Making legal services accessible to Kenyans
With Nelson Nkari
With Nelson Nkari
Amidst the rising start-ups in Nairobi, in the heart of Savannah’s Silicon Valley, Nelson Nkari is carving a niche for himself as a leading legal-tech entrepreneur with a commitment to increasing access to justice. He has set up an online platform called Legal Point Services that provides lawyers with a digital workspace and consumers access to verified lawyers at an affordable price.
For Kenyans, this lack of access and affordability is systemic. In 2017, a nationwide justice needs study conducted by HiiL revealed that 66% of people have faced a justice problem. Of them, three-quarters of people sought legal advice but only a few could afford the services of a lawyer.
Recognising Nelson’s potential in developing solutions that can bridge the justice gap, in September 2021 HiiL’s Justice Accelerator invited the Gen Z entrepreneur to join its incubator programme. Now, as Legal Point Services enters its third year of operations, we sat down with Nelson to learn about his journey of becoming a legal-tech entrepreneur and his drive to resolve the pressing justice problems affecting Kenyans. A resilient and creative entrepreneur, he told us how he went from being an undergraduate student in the bustling city of Nairobi to a visionary and then a savvy and focused entrepreneur.
Nelson belongs to a family of driven individuals. His mother is a professor of theology and ethics and his father is a real estate developer. His eldest sister works in real estate while his middle sister is a surgeon. As the youngest in the household, he too wanted to make a mark of his own and was not afraid of choosing an unconventional career path.
‘’I was passionate about both software engineering and law. So for my undergraduate education, I pursued both a degree in legal studies and a bachelor of science in computer studies,” begins Nelson when asked about his brush with legal tech.
He recalls how during his time in law school, he noticed that technology had not affected the way lawyers conduct their legal practice in Kenya, even though technology had revolutionised so many other services and industries. He saw this as an opportunity to apply his multi-disciplinary education and become a pioneer in the use of technology in the legal sector in Kenya, a space that had a lot of untapped potential.
To transform his vision into reality, Nelson initially planned on working for two to three years after graduating from law school. With the earnings from his job, he wanted to set up a business. But the job market in Kenya did not have opportunities that aligned with his multi-disciplinary skills. Unfazed by the difficulties in seeking traditional employment, Nelson dived into entrepreneurship.
‘’At this time, my eldest sister in Nairobi became a big source of support for me. She was working by then so she gave me the initial capital required to start my own business’’, recalls Nelson gratefully. That helped him in bringing another mind on board, Calvin Mwenda who is also Nelson’s first cousin. Together, they worked out of Nelson’s sister’s home for a couple of months as they conceived the concept behind Legal Point Services. In September 2021, the two co-founders successfully launched Legal Point Services under the umbrella of their start-up Legal Tech Kenya Limited.
Legal Point Services is an online platform with digital workflows that connects ordinary people and businesses with lawyers. Businesses can use the platform’s digital workflow for a fee. On the other hand, ordinary people can sign up on the platform for free and connect to lawyers who cater to a wide range of legal problems.
The algorithm of the platform identifies a list of lawyers who specialise in the field of law that an individual needs. Once the individual has selected a lawyer, s/he can engage in audio calls and video calls, use e-signatures on documents, speak with a chatbot in the absence of the legal representative, track the status of the legal matter and make online payments. To sum up, in Nelson’s words, ‘’These features of the platform have made the experience of availing legal services convenient and transparent for ordinary people”.
Similarly, lawyers can take advantage of the platform’s online nature to access clients from across the country, helping them widen their client base all for a small fee. The digital workflows of Legal Point Services enable lawyers to set up meetings and reminders, generate automated legal documents, and keep track of documents using a file management system. This way, in the early stages of their career, lawyers don’t have to bear the operational costs associated with running a legal practice such as renting an office space, hiring an assistant, paying for electricity and so on. Consequently, they offer their services at a reduced cost making it affordable for Kenyans to seek legal advice.
So even though the platform has its beginnings in legal-tech, its focus on making legal advice affordable and accessible lends itself to the realm of justice-tech as well.
