This week, ROSS chats with Kelli Raker and Jeff Ward of the Duke Law Tech Lab to learn more about the Lab’s new accelerator program for legal tech focused startups. Kelli is the Coordinator of the Entrepreneurial Law Program at Duke Law School and also the Managing Director of the Duke Law Tech Lab. Jeff is the Director of Duke’s Center on Law & Tech and the Associate Dean for Technology & Innovation.
First things first, for those who may not know, what is the Duke Law Tech Lab?
The Duke Law Tech Lab is a "light touch" accelerator for early-stage legal tech companies. By early-stage, we mean that we just want companies to have a minimum viable product (MVP) by the start of the program. By light touch, we mean that involvement happens remotely, that we work to bolster companies’ current development paths rather than asking them to adopt a separate development program, and that we do not take any equity in the companies that participate.
Once accepted, we help companies grow by providing connections to other legal tech entrepreneurs, leaders, and mentors as well as startup resources specific to innovative legal, regulatory, and civic tech. We are running our third cohort for three months this summer, culminating at our Demo Day on Friday, September 20 in Durham, North Carolina.
What can you tell us about some of the companies that have gone through the program in the past?
First, we’ve all had a lot of fun together! Launching a start-up in any field is hard, and perhaps especially in law, so it’s really helpful to surround yourself with supportive peers. Past teams have seen success through increased users, acceptance into a residential accelerator, substantial start-up funding from third-party investors, the founding of advisory boards, beta tests of their products in new markets, etc. You can see all our past companies on our website: http://www.dukelawtechlab.com/about
This year I hear that the DLTL is doubling down its focus on access to justice, can you provide more info on that?
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of legal tech is its ability to put legal services within the reach of a much broader range of people. In 2018, we noticed innovative business models in both our pool of applicants and our Demo Day winners who were working to streamline legal services in order to reduce cost from the market rate, which is a different service than what the pro bono world provides. For this year’s cohort, we are intentionally focusing on recruiting these companies and providing them critical resources because we hope to help create viable markets for legal tech tools that close the access gap.
So, while we’re continuing to offer programs for legal tech start-ups of all sorts, we are particularly interested in helping support innovative companies who are working to expand market-based access to legal services for people in the middle - those who do not qualify for reduced fee or free legal services, nor those who are able to afford the traditional fee for services. We’re interested in supporting companies who are increasing efficiency and effectiveness of reduced fee or pro bono legal services as well. While access to legal services is only one aspect of all access to justice issues, we think we are able to contribute to the legal tech ecosystem in this unique way.
If folks know of some early stage legal technology companies that may be a good fit for DLTL, where should they direct them?
Send them over to dukelawtechlab.com to get information about our program and sign up for our newsletter, to be notified when applications are open. We will also share information on Twitter (@DukeLawTech) and on LinkedIn (linkedin.com/company/dclt).
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