The question posed by the title to this post came from a blogpost of last January by Jeffrey Ling (@lingdecklee), a Taipei-based Lawyer and Startup Evengelist.

In that post, Ling outlined:  “Ever since I embarked on my very own legal web startup project in June 2012, I started paying attention to the legal web startups around the world. And I have been noticing a visible absence of prominent legal web startups rising out of the various startup ecosystems dotting all over the vast Asia region.  Whether this is due to lack of the right chemistry to spark things off or whether entrepreneurs are just not yet taking the legal market seriously, I believe for those who have started something in this part of the world, they are definitely on to something monumental.”

Asia and Legal Startups:  The intersection of opportunities and solutions

Ling explained why he believes Asia is perfect for legal start-ups:  “The way I see it, Asia is currently the perfect place for some doses of disruptive innovation to be applied to its rather conservative legal service industry. It is not a sexy industry to get into, but it is nonetheless one of the fattest.”  Ling isn’t alone in his outlook.  Notably, in 2013 in Hong Kong, legal futurist Mitch Kowalski (@MEKowalski) outlined for law student here what the Asia-Pacific legal market is likely to look like in 2025.  And change of the sort brought on by start-ups is central to Kowalski’s thesis.

In coming to the conclusion that Asia is the place to be for legal startups —  Ling cited the nexus between legal innovation and a fast-growing Asia-Pacific legal services market.  For the former, he cites a November 2013 article by Joshua Kubicki (@jkubicki), former lawyer and now legal-sector focused technologist.  In that article, Kubicki outlined “6 key facts that make the legal industry ripe for disruption and innovation.”  The first is that “the US legal industry is roughly a US$300 billion market.”  For the latter, Ling cites an article in Australasian Barristers Chambers citing my blogpost about what legal sector consultant Alan Hodgart outlined at the 2013 Inter-Pacific Bar Association (IPBA) annual meeting in Seoul:  That the Asia-Pacific legal market would double in size between 2013 and 2017.1

As Ling relates, Hodgart’s prediction that the Asia-Pacific legal market size will increase from US$109 billion in 2012 to US$215 billion in 2017 are “facts [that] are certainly something [legal start-up] founders and investors should not lightly ignore.”2  I could not agree more.

So where are Asia’s legal start-ups?

I agree with Ling that there is, for the most part, a “visible absence of prominent legal web startups [in Asia]”.  However, over the course of the last few years of observing the Asia-Pacific legal markets – an ecoystem of some legal start-ups has taken shape in hubs of capital and entrepreneurship.  In particular, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and Sydney.  With pronounced start-up ecosystems in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.

In the case of Hong Kong, a vast government operated facility called Cyberport (@cyberport_hk) houses Asia-focused start-ups including legal tech start-up Dragon Law (@dragonlawasia).  Asia legal social media pioneers at Conventus Law (@conventuslaw ) are also Hong Kong-based, as highlighted by Lloyd Pearson (@lloydtpearson).  The Hong Kong start-up scene is covered closely by Iris Leung (@irismtleung), Editor of StartupsHK, including a recent profile of Dragon Law.

Singapore’s BLK71 (@Blk71_SG), an entrepreneurial community/working hub in partnership with the National University of Singapore is home to legal software start-up LawCanvas (@lawcanvas).  Steven Millward (@SirSteven) of Tech in Asia (@Techinasia“cover[s] startups, ecommerce, tech market research and analysis across Asia, including a recent profile of Law Canvas.  Daniel Tay (@legendt), also of Tech in Asia, has also profiled Law Canvas.

While Tokyo’s best known start-up may be translation platform Gengo (@GengoIt), who’s history highlights a strong Tokyo-Silicon Valley connection, there is a budding legal start-up texture to Tokyo’s already strong start-up environment.3  The “StartEd (@StartEdLegal) community, founded by Naoise Gaffney (heterotextual) and Eric Klotz, is a forum that offers pro bono legal guidance to local startups while educating and training law students in the process.” according to its’ MeetUp profile.  Richard Solomon (@beaconreports), Journalist with the Japan Times and blogger on Japan business at Beacon Reports, profiled StartEd’s efforts from Tokyo’s Open Source Cafe.  And in an article by Nikola Pavesic (@nikpavesic) of Justa Japan (@justajapan) — you can read why Tokyo may just be the ideal city in Asia to operate a start-up.

Other major tech/entrepreneur/capital hubs that may spawn new legal start-ups

In Kuala Lumpur, Startup Grind KL (@StartupGrindKL) is one to watch.  In Jakarta, Ideabox is a “tech business incubator” very much worth following.  Sydney has no shortage of start-up entrepreneurs.  Among the most well-regarded start-ups going into 2015 is  Pollenizer (@pollenizer) (a start-up incubator) supported LawPath (@LawPath).  Australia is hub to the region’s NewLaw law firms and hence vital to watch for inspiration for legal start-ups as well.  Independent Australian journalist Sylvia Pennington has written a great deal about Australia’s start-up environment.

One Southeast Asian startup that really caught my eye

WoBe provides Mobile Business & Finance Tools for Southeast Asian Women founded by serial tech entrepreneur Adrianna Tann (@skinnylatte).  Might they add legal services to the mix of offerings at some point?  Seems an ideal addition.

There’s more to learn

I’ve tried here to answer Jeffrey Ling’s original question:  Where are Asia’s Legal Startups? – by providing at least some information based on my own research- of where the legal startups are – and where they might be in the future – in what is a vast Asia-Pacific legal market.  Should you have any additions to the above – whether companies, cities, incubators, entrepreneurs, investors,  journalists or the like – please do add them in the comments section below.

  1. It was that conference, and that presentation by Alan Hodgart, which served as the inspiration for the founding of this blog – which then led to a subsequent book providing A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets by this author and published last year by London-based Ark Group.
  2. George Beaton (@grbeaton_law) of Australia’s Beaton Capital (@BeatonCapital) shares Hodgart’s conclusion, albeit with the caveat that the market will not double until as late as 2022.
  3. Willis Wee (@williswee) of Tech in Asia has highlighted Tokyo’s particularly strong attraction as a startup hub.

Posted by John Grimley

John Grimley edits and publishes Asia Law Portal and is the author of A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets. He provides writing, editing, digital publishing, business development, market research, event promotion and speaking services to law firms and legal services sector companies. Between 2002 and 2008, he established and directed the European representative business development presence of US AmLaw 100 law and public policy firm Patton Boggs LLP. At the inception of his career, he served as a writer to the President of the United States in the White House. A licensed American lawyer, he holds a Juris Doctor from the University of San Diego School of Law. He can be reached at email: jg@asialawportal.com, tel +1 (213) 814-2855 & Skype: JohnGrimley

2 Comments

  1. Great article. I manage a global legal/justice innovation accelerator from The Hague and there has, indeed, been an absence of great legal innovations coming from Asia. The potential is enormous. If you know of high potential initiatives. Feel free to let me know. @wilfrieddewever

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  2. thanks for your message Wilfried. There are legal innovations taking place across Asia – both within traditional law firms, as well as within NewLaw firms and legal startups and the legal startup communities across Asia. I’ve written a good deal about all these trends here on Asia Law Portal. From the companies and firms to individuals involved in these innovations. Feel free to contact me anytime for more information. Thanks again, John

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