October 20 2020
Innovation and Legal Tech: part 3 with Alex Wooley
We spoke to three of The Legal Technologists’s top 10 most innovative junior lawyers to ask them about their journey, experiences and advice they would give.
In part one, we spoke to Tom Grogran of Mishon de Reya and in part two, we spoke to Adam Hunter of Clifford Chance.
In this third and final part of the series, we sit down with Alex Wooley, 4 year PQE qualified solicitor at Farrer & Co, to understand his thoughts and ambitions on Legal Tech.
What got you into Legal Tech?
I'm a lawyer by practice and am a four year qualified solicitor in the family department at Farrer & Co. I got into legal tech 1) out of interest and 2) out of frustration with the process and having a view to making things work better. I am by no stretch of the imagination a technologist and I have no idea how to code. I just thought there was a way of doing things better for both the solicitor and the clients.
Why do you think it’s important the law firms innovate?
I think we have a duty to our clients to do it. Our primary duty has to be to our clients. Although we have hourly targets and all the rest of it, anything we can make better for the clients, I think is our duty to do. I think that law firms are a little behind on where they should be for that. And I don’t think it's out of malice, I think it's that we are too busy to come up with anything and it's easier for most lawyers to just go along with what they have always done.
What is Formily and its purpose?
When you are going through a divorce and trying to sort your financial remedies, you have to give full and frank disclosure. If you are in proceedings or even if you are not and you are doing it voluntarily, most people will do that by using Form E. It is a financial statement which is basically a 28 page government mandated form. The idea is that once you have completed it and exchanged it with the other side, the other side should have a full idea of everything you have and have had over the past 12 months. So that means you can reach a settlement or the court can come to a determination knowing that they have the facts before them. The problem with the form is that it is 28 pages long and you have to hand a load of attachments, such as a 12 month statement for every bank account that you have, mortgage statements, tax returns etc. The form is incredibly complex to a lay person but actually the information that it asks for is information that the client has, not the lawyer. The clients are in the position where they have to pay their lawyers to fill a form in for them. So what Formily does is break down each question into plain English and build a platform that allows the client to have a first stab at their forms, upload the information and get the lawyers oversight to it. It essentially allows the lawyer to do the lawyering and the client to simplify/streamline things and it saves the client money.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in setting up Formily?
We were very lucky that money wasn’t really an issue for us as we were one of the finalists in the SRA Legal Access Challenge. The biggest challenge was going from a lawyers mindset to a business owner’s mindset. Both me and Sam, the co-founder, did law at uni and went straight to private practice, neither of us had worked in business. So the hardest thing was figuring out how to go about launching a product, how to pitch, pricing model, who you are going to see and how to get in front of people. It was just stuff that doesn’t get taught to lawyers at university or in practice. It’s a totally different mindset.
It’s still a challenge that we face on a daily basis. We talk to people, friends at start-ups and the common piece of advice has been to keep things simple. But it is still an issue and we have to take one hat off and put the other on.
What advice would you give to law students interested in legal tech?
Don’t look for the world changing idea.The whole concept behind Formily is about simplifying a process. That has to be the driving message to anyone looking to get into law tech at a lower level. Look at what you are doing on a day to day basis and is there a way of making this easier for both the client and you as the solicitor. Formily came from my annoyance with the process and the pain Form E caused me as a solicitor.
What is the one piece of technology could you not do without?
Oh my phone, I am addicted to it and I hate not having it in my pocket.