While envisioning Legal Point Services, Nelson was keen on avoiding many of the traps that new entrepreneurs often find themselves in. He cautiously avoided developing a product that their target market does not require or one that is similar to what already exists. Instead, he directed his efforts to achieve a good product-market fit by interacting with about 40 legal professionals to gain insight into their needs as well as those of their clients.
Nelson reflects on this period by saying, ‘’Looking back, I am happy to see that the initial work that we put into assessing the needs of our target audience has paid off. In two years, approximately 200 individual lawyers have signed up to offer their services and 1,296 individuals have signed up to explore possibilities of working with them on their justice problems. Plus, a total of 300 lawyers who work as in-house counsel for insurance companies, banks and fin-tech companies have purchased the digital products that we offer separately for the use of legal professionals on the platform.’’
When prompted to share his experience of scaling the start-up, Nelson acknowledges that just as there are benefits of being a pioneer in an emerging field such as legal-tech, there are struggles as well. While he did not face competition in the Kenyan legal marketplace from other entrepreneurs, raising funds from investors was an uphill battle for him.
This is because, in Kenya and Africa, investors and incubator programmes are not keen on funding fin-tech. They prefer to fund legal-tech start-ups in more established markets such as in the USA or the UK. As a result, despite Kenya’s thriving start-up ecosystem, Nelson struggled to scale the platform.
Nelson’s efforts to bring investors on board may have failed to advance, but his conviction in his vision drove him forward. He simultaneously tried to bring visibility to Legal Point Services and build a community of people who are interested in legal-tech. To make that happen, Nelson and Calvin interacted with like-minded legal professionals, organisations and ordinary people who were curious to know the benefits of legal-tech. They started hosting a monthly Twitter space where they would have discussions on topics related to the field of legal-tech. They also participated in events hosted by other networks and organisations operating in the space of legal services. That’s how HiiL spotted Legal Point Services. HiiL, in its call for innovations, tagged Legal Point Services on Twitter. So in the platform’s second year of existence in 2022, Nelson and his team got into HiiL’s Accelerator programme.
HiiL’s Justice Accelerator programme brought a turning point in Nelson’s journey. It gave him an understanding of how to run a business. “Calvin and I were well-versed in legal studies and technology, but neither of us knew much about running a business’’, Nelson explains humbly when asked about his learnings during his time in the Accelerator’s programme. The Accelerator’s four-month programme offered Nelson coaching sessions tailored to the needs of his startup. It helped him develop strategies related to branding and marketing strategy, hiring and retaining talented employees and developing business partnerships.
Plus, it brought him in contact with several other entrepreneurs from different parts of the world which allowed him to learn from his peers. Nelson reflects, ‘’Even though the start-ups in the Accelerator’s cohort were very different from each other, I gained perspective as I saw my peers find solutions to problems that were similar to mine.’’ These learnings from the Justice Accelerator programme helped Nelson evolve from being a young visionary to becoming a savvy and focused businessman.
After graduating from HiiL’s Accelerator programme, Nelson and his team are actively pursuing partnerships that can help them diversify the startup’s services. ‘’We have begun by offering complimentary services to lawyers, who are our primary paying customers’’, Nelson adds enthusiastically. Because Legal Point Services primarily caters to lawyers who are young and may want to upskill themselves, it has partnered with an educational institution in Kenya that offers mediation courses via the platform.
Nelson and his team are also exploring collaborations with co-working spaces which lawyers can hire at a relatively low price if they would like to meet a client in person. Another opportunity emerged for Legal Point Services as Nelson and his team struggled to hire people who were conversant in both fields, legal studies and technology. They had to train new employees before they could begin working full-time. To remedy that, they are teaming up with a leading law school in Kenya to upskill students who are interested in exploring opportunities in the field of legal-tech.
As Nelson steers the platform into its third year of operation, his story of becoming an entrepreneur has given us a compelling embodiment of innovation and resilience. He harnessed his multi-disciplinary skillsets to pioneer the use of technology in the legal sector in Kenya and held on to his convictions in the face of hardship. He creatively solved problems and sharpened his skills wherever possible. Indeed, just as his experiences bring to life the story of entrepreneurs who are innovating the justice system, they also serve as a valuable case study for those seeking to navigate this evolving landscape.