At the Legal Innovation & Tech Fest earlier this month, we sat down with Eitan Stern, Legalese’s founder and director, to discuss his thoughts on the legal tech space in South Africa. Legalese is a creative legal agency which has redesigned legal services to suit creative, start-up, and tech-based businesses by making them accessible, affordable and understandable.
Tell me a bit about your journey in the legal space, how did you get started?
I’ve always been around the creative industry as well as in the legal industry. While I was at law school I had a small music career. I’ve always been far more into public law, but I never really pictured myself being a lawyer. When I finished law school I had a tech start-up, but it ended up being the wrong people at the wrong time and didn’t work out. I’ve always been entrepreneurial, but at the same time I had this legal background and landed up doing my articles at a commercial law firm and I had one of those moments where it just clicked that I really understood commercial law. So, I worked at a commercial firm doing commercial law and had this idea to try and merge these two “lives” I’d been living: one in the creative industry and tech and one as a lawyer in a suit and tie.
It was quite easy to get into the music industry because there were not many entertainment lawyers. It was good product-market fit I suppose. We developed ways of pricing it and ways of providing the legal services and I was able to find something that suited me and my personality. Little things like putting a price list on our website, which seemed obvious, was abnormal in the legal industry – law firms just didn’t do that. I don’t know if it was me being innovative or that I just hadn’t been in the legal space long enough to have an idea of how things should be. But I took a stab at what felt right to me and that was it – that was the beginning of Legalese! We provided legal services for creatives and we just kept broadening the definition of what creatives were. Today, the creatives that we deal with are mostly entrepreneurs in the tech industry and SMEs.
How do you think South Africa compares to the rest of the world right now in terms of innovation in the legal space?
I think in terms of innovation in general, South Africa is this great breeding ground for innovation because there’s so much opportunity here. We’ve got quite a strong start-up ecosystem because our economy and culture leaves room for innovation which wouldn’t be possible in Europe or America – the Fintech industry is a great example of that. I also think job shortages in SA means that there’s more and more reason for people to become entrepreneurs.
In terms of legal innovation, it’s amazing to see something like this event. It’s only the second year of the conference and you’ve got a couple of hundred people attending. The extent to which I see real legal innovation and tech is really at conferences like this. From my perspective, I don’t think anyone has really properly cracked a legal tech product which has worked for a small business in a commercial sense. So, for example, in the accounting industry, cloud-based accounting platforms changed the game. In the legal sphere, I haven’t seen anything like that quite yet. But I’m excited for it.
What attracted you to this event?
There’s something about the way that legal services have been traditionally provided that is outdated. What attracted me to this event is that I’m always interested to meet the other lawyers who are doing things differently, because the extent to which we can grow our businesses, is the extent to which we can show clients that things can be done differently. The more people working together at this, the better. Coming to something like this event is great because you’re able to see other lawyers who are looking at new, innovative ways to be lawyers. It’s great to be around like-minded thinkers.
About the Author
Eitan Stern is the Managing Director of Legalese. Eitan is a practising attorney with a background in commercial and entertainment law and tech entrepreneurship. Eitan has worked with sectors across the board, from creative, advertising and media, to educational, non-profit and technology industries. He’s an established public speaker, lecturer, mediator, negotiator and DJ.