Corporate lawyer founder of Silicon Roundabout legal start-up on how he secured £260K investment — and why he sees market primed with opportunity for solicitors and barristers
Despite working for six years as a corporate lawyer — most recently in the London office of Slaughter and May “best friend” De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek — Daniel Van Binsbergen never lived beyond his trainee salary.
The remainder of the increasingly hefty wedge he received every month went straight into his bank account as he bided his time ready for his big move.
“I really enjoyed practising law — there were some great puzzles and great colleagues — but I always had the desire to start my own business. Whenever I read anything about the emerging tech start-up scene I felt this rush of excitement,” he says over a coffee a few yards from the Shoreditch “incubator” which is home to Lexoo, a lawyer price comparison website that Binsbergen launched last year.
“The trouble,” continues Binsbergen, “is that working for a big law firm requires such commitment and long hours that it is so easy to get stuck in that life.”
Amid the incessant grind, even coming up with a concept for the start-up which Binsbergen so longed to found proved impossible. By summer 2013, the Oxford University-educated lawyer decided there was only one thing for it and he handed in his notice still with no idea what sort of business he was going to launch.
“I left with no fixed plan,” he recalls.
This was where all that saved money came in, which Binsbergen was able to stretch out further by freelancing for his old firm. And it was this way of working, funnily enough, that would prove the inspiration for Lexoo.
Having come up with the lawyer price comparison idea — which works by matching up small businesses with freelance lawyers who then quote the lowest rates they’ll do a job for — in January 2014, Binsbergen set about building a basic version of the website. At the same time he was networking like crazy in a bid to get an introduction to an investor. That came in early summer of that year, when a mate who he plays squash with put him in touch with his pal who worked in venture capital.
“Most major investors require an introduction,” explains Binsbergen, offering an insight into the rituals of the sometimes shadowy world of funding capital. “If you can’t get someone to vouch for you, how good are you?”
From this point things moved quickly. E-commerce investor Forward Partners loved Binsbergen’s idea, pretty much handing him £30,000 on the spot, alongside a place in their start-up incubator just off Old Street, with a further £90,000 forthcoming later last year. Binsbergen took on a developer “co-founder” soon after and together the duo began punting their price comparison wares to legal advice-hungry companies. This month they have just received an additional slice of £140,000 funding, taking the total investment in Binsbergen’s baby to £260,000.
During this whirlwind journey the ex-De Brauw man’s knowledge of the legal market and lawyer contacts have been invaluable. Most of the lawyers on Lexoo’s books are young-ish ex-City types who have decided to work freelance for lifestyle reasons. They have come either directly through Binsbergen or people he knows. As a veteran of that world, Binsbergen knows which ones are good enough to make the cut and appear on his site — a key feature of Lexoo, which vets all the lawyers that appear in its price comparisons.
“Being a lawyer has been a huge advantage. Without my experience I would have made a lot of mistakes. I’ve needed to understand how lawyers think and what they are interested in,” he says.
Such experience is increasingly in demand among the clique of venture capitalists looking to fund the next big thing in efficiency-driving internet innovation at a time when other avenues seem to have been exhausted.
“Whereas areas like travel have been very heavily exploited by new internet businesses, the legal industry is relatively unexploited,” says Binsbergen.
Why is law such virgin territory? Binsbergen’s theory is that it boils down to lawyers being well paid and risk averse, disincentivising innovation in an area which non-lawyers are reluctant to have a crack at because of how complicated it is perceived to be.
But the world is changing. At a time when many corporate law associates find their careers flatlining as partners hoard profits, while high street lawyers are hit in the pocket by legal aid cuts, it’s becoming ever more attractive for young solicitors and barristers to have a shot at becoming an entrepreneur.