A new online service start-up called Lexyom, designed to connect users to the world of personally-tailored legal advice, is about to step up to the big league with help from the venture building programme The Nucleus, the UK Lebanon Tech Hub (UKLTH) supported initiative.
"We want to bring law to the world because we deeply believe that every person out there should have the tools to defend herself/himself and feel safe," says Rami Alame, the chief executive of Lexyom, based in Lebanon. "Law can be a complicated business and the public are often put off by its sometimes stern reputation."
Using artificial intelligence and blockchain technology, Lexyom's online platform enables people to access answers to legal questions, legal documentation and legal professionals. The platform aims to be both an innovative marketplace for legal services and an effective and swift link between the legal world and those needing lawyers to fight their corner.
In addition, the company says, using a lawyer for legal work via Lexyom can also result in savings on standard legal fees of around 40 per cent.
"There is a world of information out there about all aspects of the law, but unless you know where to look, you are stumped," says Mr Alame. "Lexyom helps you access a hub of legal answers, and if you still haven’t found the answer you need after looking at the site, you have the reassurance of getting a free quote from one of our experienced lawyers or even using the 'Ask a Lawyer’ online option once you complete your sign up."
So what was it that inspired Mr Alame and his Lexyom co-founder Magda Farhat, the company's chief legal officer (both of whom are lawyers who have worked for firms in the Mena region and the US) to start the company?
"After working in the legal industry and seeing the huge divergence between the customer or user and the lawyer, we were annoyed [at] this lack of connectivity and the fact that it is defeating its purpose," says Mr Alame.
"In 2017, we decided to take the step and we left our careers to pursue our dream and disrupt what we believe was wrong. Hence, we started Lexyom - an online platform that enables users to connect to lawyers anytime, anywhere."
Lexyom is not the only company looking to simplify legal processes in such ways; law firms are looking to technology to streamline processes, such as the drafting of standard contracts and non-disclosure agreements, and the identification of potential conflicts of interests.
The legal team at DBS bank in Singapore, under the leadership of general counsel Chee Kin Lam, is leading a programme to develop an AI tool to automate negotiations over certain legal documents, according to the Financial Times, which should reduce the time required by 20 to 50 per cent.
Mr Lam says that the initiative is “not AI for the sake of AI. All artificial intelligence projects must start with process simplification, and must be about changing customer and client lives”.
A more nearby rival for Lexyom is Legal Advice Middle East, which is not a law firm as such and does not provide any legal services. However, it is an online marketplace connecting consumers with lawyers from various law firms across the region.
Still, all businesses have to start somewhere. Lexyom began with "less than $50,000", Mr Alame says, partly from the incubation programme The Nucleus at the UKLTH, and through the support of the iSME programme of Lebanese financial company Kafalat.
The Nucleus start-ups benefit from an investment of $20,000 in cash and $30,000 in services, in return for the UKLTH taking up to a five per cent equity stake in the business.
"We are expecting our break-even to be in 2020," Mr Alame says.
UKLTH is backed by the UK government and the Central Bank of Lebanon with a view to fostering entrepreneurship and research and development in Lebanon. Thanks to being one of the latest seven projects to be turbo-charged by The Nucleus, Lexyom is poised to go international.
"Today we have the platform up and running," Mr Alame says. "We are working on smart algorithms to be added and we are very excited about that. We have a team of legal experts and technical experts working together to achieve this."
Within five years, he is expecting Lexyom "to be all over the Mena region and the GCC, giving access to more than 50 million people to legal information and legal professionals".
So far the company has helped over 10,000 people, ranging from start-ups and SMEs needing assistance with funding rounds, contracts, employment, IP, and disputes, to enterprise clients and general counsels needing lawyers with deep sector and practice expertise, "without the bells and whistles or baggage of a brand name firm".
Lexyom operates across the full range of legal work, from contracts to seven-figure court cases. For those larger jobs and for certain niche areas of expertise, the company has partnered with a number of international firms that can offer a full-service solution and the required personnel for major cases.
The company's roster of legal eagles includes experts in criminal law and litigation, corporate law and financial services law. "These lawyers have all worked with some of the world’s best law firms including Linklaters, Abou Jaoude & Associates, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Ororus Advisors and Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft," Mr Alame says.
"Our platform has grown and has changed from the first days it was being built. We have brought things to the next level with further organisation, further coordination and accuracy. We are growing steadily and we know exactly what we are doing and what we are aiming at," he says of the company's development plans.
"Today Lexyom is pushing to become the cornerstone for legal information."
But the CEO is not driven by emotion: clinical interpretation of the situation regarding the growth of the business takes precedence.
"Emotions are beautiful but not in business," Mr Alame says. "We believe in smart and rational decisions. We believe in a studied approach and in a courageous assessment of positive and negative sides. Today, the economy is moving very fast and there is no room for emotions and reactions."
However, he agrees that passion is an important element for any new venture. "Any person can succeed, any person who is devoted, passionate and result-oriented can make it and can become part of the share capital of the company," he says.
Mr Alame is bullish on the likely survival of the venture: "The company will not fail simply because it has a team full of strength, full of conviction in success," he says.
Should he and his co-founder decide to sell up, it would only be to win a strategic partner, and further market exposure. "But we would definitely not want to lose our targets and objectives. We would never want to lose our impact."
In the end, what drives the CEO, his co-founder and the staff at Lexyom is more altruistic than financial.
"Answering a person in need and giving them the power to reshape their lives and have strong weapons to face injustice," is the core bedrock of the company's ethos, Mr Alame says.
Founder(s), Rami Alame (Chief Executive Officer) and Magda Farhat (Chief Legal Officer)
Number of staff: 6
Investment stage: in talks with VC investors
Turnover/profit/loss: Pre revenue