-quality legal services to SMEs.
After submitting a description of your legal problem (issue) on LexNove, you’ll receive a free, early-case assessment by qualified legal professionals. A panel of pre-vetted attorney service providers then bid for your case, by submitting fixed-priced proposals.
Once the proposals have been received, you may then decide which service provider is best suited for your specific needs.
Other ventures launched by the pair include BailMeOut — a platform allowing people to request legal assistance with a bail application 24/7 — and Virtual Trade Marks, a portal where people can register their businesses’ trademarks.
Though some of these ventures have been regarded as successful, they were still under the ownership of Torrington and Taylor’s previous law firm. It was only until Virtual Trade Marks received massive traction that they mustered up the courage to put their careers and savings on the line and fund LexNove. The company was thus launched independently of the pair’s previous law firm after Torrington and Taylor have resigned.
“We’ve been cutting down on lifestyle expenses to the degree of surviving on Frisko and baked beans,” said Taylor in a recent interview.
With the aim of disrupting the attorney landscape, the first pain point the startup is trying to tackle is expensive hourly rates. The entrepreneurs point out that when most SME owners walk into an attorney’s office, they have no idea whether they’ll be charged R5 000 or R50 000. This is why the startup’s model only allows for fixed-price proposals to come through.
The company is also trying to help clients overcome the complicated tasks of sourcing legal services. Taylor pointed out that the general public has no idea of how to source a quality attorney:
They’ll go to their mother who can get them in touch with a family law attorney who helped her with divorce four years earlier. This is obviously not an attorney who’s suited to the specific legal query [an SME] needs to address.
Apart from incorporating an Uber-like rate and review feature that helps keep checks and balances over LexNove’s service providers, the pair also said that they’re very selective about the applying attorneys.
“We reject probably about 80% of the applicants,” noted Torrington. LexNove currently has about 35 firms on its platform, which the startup says is growing every week.
Tapping into the SME market
South Africa’s economy places a heavy burden on its SMEs. The country’s National Development Plan intends for 11 million jobs to be created by 2030, mainly through the support of SMEs. Addressing expensive and complicated legal issues seems like a step in the right direction to support some of these businesses.
Taylor believes that there’s a massive gap in addressing SME’s legal concerns and their ability to afford high-quality legal advice, worth an estimated R12.6-billion in South Africa. The Ignitor Accelerator Programme graduate also labels the status quo a “broken system”:
I attended a startup awards evening where the seed investment available was R500 000. Two of the five participating startups had fundamental legal roadblocks that they could not cure and were destructive of their business models.
Given both founders’ experience in commercial law, LexNove is currently focusing on servicing SMEs and other corporates, but will expand into other areas as it grows. The platform is built to scale and might look to other Commonwealth markets to expand.
Unlike Torrington and Taylor’s other ventures, the complexity and security requirements of the LexNove site forced them to outsource development to a local agency, FGX Studios, in return for equity. Sourcing developers has been the founders’ biggest obstacle.
The co-founder added that the biggest learning curve so far had been getting used to the rollercoaster up-and-downs of startup life:
One day you’re sitting on the top of the world when you’ve got an awesome project brief posted on the website, and then the next day you’ll be right in the doldrums of tears, wondering what you’re doing. This obviously didn’t exist with the previous startups when we were still employed by law firms where we could essentially accept failure because we still had our day jobs. Failure simply isn’t an option with LexNove.
The founders’ previous experience with entrepreneurial ventures made them realise the need for niche innovation. This need is particularly prevalent in an industry such as law, which Taylor jokingly remarked, hadn’t seen any real innovation since the judicial wig was abandoned.