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Trilegal-backed Agami, CAM’s incubator pick potential ‘GitHub for law’ & corp legal tech winners for wider benefits

Agami Jury at Trilegal offices deliberates legal tech that will change the world (with chips)
Agami Jury at Trilegal offices deliberates legal tech that will change the world (with chips)

Much like nearly every other industry, technology has been threatening to eat the world, if not lawyers’ lunches, though most action has been happening overseas.

However, two domestic legal tech ecosystem initiatives - legal technology non-profit Agami, which has seen funding from law firm Trilegal; and Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas’ legal technology incubation platform Prarambh - have recently separately selected a total of eight start-ups and organisations that they would mentor over the coming months.

Coincidentally, both had been publicly launched around the same time last year, as we had reported back then; both had also announced their selection of sponsored organisations last Wednesday in separate press releases within hours of each other.

Apart from timing, the two legal tech initiatives also have a lot of other things in common, though they are not identical.

For starters, in Agami’s case, each of the five winners of the “data for justice challenge”, will see cash awards of between Rs 12 to 40 lakh, with the backing of some major philanthropic cash, plus a two- to three-year engagement.

Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas’ initiative does not see any direct cash infusion from the firm and is focused more on the corporate law end, so far and in line with its parent firm’s business, and envisages a six-month mentorship stage.

We have spoken to people at both and explained what they have done and hope to achieve.

Agami project’s second prize

This is Agami’s third award in the space: its inaugural “Agami prize” had rewarded innovators in the space with cash awards; its first initiative had focused on mentoring in the electronic alternative dispute resolution (ADR), and was supported by ICICI.

Correction 17 October 2019: The initially published story had started that the ADR prize had a cash component and less mentoring. That was incorrect and the error is regretted.

The latest challenge of Agami, which operates as a Chapter 8 company, had a fund of Rs 1 crore and was proposed in May 2019, inviting applicants to solve issues relating to enabling access to data relating to the legal system.

The particular vision is to create a “web-based, collaborative hub” that would “enable researchers, civil society organisations, journalists, lawyers and students to share data with the wider ecosystem, enable the credibility and comparability of diverse data sets, and build the capacity for a responsible data-driven future for systems of law and justice”, according to Agami.

Other organisations would be asked to pledge to share share datasets and information relating to law and justice on the hub.

Agami co-founded Supriya Sankaran called the plan a “GitHub equivalent for law and justice”, referencing the open-source software and code repository bought by Microsoft in 2018. The hub would be “leveraging latent resources that exist within the community” and “envision creating a public highway for a wide range of users—civil society organisations, journalists, students, researchers, etc—to use towards improving transparency, accountability and efficiency”.

The money for the corpus of the fund came from Agami, which has in turn been funded by Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies and Trilegal, which also assisted with office space and other logistical support.

Structured pricing

Agami envisaged a two-prong approach in the prize, with one awardee needing to create a website that would be used by all the other prize winners. The brief: to create a “hub as a public good that will combine technology with design to encourage users to share, build upon and co-create law and justice data”.

The winner selected by Agami to create such a hub was CivicDataLab, which has previously created Open Budgets India and uses “data, tech, design and social science to strengthen the course of civic engagements in India harnessing the potential of open-source movement”.

The organisation will receive Rs 40 lakh from Agami for the project.

The tech company and Agami would work together to “create a vibrant Hub for the law and justice community in India”. CivicDataLab director Gaurav Godhwani said in a statement: “We envisage this hub will foster more data-driven decision making and facilitate making justice more open, accessible and actionable for everyone.”

4 winners to populate the hub with data

The second track in Agami’s award requires applicants to commit to populating this newly-created hub with datasets in law and justice.

Four organisations were eventually selected out of the 50 applicants, of which seven were shortlisted for a jury that met on 4 October at Trilegal’s offices (the jury consisted of Trilegal partner Rahul Matthan; Shuttleworth Foundation fellow and AccessIBSA Project convenor Achal Prabhala; Anjali Bhardwaj (co-convenor of NCPRI and founder of Satarknagrik Sangathan); Sandeep Sinha (managing partner of investment firm Lumis Partners); and Sitansu Sekhar Mahapatra (new media and communication professional associated with the Open Government Data Initiative of India and National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy).

