Founder of Africa's leading film studio speaks to AB2020 about…
Lexware Inc is a leader in innovative technological solutions for the legal profession in Africa. Formed in 2014 by two law students who met in university, it started out as a simple database that had legal cases that they needed for research.
Today, they have a presence in over 15 African countries. The company operates from Harare, Zimbabwe, while servicing and connecting lawyers to clientele from across Africa.
Here, Lexware Inc co-founder Simba Mubvuma tells us more.
Take us back to the beginning, how did Lexware come about?
In 2014, when we were still at university, we started the very first electronic law review for students. Through it, people could find case law and download it too. Along the way, we realised we could do more. My co-founder Blessing Makuni is a self-taught programmer, and he made the first app that had law cases from as far back as 1980.
In truth, this was a project that we did just for fun. Around that time, mobile broadband and the internet really started to pick up in Zimbabwe. That was around 2009-2010. There were SAFLII and ZimLii at the time for statutes and cases, so we got most of the information from there, and also got some free statutes from the Parliament website. We just made the whole project a database of everything legal you needed.
In 2015, we decided to formalise our project and registered our business in Zimbabwe. We also got jobs in law firms, which was a great opportunity because it allowed us to test our tech and develop it with real lawyers.
What does your technology actually do?
If you have ever been to a lawyer’s office, one thing that strikes you first is the number of files that lawyers have on their tables; it’s chaos. So as an example, if a lawyer needs a document within a case file, it would take about three minutes for them to go and search for that particular file in a cabinet and get the document they need. With our tech, it takes you just one second to search for a case on Lexware.
If you calculate and add that up in a year, you can see that you save a lot of billable hours. The same savings apply to what we have done with email, where we have created the capability for lawyers to have in-matter discussions, allowing all email to be on record and integrated in the case file for easy reference. Lawyers sell time, so the big savings in time is what our users pay for. We have also included a client relationship management side to our tech, to ensure that lawyers interact with their clients seamlessly through secure client portals. It’s a new way of lawyer-client interaction. Broadly, our tech makes it possible for lawyers to access their office remotely, allowing for flexible working and liberating lawyers from the traditional law office.
What can you tell us about your users?
Let me just start by saying that the law profession is still very resistant to technology. We currently have over 5000 users across 15 countries in Africa. The age range of our users really reflects the future of the legal profession. The largest user group is between the age of 22-35, with lawyers mainly in the Associate and junior partner level. On the gender of our users, we have about 35% female users which reflects the imbalance in the legal profession in Africa.
We do also have other much older users – our oldest is actually 81, and he practices at a famous law firm called Winterton in Zimbabwe. He is from a crop of professionals who literally pioneered the practice of law in Zimbabwe around 1912 [although there are two other law firms in the country]. It’s exciting that he has embraced the new, and we are pushing for more of this from the older generation. We are also in Kenya, Nigeria, and over 12 other countries in Africa. At the end of the day, we are selling an attitude and a mindset to lawyers. Our vision so far has been driven by word of mouth, referrals and organic marketing, although we are now ramping up our marketing.
Who are your partners?
We have partnered with Law Societies in Africa, creating event apps for events and exhibiting at official events. We have also partnered with Africa Legal, a UK based company that is driving digital learning and professional growth in Africa. We want to invest in more partnerships, and we are looking for organisations that are aligned with what we do.
Tell us about your latest new product, LawBasket…
LawBasket is pretty much Uber for legal services, that’s meant to give young entrepreneurs in Africa seamless access to legal help early in their businesses. On the tech side we have created a legal services marketplace for lawyers across Africa. Basically, if you want something done by a lawyer you can find someone to do it for you through the platform. So you might be in Zimbabwe and you can easily find a lawyer who can register your business in Kenya or give you an opinion on creating business structures for you. We have over 200 different practice areas on the platform, ranging from venture capital and investment law, to B-BEE (South Africa). We also have a solid rating system on the service to ensure that the perception and delivery of legal services are done by customers.
How do you make your money?
We have several revenue streams on LawBasket. Lawyers and clients can register for a free LawBasket account, although with lawyers we undertake a verification process before approving an account. In the near future, we intend to use blockchain technology to make lawyer onboarding much simpler, and more tech driven.
In addition to the free account, lawyers and law firms can subscribe for premium membership which allows them to bid for more jobs or to appear in more searches. We have also given clients the ability to pay a lawyer from anywhere in the world through our escrow service, so we intend to make money by charging a small percentage for every transaction.
On an impact level, we give premium membership to lawyers who offer some pro bono hours on LawBasket to people who meet the criteria for our highly transparent pro bono policy. Lawyers can also get premium membership by providing content on rights awareness and related content, which we intend to post under our LawBasket Knowledge Base to assist clients who might not necessarily have to get a lawyer.
We also plan to build a LawBasket pro bono fund to help those who cannot afford legal services.
Are you looking for investment?
LawBasket will need investment, no doubt – but not now. We are absolutely certain that we can experience high growth. Just in a day, we managed to get over 150 lawyer signups from just one LinkedIn post. We just need to drive an Africa-wide client onboarding drive, and this might require investment within 12 months of launch. As of now, we haven’t felt the need to look for money, there is work to be done. We need to build, and that’s what we are doing. We built Lexware this way, we can do it with LawBasket.
What’s been the reaction from the industry to Lexware Inc as a disruptor?
Through our original work with Lexware, we have had a lot of love from law firms who now appreciate our tech as a game changer for law firms. With LawBasket, it seems that a lot of people think that we are fighting law firms, and that we want to replace them. But this is not an Airbnb Vs Marriott fight. We aim to create the law firm of the future, and the work needs to start now. We are also making the law a commodity; making it possible for lawyers to deliver and for clients to access services online. We want people to buy legal services online, the same way they have been buying clothes or shoes online. We don’t know if the profession is ready, but we need to start.
Who else is a part of your team?
The Lexware team is made up of Morton Mabumbo, who is in charge of managing the LawBasket product, he is one of our Finance guys at Lexware. We also have Destiny Samukange, who has been leading our development efforts. We also have a digital marketer, and co-founder Blessing Makuni is on board as well. I’m a lawyer and I focus on compliance and fighting the regulatory battles that will undoubtedly come with this.
What do you think Africa is going to look like by next year, in 2020?
African tech companies are now at the forefront of building the tech companies of the future to tackle the continent’s challenges in healthcare, financial services and legal services delivery, and I see this growth continuing next year.
This time next year, I think we will be closer than ever to a truly African unicorn. With what young people are doing up and down Africa, I really think Nairobi or Lagos can become very huge tech ecosystems on a global stage.
For LegalTech companies, the growth will continue. We know that in 2018 legal tech investment tripled, and billionaires are throwing their money behind disrupting the legal profession in the same way that Fintech has disrupted financial services.
I also really think that in 2020, LawBasket will be signing big cheques with investors, because of the impact that we will have in the next few months.