“The legal industry suffers from a shocking lack of innovation”

When 26-year-old Alexandra Isenegger started working in the legal sector, she was dumbfounded by the sector’s lack of innovation. To her it seemed to be stuck in a dusty old groove, blighted by inefficiencies and run by tech-averse old men. In response, she launched Linkilaw, a legal platform offering affordable services to start-ups and SMEs. Her success story sends an important message to traditional law firms: Be prepared to think differently. Your old competitors are not who you need to worry about. Existential threats will come instead from tech-savvy millennial entrepreneurs who are willing to rewrite the rulebook.

Fresh eyes capture things that older retinas cannot. They haven’t been gazing at the same view for years. They see new horizons, new possibilities, and new ways of enhancing that vista.

Take law, for example. Let’s listen to the zinging opinions of 26-year-old Alexandra Isenegger, founder of Linkilaw, and new entrant in last year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe list. She believes the legal industry needs a giant brogue ramming up its pinstriped backside. She didn’t quite say that. We’re paraphrasing. But it’s a strong image!

Here’s what Alexandra did say: “When I came up with the idea for Linkilaw in 2014, I was shocked that so few people were innovating in the legal space. Following the financial crisis, FinTech [financial technology] was booming in the City, but the same could not be said of the legal sector. That was crazy to me. Law – a multi-billion-dollar industry – had little to no modernisation or innovation. That was a huge gap and I was determined to fill it.”

What her millennial eyes also saw – while studying law at London’s School of Oriental & African Studies and later while working at a law firm – was wastage. Tons of it. “I could see what lawyers were doing well, but I saw inefficiencies too,” she says. “I’d say that 50-80% of a lawyer’s time is not spent on legal work. It’s spent on admin – exchanging emails, communicating with the team, ticking bureaucratic boxes, etc. I thought all those admin tasks could be streamlined or automated. Then you’d have lawyers doing what they do best: getting to know and understand their clients and giving expert advice.”

Shocked by this deficit of innovation and efficiency, Alexandra’s entrepreneurial radar started to bleep. Unencumbered by the weight of legal-industry tradition and bursting with a naïve (her word not ours!) but powerful drive, a plan developed. “I had friends who were either launching or running their own businesses and facing legal issues,” she says. “They always came to me with the same questions. How do I find a quality lawyer? How do I know if they’re any good? How do I know if the price is fair? Basic questions, but there were no answers out there. So, I wanted to build a digital marketplace where people could not only find answers but also hire – affordably –­ the right lawyers for their needs. I wanted to build the law equivalent of a comparison website.”

So, Alexandra quit her job and set to work. “I made lots of mistakes,” she says. “I didn’t know how to prioritise things, I went with the wrong service providers, and I wasted money on unnecessary things. But I also learned lots and taught myself how to be lean – how to do the most with the least.”

After trial and error and several direction changes, Alexandra’s idea evolved into Linkilaw. “We provide high-quality legal advice and services for small businesses at an affordable cost,” she says. “From the client’s perspective we offer a personal service, but behind the scenes we’ve automated and streamlined everything as much as possible. Our lawyers can focus purely on the legal work and so we’re 50% more affordable than traditional law firms.”

Linkilaw is a hybrid of human and automated services. Automation takes as much of the strain as possible but behind it sits a full-time central team of 15, around which orbit many consulting lawyers.

This model springs from Alexandra’s observations of the legal profession. “I wanted to launch a business that would change the lawyer mindset,” she says. “Lawyers are not taught how to be productive and they are not taught appropriate communication skills. I went to law school for three years and never once had an oral assignment. Everything was in writing. I find that crazy because in law so much is about verbal communication. And so, my business started with a mindset shift – and with this one question: How do you work as a lawyer not just to do your job for eight hours a day, but to add most value to your client and therefore to yourself?”

That question was the starting point for Linkilaw. It means that the business now focuses intently on delivering what the target client requires. “We looked at the traditional model for delivering legal services, and said: ‘OK, let’s scrap that and start again as if we know nothing.’ We then asked ourselves what the client – a start-up or SME in our case – wants. The answer is speed of delivery, accuracy of service, cost efficiency and lawyers who understand their business. So we started at the end point and reverse engineered the process. And that’s why Linkilaw is succeeding. From the outside, our service doesn’t look that different, but from the inside it’s a completely novel method of delivery.”

The result of this original thinking and entrepreneurial drive is a very successful new law company, now four years old, and a place for Alexandra in Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe in the Law & Policy category. It’s a stunning achievement and an inspiring story, but it also provides an important lesson for established law firms.

Traditional firms obsess about outdoing old competitors – competitors that have been cut from the same cloth and that use the same, standard business models. The story of Alexandra and Linkilaw shows the short-sightedness of this approach. In reality, the biggest threats may now come from smart entrepreneurial millennials who approach the industry with fresh eyes, using new technology to pounce on emerging trends and create new business models.

The danger will not come from who you can see, but from who you can’t see. Competition will not come from the same, old well-trodden paths, but from new unchartered waters. Are you looking in the right direction?