Could legal services be the next big sector to face major disruption? If so, Filip Corveleyn’s Tools4Legal is well ahead of the curve.
The legal profession is ripe for a shake-up, says Filip Corveleyn (Cambridge Executive MBA 2010), co-founder with Felix Rackwitz (Cambridge Executive MBA 2010), of legal services outsourcing company Tools4Legal. Just look at the stats: only around 20 per cent of legal work needs a highly qualified professional. The rest is pretty basic stuff that still needs to be done well – but can be done far more cheaply.
“Lawyers within companies operate using the telephone and email,” explains Corveleyn, whose company provides a cloud-based legal workflow and project management tool. “But the next generation grew up with no knowledge of the world which pre-dates the internet. They are used to going online and clicking their way to solutions, rather than picking up a phone or emailing. We have developed a very simple dashboard that allows corporate clients to go online, tell us what needs to be done and then track their request. So the client no longer has to send endless emails or call lawyers to find out where they are at.”
For example: one of Tools4Legal’s biggest clients is a US-based, global fashion retailer that operates in 35 countries. If the Greek company wishes to appoint, for example, a new board member, all the relevant person now needs to do is go to the Tools4Legal dashboard, click Greece, click “appoint new director”, and give the relevant details of who and by when. “And basically that is it,” says Corveleyn. “This very simple process replaces what could have taken between 20 or 30 emails before the law firms would even start to draft the right document.”
Corveleyn read law at both undergraduate and masters level at the University of Leuven, Belgium. Project work for the Institute for European Social Security then led him to VWEW, a small Brussels-based firm specialising in employment law. He joined Allen & Overy four years later, before deciding to undertake an Executive MBA at Cambridge Judge.
“As a lawyer, you only get to see part of the picture,” he says. “I felt that I didn’t fully understand how businesses work and what the bigger picture was. I only applied for the Cambridge Executive MBA. It focused a lot on the soft skills – development, management style and dealing with other people, but also better understanding yourself and how you interact within an organisation.”
While on the Executive MBA, he met Rackwitz. The only two lawyers on the programme, they bonded over a shared enthusiasm for innovation within the legal sector and worked together on their group project. It focused on how rapid technological changes within the common law jurisdictions – the UK, USA and Australia – didn’t seem to be happening in the rest of Europe, and how they might happen in Germany.
“We looked at an interesting model we’d seen used in the US and UK market – legal process outsourcing,” says Corveleyn. “This is when law firms decide to take something they can’t do effectively and efficiently and outsource it to a partner, which is very much in line with the general overall global trend of hyper-specialisation. I think that ended up in a bottom drawer somewhere! It was too radical for the time.”
Corveleyn and Rackwitz graduated in 2012 and went back to their respective careers. But they continued their own research into companies doing the business of law in different, innovative ways. By 2014, their database held the details of almost 300 companies.
The pair decided that they could either sit on the sidelines and watch this field develop – or do it themselves. Tools4Legal was set up in 2014 and is growing rapidly. It currently serves 43 companies, was nominated for an FT Innovative Lawyers award in October 2015 and is now, says Corveleyn, taking on new requests from regular clients who appreciate innovative thinking.
“We believed – and still believe – that the business of law is going to change fundamentally,” says Corveleyn. “We thought that there’s no sense in continuing to do things the old way, as we well may be redundant in 15 years. So we took hold of our own destiny, rather than seeing how destiny might change our profession in the future. It’s scary, but it’s exciting at the same time.”
Filip would like to meet…
…anyone who has gone through the experience of starting a company, in any sector.