At The Attic, we are always interested to talk to people doing interesting things in the legal industry, so we were delighted to have the chance to catch up with Gavin Sheridan, former investigative journalist, now CEO of Vizlegal. Having previously worked in a social media startups, he became interested in law and felt that there were opportunities to use technology to improve things for people working in the law. The result was Vizlegal, a legal search and tracking platform.
Can you tell us about your background and what brought you to legal tech?
I’m Gavin Sheridan, the co-founder and CEO of Vizlegal. My background is in investigative journalism – freedom of information (FOI) and open source intelligence, in particular. I previously worked as Director of Innovation at a social media startup called Storyful that specialised in open source investigations, and which was later acquired by News Corp.
I became interested in law via litigation involving my FOI and Aarhus requests for information to Irish public bodies. I felt that there were opportunities to improve the state of the art when it comes to legal information, litigation, and mobile accessibility and open data.
How would you define the scope of Vizlegal?
Our scope is global but we’ve started with Ireland, the EU and the UK. We think there’s an enormous amount of data out there to acquire and organise.
The intention of Vizlegal is to “empower lawyers by indexing and graphing the relationships of all the world’s legal information.”
So why do lawyers need Vizlegal? What benefit does that bring to a firm or the everyday working life of a lawyer?
Lawyers use us every day for various reasons – but mainly it boils down to two main things: searching for things, and keeping up to date with things.
This can include knowing
- what stage your case is at,
- when the other side has filed something, or
- when a new judgment is issued that contains a certain phrase you are interested in.
For others, it’s being able to quickly look up a court rule or practice direction on your phone. And for others, it’s digging through tribunal or court decisions to find a key one.
What is it about the intersection between law and technology that is interesting to you?
I come from a technical background, so I tend to take an interest in the application of technology to any field. Law is interesting because it has been relatively unaffected thus far by digital transformation.
Do you think it helps to come from a non-legal background?
It certainly gives you a different perspective. As a non-practitioner, I tend to look at things with a fresh pair of eyes, which may give some advantage in identifying inefficient processes that could maybe be improved.
In every industry, including journalism, there are many things done because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”, and law is no different. We think that there are many, many opportunities to make the lives of our customers (practitioners!), both less stressful and more productive.
Access to data is central to access to justice – does that resonate with you?
Yes it does. I’m an FOI advocate, litigator and trainer and have spent a decade in the access to information domain. I believe that without adequate access to legal data or information, access to justice is hindered for everyone.
How is Vizlegal changing the legal space in Ireland and legal outcomes?
We are less focused on legal outcomes than we are on improving the lives of our customers. If we can reduce anxiety, increase productivity, make peoples’ lives easier and happier, then we think that we are achieving our goals. We think that these things lead to second-order benefits in the system overall and that’s a good thing.
How will technology affect the legal landscape?
We are in an information-heavy industry and that information needs to be organised and structured. We think that technology will mean that more lawyers can do more things with less time and more productively. The machines can focus on the mundane tasks, while the humans apply their skills in the areas where human brains are best.
What key skills do you think lawyers need today (particularly in terms of tech)?
Understanding product development and customer empathy is an interesting area – it is a skill that many other industries are focussed on. Also, understanding that data is not scary and that spreadsheets are great! (Journalists are going through the same thing!)
What key skills, particularly tech, should tomorrow’s lawyers be developing?
Continued focus on customer happiness and success is important – and learning new ways to achieve the same goal, but better is also great. I think that the keyword is adaptable.
What’s next for Vizlegal?
We continue to add to our coverage and we continue to add tools to make the life of a practitioner easier: including better court date management, better alerts, better and faster ways to search and improvements in managing lots of these things on mobile devices.
Always the goal is: how can we reduce the number of steps, clicks or taps to achieve the job that is needed to be done by our customers. We will expand into the UK market this year and then, to the rest of the world.
Any last words to add?
We enjoy buying coffee for lawyers so we can listen to their problems – be it using court forms, rules, badly built government websites or anything else. Our door is always open.