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FirstCOUNSEL in the news: Is Legal Advice Scalable in Southeast Asia?

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Founders beware: Don’t ignore the legal side of your business

By EZRA FERRAZ for Inc. South-East Asia

One defining characteristic of a successful start-up is its scalability. Unfortunately, the same cannot be applied to the field of law—at least not traditionally since one lawyer can only advise one client at a time. But Singapore-based FirstCOUNSEL wants to address this gap.

“At FirstCOUNSEL, we want to completely redefine the way legal support is delivered to start-ups, SMEs, and entrepreneurs. That means leveraging technology, process automation and standardization for the routine, repetitive tasks and enabling our freelance legal experts, our FirstCounsellors, to only get involved at the point where they can add the most value,” says co-founder and COO Noemie Alintissar-Mooney, who studied the impact of the digital revolution on the legal industry for her master’s thesis.

Alintissar-Mooney founded FirstCOUNSEL with Azmul Haque, a corporate lawyer who had successfully started his own law firm, Collyer Law, has more than 15 years of experience, and is qualified to practice law in three different countries.

The business model of FirstCOUNSEL is simple. The platform collects a fee on each legal transaction conducted over the platform. The challenge here is making the price point accessible for those in the early-stage economy, while still making it worthwhile for the legal practitioners to offer tailored yet practical advice.

Together, they are trying to provide legal support to those in the early-stage economy. Alintissar-Mooney says these are medium and small businesses, which have been largely underserved or even completely overlooked by traditional law firms.

“We want to empower them with the right tools so they can start, run, and scale their business successfully,” Alintissar-Mooney says.

Challenging the status quo

The biggest challenge with serving this demographic is often cultural. As SMEs have often just rolled up their sleeves and gone without legal help, Alintissar-Mooney needs to address a rather strongly entrenched status quo.

“We need to help them understand that the right legal support can be an incredible asset for their businesses: not only can it help them avoid challenging situations but it can also help create commercial opportunities for growth, international expansion, to raise capital, etc.,” she says.

Alintissar-Mooney says this is an industry-wide problem. According to her, while legal tech is seeking to disrupt one of the oldest professions in the world, no start-up has yet made a significant dent in this market. The chorus is the same: The status quo is difficult to break.

As a result, FirstCOUNSEL’s user acquisition to this point has been largely traditional. Foregoing a content marketing and digital marketing strategy in the short term, FirstCOUNSEL has focused on obtaining clients through face-to-face business development and word-of-mouth. The co-founders are taking pains to grow at a controlled pace because their first users can become advocates of the brand and are providing feedback that is allowing them to improve the platform for a wider audience.

The evolution of FirstCOUNSEL

The FirstCOUNSEL product has improved significantly since its launch in August. It may be a single platform, but it offers a variety of different ways to get legal advice.

“We offer a blended delivery approach so while users have the ability to get a lot of support online, they can also purchase phone/video credits to speak with a FirstCounsellor at anytime and get all their legal questions addressed,” Alintissar-Mooney says.

FirstCOUNSEL maintains strict requirements for these FirstCounsellors and team of freelance legal counsels. To offer legal advice online, FirstCOUNSEL needs to operate on airtight legal footing itself. To this end, Alintissar-Mooney says all of FirstCOUNSEL’s legal content has been crafted by Collyer Law, her co-founder’s private practice.

While FirstCOUNSEL has its eyes firmly set on disrupting the legal industry, right now they are knee deep in the usual start-up grind. Alintissar-Mooney says they are working on the next phase of their product development, hiring their core team members, and raising their first round of seed funding.

“We have big ambitions for FirstCOUNSEL and 2017 is going to be huge for us!” she says.

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