Each of the following winners picked by that jury will get between Rs 12 to 15 lakh:

  • National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) to work on contract enforcement data set (“a robust contract enforcement regime is critical for sustaining healthy business activity... and hope to make significant contributions towards figuring out how to improve contract enforcement in India”, as per the organisation’s Devendra Damle),
  • Project 39A at National Law University Delhi (which we have reported on extensively in the past) to work on a death penalty sentencing data set,
  • Haq Centre for Child Rights (HAQ), which is a well-known child rights NGO, to work on a child protection law implementation tracker, and
  • IGIDR Finance Research Group (IGIDR) to work on company-level litigation data set.

For this initiative Agami said it envisioned “a multi-year engagement” of “at least 2-3 years with the teams”.

Trilegal’s Matthan added in the press release: “I’ve always believed that we need to leverage data if we are to have any hope of finding solutions to our justice delivery problems. The Agami Data for Justice Challenge is a great way to catalyze this by creating a repository for justice data.”

The Data for Justice Challenge also included:

  • NLU Delhi’s Centre for Constitutional Law, Policy and Governance (CLPG) as “expert partner”,
  • impact VC Omidyar Network India as “thought partner”, and
  • social innovation network Ashoka, as a collaborator.

Prarambh by CAM

Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas’ initiative has a similar focus but different ambitions, though it has seen no less interest with 51 applicants for the selection of its first corpus of companies that it would mentor, announced last week.

The three organisations selected as its first cohort are:

  • JRTC Intern (a “talent management platform that connects pre-qualified law students with internship opportunities at law firms, advocate offices and corporates”),
  • Leegality (an electronic signing and “digital document workflow platform that enables enterprises to digitise and automate document signing and provides e-stamp papers”), and
  • LegalMind (an artificial intelligence based legal research play, aiming to incorporate research and analytics about judgments).

Each of these has got one CAM partner assigned as a “lead mentor”, and usually also a second partner as a co-mentor, who will assist those companies with day-to-day legal issues and strategy, spending potentially significant time with them.

The collaboration was envisaged to last six months, said private client partner Rishabh Shroff, who has been co-managing Prarambh, though the firm wouldn’t just “end suddenly” in its collaboration and the timelines could vary. “We’re still going to work on that... even after a whole six months, we’ll continue to engage with them and they could become vendors of CAM... But for each of these three there will be a distinct answer to what’ll happen after those six months.”

While there would be no financial element, CAM’s Prarambh mentorship would give companies access to a separate access-controlled office space in its Delhi Saket office, on which the firm had spent Rs 40 lakh in getting ready, according to head of innovation, Komal Gupta, who co-manages Prarambh with Shroff.

Different strokes

“It’s a secluded area from rest of office, a separate space, and has everything within the premises: meeting rooms, cafeteria, and 12 work stations, plus a lounge area,” she said about the area that could be used by the start-ups to work in or hold meetings with investors. “That is all covered in that one space, in one dedicated vault.”

The support CAM would provide to the companies would differ. “All of the businesses are in different stages,” said Shroff. “The most advanced and most commercial would be Leegality, they have ongoing business with in-house banks and have incoming revenue streams. The kind of input is more intellectual and more deeper on the legal side.” (Leegality has more than 200 clients, according to the press release).

JRTC, Shroff said, had already launched but was at an earlier stage, so advice would extend to “getting the business model right, getting relationships with law firms set up”, so it was “more or less a ground up incubation”.

LegalMind was “somewhere in the middle” and currently in beta testing, and would benefit from CAM’s experience in having worked with AI products such as Kira (which CAM had signed up with in 2017), said Shroff.

(Gupta explained LegalMind as “research with analytics”. “They’re using AI to do prediction to give you the best precedents applicable to your search, to let you know what is a negatively treated case or positively, either way, to let you know the prediction of an outcome of a case, what it will be. Basically reading the mind of a judge, and to do analytics on the precedent and see patterns.”)

By CAM but not just for CAM

But eventually Prarambh is not just about or for CAM, the firm made clear (although a natural conclusion is that CAM also hopes to benefit in terms of marketing itself to clients as being at the cutting edge of domestic legal tech, as well as giving it early exposure to developing technologies and companies in the space).

“The whole idea is not to have some captive resource for CAM or to do our work,” Shroff, and noted that CAM’s involvement was “completely open”.

“The entire Indian legal system can benefit from these guys [the selected companies], in case you [as a legal tech company] need to go to AZB or Luthra and do your own business, contracting and relationship with them,” he added.

And, Prarambh and Agami are playing a similar game in the same ecosystem. “In fact we’ve received a lot of applications were they had applied at Agami as well and Agami referred them to Prarambh,” said Gupta.

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