Funding your legal tech initiative through an initial coin offering
Ari Kaplan speaks with Stevie Ghiassi, the co-founder and CEO of Legaler, an Australian legal technology company focused on advancing the delivery of legal services and expanding access to justice through blockchain technology. Ghiassi is also the host of the LegalMeets podcast and the president of the Australian Legal Technology Association.
This Q&A has been condensed.
Ari Kaplan: Tell us about your background and the genesis of Legaler.
Stevie Ghiassi: My father was quite entrepreneurial and was also a professional athlete who served as the captain of his national football team. I was always inspired by his entrepreneurial pursuits and also aspired to be a professional athlete. As a tennis player, I had the opportunity to travel around the world but eventually started building technology platforms. In dealing with lawyers through that process, we experienced some of the bottlenecks and inefficiencies associated with the procurement of legal services. We were also approached by lawyers looking for support with social media, blogs, websites, and platforms for lead generation. We realized there was an opportunity in the industry, but we really wanted to start with something that was simple and could have network effects with the potential to grow cross-jurisdictionally into a virtual law firm of the future. We released Legaler, a secure online meeting platform that provides a single place to record, schedule, host, and archive meetings, in April 2017 and it is already in over a thousand law firms in over 80 countries. It features screen sharing, file sharing, and real-time chat to allow clients to connect with their lawyers without the need to download four or five different apps.
Ari Kaplan: How would you describe the state of legal technology in Australia?
Stevie Ghiassi: Australia is responsible for Wi-Fi, Google Maps, and other innovations, so we are a pretty innovative bunch. That said, legal tech is a global phenomenon. There’s never been more interest in this sector, and there are so many cool legal tech companies popping up right now, which led to the creation of the Australian Legal Technology Association. The state of the industry is quite good, but like any sector, it could always use more venture capital and funding.
Ari Kaplan: You mentioned the Australian Legal Technology Association. What is the mission of that group?
Stevie Ghiassi:ALTA was initially a group of legal tech founders coming together for a bit of a counseling at the start to talk about the battle scars and what it’s like to try and build a company. The organization’s mission is to give early-stage companies a platform to cross-pollinate with the rest of the industry and to maintain some type of a global presence. We were very careful from the start to actually make sure that this was for the people rolling up their sleeves and building something. It is about fostering technology companies and giving them a place to network and raise awareness through demo events, the earliest of which Macquarie Bank hosted and featured 16 startups on one stage doing six-minute demos, with two minutes for questions.
Ari Kaplan: How is your team influencing access to justice?
Stevie Ghiassi:When we first started Legaler, we had an ambition to build a broader global legal ecosystem. Some of the emerging technology, especially blockchain, has allowed us to accelerate our path toward that goal. Later this year, we are initiating a token offering for a global blockchain for the legal industry. That blockchain will foster decentralized apps, and Legaler Aid is the first one. It is a brand-new model for bringing access to justice to the people who live without it. The company is built on code, so it brings a new level of efficiency, and using blockchain, it offers greater transparency. Legaler Aid is a way for the disadvantaged to receive legal services via community legal centers that raise money from the crowd through tax-deductible donations. It’s all done with a settlement layer of cryptocurrencies. People can still pay with credit cards and receive a tax deduction for donating to cases they’re passionate about, but everything else is basically done on top of a blockchain using the Legaler Aid token. This creates a proof of impact ecosystem, where everyone is on a single platform and can actually see the outcome. People will be able to monitor every expense and transaction that Legaler Aid makes, holding us completely accountable. Lawyers will also be rewarded with the justice token to recognize their pro bono efforts.
Ari Kaplan: Why is Legaler funding its access-to-justice initiative through an initial coin offering?
Stevie Ghiassi: Fundraising has seen a significant shift to companies actually raising money directly from their communities as opposed to giving away equity to venture capitalists. In a sense, you are selling a future use of a service or good within your ecosystem. There are different types of tokens, but we are offering a utility token that can be used within our network. This ecosystem is essentially built on a cryptocurrency, the Legaler token, but there’s also the justice token, which is more like a frequent flyer reward.
Ari Kaplan: How are you pricing the coin offering, and who are you expecting to participate?
Stevie Ghiassi: We have set a 10-cent public sale price, but we will also offer bonuses to early users. The public sale will take place toward the end of the year, and we are currently focused on seed funding. It is the way of the future. I’m a really big fan of what decentralization can bring to the world. It is an ambitious mission, but hopefully it’s going to do a lot of good for the world.
Ari Kaplan: Given all of these initiatives, where do you see the legal market in Australia headed?
Stevie Ghiassi: The next two to three years are going to be very exciting because there’s more interest from venture capital and generally more access to funding. It’s easy to get products out into the market in Australia, but ultimately, our legal tech companies need to be looking to global markets. As a result, Australian companies need to consider having a global vision from day one. Creating a launch pad for young technology companies to be nurtured and incubated would really help.
Listen to the complete interview at Reinventing Professionals.
Ari Kaplan regularly interviews leaders in the legal industry and in the broader professional services community to share perspective, highlight transformative change, and introduce new technology at his blog and on iTunes.