It's been quite a career journey already for 24-year-old Angelina Sevostyanova. Having been born in the distant wilds of Siberia, she gained a Master's in Law at HSE University in Moscow, followed by a Ph.D. in Tort Law at Bocconi University. She left Russia in 2022 and has written 15 academic theses while working for KCG Law in Budapest, helping them double their growth. She is now based in the UK, working on her legal tech startup, Legal Data AI.
It's an impressive CV for someone not yet 25. Angelina's mindset is all about action, disruption, and challenging norms. Determined to shake up this slow-moving field, a classic law career never felt like the path for Angelina to pursue. From the outset, she was not willing to accept time in the role as the critical criteria for advancement. Instead, she was inspired by other professions which promote intellect, ambition, and initiative.
"It's no secret that a 20-year-old Stanford graduate can be smarter and have more relevant experience than a 50-year-old partner in a major company."
Boldly stepping into the unknown
The pivotal moment came when Angelina reached an early career crossroads - she either needed to opt into years working in a tightly-controlled legal machine or look elsewhere. Realising a more creative, accessible approach to the law for up-and-coming lawyers didn't exist, she took the brave step to create her own legal business.
"I was always intrigued by the work ethic of lawyers – they seemed to be constantly working, all hours of the day and weekends. I asked if this was really necessary. As Artificial Intelligence developed, I saw an opportunity to use this to aid lawyers all over the world."
Together with her friend co-founder, Vladislav, the pair got thinking more and more about AI and how they could harness it to disrupt the legal world. Having met a lawyer from London who talked about how challenging it was to find information and how much time it used up, Vladislav and Angelina started researching the legal tech market and reading every research article they could find.
An inspiration to other driven entrepreneurs with a vision should be the action-focused approach the pair then took. There was no wasted time working on complex Excel models or preparing long investment presentations, for example. Energised by their research, they posted an advert in the Mesto community that they were looking for a CTO. Within 3 days, they conducted interviews and found a great new recruit. Together, they started building their business. Angelina's entrepreneurial spirit relished the challenge of creating a startup in a traditional, well-established field.
"I love law - it's what drives me. But the lives of entrepreneurs have always fascinated me because they offer something invaluable - freedom. So, I thought, how can I fit it all together?"
"Google" for lawyers
Their disruptive new Legaltech offer, Legal Data AI, is on the cusp of launch – a single search bar incorporating machine learning and data technology to provide factually accurate background information to legal professionals. She believes it can eliminate wasted hours searching for information and sources. As Angelina puts it, they have created "a Google for lawyers," providing:
- an intelligent search function with comprehensive legal information (e.g., specific cases, court decisions, European law, etc.);
- a global database of local expertise from lawyers worldwide to inquire about real-life practices and drive collaboration on joint cases;
- a unique AI chatbot ("FlyBot") with exhaustive and detailed answers to any legal question.
"We significantly raise the quality of legal services because a lawyer no longer needs to search for sources on Linkedin, Facebook, or legal sites. Our service provides professional advice for the legal community freeing up valuable lawyer hours."
Collaboration & harnessing diversity
Funding the business with their own savings and the issue of phantom options, Angelina and her partner Vladislav Radov have built a talented young team of 20 professionals working with them. She has also been wise to gather a group of expert advisors around her from the legal and financial fields whose support has been invaluable.
Angelina believes what sets Legal Data AI apart from other legal tech startups is the team's flexibility, accessibility, openness, and a sense of equality within the staff. Her advice is that, in a startup, the whole team needs to contribute and collaborate. She has therefore instilled a motto of "free engagement." The following anecdote sums up their way of operating:
"In one meeting, we said that only developers were required to stay for the rest of the session. The team voluntarily chose to remain and fully engage in the project. We encourage participation where everyone is welcome to contribute ideas and ask questions."
The quick pace of Lawtech
On the cusp of launch in August 2023, the team is finally pumped to begin shaking up the entrenched legal profession; they are all working quickly to make it happen.
Angelina believes that Lawtech is the next substantial business growth opportunity, with a LawtechUK report predicting that investments in legal technology could reach up to £2.2 billion per year by 2026. Since Covid-19, there has already been an increase in adoption levels across courts, law firms, and in-house legal teams. Legal Data AI is excited to get started and drive this growth further.
The team has chosen the UK as its hub because of the large concentration of legal businesses and lawyers. However, they place no restrictions on location when recruiting their staff, which Angelina advises is a considerable advantage to a young startup.
"I believe diversity is crucial to a business's growth and value. Be it cultural, linguistic, legal… our different locations and backgrounds give us strength, so I would always encourage people to remain true to themselves and their origins."
Youthful drive as a superpower
Angelina is not daunted by working in a traditional field where many of her customers have decades of legal experience. In fact, she is hugely proud of how her young team is using their fresh energy to set their offering apart.
"The legal profession is the most conservative there is. As a company, we have employed some of the youngest and most progressive lawyers out there. Such an oxymoron is a powerful force."
Despite recently launching the business, the Legal Data AI team has already won grants from Amazon and Microsoft and held a successful pre-sale of their services to 360 clients in just one month.
Angelina is refreshingly honest that the response to their bold new idea has been mixed during the test and launch phase.
"Our work has yet to garner universal acceptance within the legal community, and we have observed a range of responses. Some individuals remain cautious about using legal data this way, while others are genuinely enthusiastic."
Another lesson to other startups is how Angelina and her team have listened carefully to these understandable concerns and questions. They investigate and harness them to drive the team on rather than put them off. She understands this is a new and potentially risky field, listens hard to the doubters, and builds that into all the development work to realise the potential of their offering.
"If we can harness the power of AI technology fully, it will empower lawyers and enable them to focus more on the complex and high-value aspects of their profession."
Reframing AI as an asset
The team is keen to stress that AI will not remove the need for talented lawyers. The Legal Data AI team wants their service to enable lawyers to focus on the complex parts of their roles rather than waste time plowing through data.
A key priority is making the service intuitive and secure. With a user-friendly, easy-to-use interface and a backend specifically designed to understand "legalese," the team is confident that many lawyers' initial reservations will eventually be overcome.
An ongoing challenge in any tech startup is keeping pace with developments. The only way to stay ahead is to constantly invest in research and development. Therefore, the Legal Data AI team has collaborated with tech experts from some of the best universities to ensure their database is always current. Angelina is sanguine about being unable to forecast how legal tech will evolve — particularly concerning AI. She has grand plans but won't be drawn into predictions.
In speaking of the future of Legal Data AI, she quotes Lewis Carrol: "We must run as fast as we can just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere, you must run twice as fast as that"
Only time will tell if the Legal Data AI team has the product, passion, and persistence to outrun the competition, but they certainly have come out of the blocks fast in tapping into this complex yet fascinating opportunity.