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Cyril Amarchand sets up incubator to mentor 3-4 legal tech start-ups to help both firm and ecosystem

While no money would change hands, it could provide access to funding

CAM says it aims to boost legal tech for benefit of entire Indian legal ecosystem
CAM says it aims to boost legal tech for benefit of entire Indian legal ecosystem

Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas is setting up a legal technology incubator in Delhi to entice three to four startups “that have the potential to meet real-world challenges” to be mentored by the firm, as first reported by Mint.

According to CAM’s press release, it would work with “young entrepreneurs to come up with new technologies” in areas relating to access to justice , dispute resolution, transaction efficiencies, law firm operations, legal research, compliance, contract management and managing legal talent.

Being accepted into the incubator is not currently intended to entail any financial contribution from the law firm to the start-ups, but CAM managing partner Cyril Shroff told us: “We have an open mind to it [providing financial support], but main thing we want to bring to them is intellectual help, and bring them in touch with financial backers.”

Once a start-up and idea was selected and effectively endorsed by CAM, he predicted, funding from VCs or other players would follow.

In a space like legal tech, real world testing with real lawyers and data can be invaluable, though it is something that most legal tech start-ups realise they need to set up on their own sooner or later, entering into working partnerships or beta testing arrangements with practising professionals.

Nevertheless, if it works out and can attract promising start-ups in the space - which has started growing in India in the last few years, as documented in our feature on AI last year - it’s a smart play from CAM, both from a marketing perspective and a way of integrating technology more deeply into its systems.

Shroff said that the project, dubbed Prarambh, which means “new beginning”, was about more than just helping the firm. “We will co-design it [incubated software], and we’ll definitely get preferential access to it, but that’s not the driver. We’re not doing it only for CAM, but doing it for the legal market, the legal technology market.”

“If they [legal start-ups] are not commercialiseable, we will not back them,” he added, answering how these products would become accessible to the wider market.

Prarambh is part of CAM’s “innovation lab” Vichaar, which is headed by Komal Gupta, who joined as head artificial intelligence and innovation in May 2017 from Integreon, where she had worked for nine years after time spent at several other legal process outsourcers (LPOs).

In January 2017, CAM made headlines for being the first Indian firm to sign up with Kira - an entry-level contracts legal AI system from Canada that would assist in contract analysis.

Gupta explained that the innovation lab was mostly an internal initative, split into two parts: “One is technology enabled services, two is driving the culture of innovation in the firm, empowering all the people in the firm.”

This included running an “innovation week” at CAM in December, which included the most junior office staff to senior equity partners who together contributed 160 ideas on further technology integration into the firm. Six or seven ideas were selected, explained Shroff, with winning contributors given a “nice iPad”.

Prarambh is currently based in Delhi, but would expand to Bangalore. Companies would be shortlisted by July. CAM was currently identifying a space in the offices that would be purely for incubated companies, which would “look different” from the rest of the firm, said Shroff. “It will have lots of whiteboards and post-its and meeting rooms and places where they [incubated companies] can interact with our experts” and “outside mentors”, some of whom would be permanent parts of the incubator.

Indian legal tech: Growing up fast?

Along similar lines of CAM’s Prarambh project, the first biennial “Agami Prize” was awarded in December 2018 in India for “innovations and entrepreneurial initiatives that can exponentially increase quality, effectiveness, access, and inclusion in and around law and justice”.

Agami was jointly set up by a consortium of organisations and individuals, including one of India’s earliest legal entrepreneurs, Sachin Malhan, who had started or co-founded Law School Tutorials, Rainmaker and Inclusive Planet.

“It’s a really welcome initiative,” Malhan commented about Prarambh, but added: “What is important is that we ground the work that is done in the realities and needs of this country. We need to be in touch with that and that’s always a challenge. The learning component and the actual user engagement component will become critical to really make an impact.”

“When we look at ecosystem building, that we identify all stakeholders who really have a voice and who can be useful, and that their voice gets factored into what gets created,” he said, calling legal tech and India right now an “interesting environment”.

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