For the last five years, the UC Hastings LexLab has hosted a shark-tank style competition where technology startups pitch business ideas to legal tech experts and investors. This year – for the first time – law students entered a separate contest to sell their startup ideas.
“It was a great opportunity for students to practice their business pitching skills and interact with real startup founders and entrepreneurs,” said Alice Armitage, Director of Applied Innovation at LexLab.
LexLab – a UC Hastings center focused on law, technology and innovation – connects law students to technology entrepreneurs so they can learn what it takes to build a startup from the ground up. It offers classes, talks and other events on cutting-edge topics, including non-fungible tokens (NFTs), data privacy and video game law.
Rebecca Siegel, J.D. ’22, was one of three students who pitched ideas for legal tech startups at LexLab’s annual DemoDay competition this spring. She told a panel of judges how her proposed startup could revolutionize the way data is stored, managed, and sent across the Atlantic Ocean.
Her business plan was developed during a semester-long class, “Legal Tech: How to Build a Startup.” The class, taught by Armitage, teaches principles of design thinking, team building, product development strategies, and other business concepts.
“Although pitching to a panel of entrepreneurs at the end of the class was intimidating, I felt that the class more than prepared me for the questions that were asked,” Siegel said. “For someone who is interested in working in the emerging companies and venture capital space, it was invaluable for me to gain some experience from the perspective of the new venture.”
Since its inception in 2017, LexLab also has invited legal technology startups to join its accelerator program, which pairs emerging technology firms with dedicated mentors. Startups also get access to LexLab’s curriculum, programs, and a professional network of UC Hastings alumni, legal scholars and other entrepreneurs.
Law students interact with startup founders through classes and events, learning firsthand about the financial, logistical and legal challenges of launching a new company. They also get to network with real entrepreneurs, sometimes working directly with startups through internships.
“Our accelerator participants are always able to interact with students,” Armitage said. “I invite the entrepreneurs to my spring classes, where they participate in discussions about legal tech. They often ask us to put them in touch with students who may be interested in working with them as interns.”
The accelerator program culminates each year with DemoDay. The annual event includes a panel of expert judges who grill startup executives about their products and award cash prizes for the best business pitch. The prize money – which can be used to launch products, grow businesses and attract further investment – comes from funds donated to LexLab by UC Hastings alumni and others. This spring’s judges included Pieter Gunst, co-founder of Legal.io, a legal services professional network; Olga Mack, CEO of Parley Pro, a contract negotiation and management platform; and Kunoor Chopra, co-founder of Elevate Services, a technology platform for law firms and legal departments.
This year the judges awarded the $5,000 grand prize to JusticeText, a video evidence management platform used by public defenders and criminal defense attorneys.
Justice Text CEO Devshi Mehrotra said the accelerator program was extremely valuable for her growing company, “Taking part in LexLab gave me the opportunity to hear directly from inspiring legal-tech operators . . . about how to scale sales and marketing efforts as a young organization. I am so grateful to have won the Demo Day grand prize and am excited to continue expanding to criminal justice organizations across the country.”
UC Hastings Provost and Academic Dean Morris Ratner said LexLab prepares the next generation of legal professionals for success, “LexLab has launched graduates who have the skills, tools, and mindset to lean into disruption of the legal services market and, in so doing, to ensure that information and services are efficiently and fairly distributed.”