We talked to Tomoyuki Hachigo of Sprintlaw on how they have made business legals simple and online and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Tomoyuki Hachigo: Well, thanks! We’ve been pretty lucky to have not been too badly affected by the pandemic, and the most difficult part for me is not being able to see family and friends overseas. Australia has fared quite well through COVID-19 compared to some other countries, but there are a lot of people who’ve lost jobs, and businesses are sadly struggling.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Sprintlaw.
Tomoyuki Hachigo: Before I became a lawyer, I had a few years of experience working in the legal tech space, so I always had this idea that technology has the potential to change legal practice. I met my co-founder (who also had a tech background) when we were both starting out at a corporate law firm. We immediately bonded over how technology could improve how legal services are delivered.
We both became lawyers at the corporate law firm, and there was this one day we were grabbing lunch at this sandwich place in Sydney CBD. This is one of those places that always has a line, but it’s super quick and efficient, and we both noticed how amazing their production line and the systematized process was. And one of us made a comment on why lawyers can’t be the same. Which then got us down this rabbit hole of ideas on ways to do things better.
We eventually realized that there’s a huge gap in the market for servicing small businesses and startups, who generally find getting legal help is a headache. Some studies said over 80% of them don’t get legal help when they need to – which sounded like a great business opportunity if we can make accessing legal easy, affordable, and online.
How does Sprintlaw innovate?
Tomoyuki Hachigo: The ‘sprint’ in Sprintlaw comes from the concept of sprints in agile methodology, so iteration is a huge part of how we innovate. We’ve taken a lot of inspiration from tech companies and, through regular sprints, we’ve been able to optimize the way we deliver legal services to clients.
As a company, one of our core values is to “work smart with purpose.” A lot of law firms (and businesses more generally) focus too heavily on employee facetime and input rather than purpose and output. This means that time gets wasted on repetitive tasks and doing things just for the sake of it, instead of actually coming up with new ideas. If a task is repetitive, our instinct has always been to ask ourselves how we can automate it, so our staff can dedicate their time to other projects.
We’ve also found that having a flat organizational structure and emphasizing employee autonomy have empowered our staff to develop good ideas. Ideas can come from anywhere in the company, and people are more engaged when they’re able to take ownership of an idea from start to finish.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Tomoyuki Hachigo: Things were definitely uncertain for us when the pandemic initially hit, particularly during March and April. We saw a slight drop in business, to begin with, but as the Australian economy kept going with the government’s fiscal stimulus, we actually saw unprecedented growth in our client base.
We were already comfortable with flexible work and delivering legal services to our clients online, so coronavirus wasn’t disruptive to our business model. When the pandemic hit, many traditional law firms struggled to move to remote work and online legal service delivery. Being an experienced online law firm made us an attractive option for clients who couldn’t visit a lawyer’s office in person.
When we started Sprintlaw in 2017, we deliberately set up all our infrastructure to support a fully distributed workforce. This was a choice made partly out of necessity — we needed to cut costs as a startup working out of my apartment. But we’ve also always wanted to attract people who wanted to work more flexibly. This has set us up really well to succeed during the pandemic.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Tomoyuki Hachigo: We didn’t have to make any difficult choices, but we did recognize the need to make extra efforts to support staff wellbeing. Although the team was pretty familiar with remote work, the lockdowns added an additional layer of stress to most people’s lives. We kept connected and healthy with a group of online training sessions and did fun activities’ together apart’, like growing windowsill gardens.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Tomoyuki Hachigo: Our business model has always relied on a digital marketing first strategy so having a scalable sales and CRM set up was essential. We’ve always used an automated CRM, so we didn’t have to evolve it too much when our online enquiries increased during COVID-19. Having this set up in place before the pandemic proved really helpful.
Law is traditionally such a relationship-based industry, and there are not many players like us who offer a packaged, productized approach that isn’t based on billable hours. So, throughout our journey, we’ve taken learnings from software/eCommerce companies and have tried to understand how their practices can be applied to legal services.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Tomoyuki Hachigo: In 2020, we received a grant from the City of Sydney to help develop our legal subscription service, Sprintlaw Membership. A lot of our clients have found this service particularly useful during COVID-19 — it includes free, on-demand calls with our lawyers and free document updates, both of which are really important as business circumstances keep changing.
This grant will allow us to bring our subscription model to more businesses, which we’re excited about.
Your final thoughts?
Tomoyuki Hachigo: Coronavirus has been disruptive and really tough for a lot of people. But we see the opportunity, particularly within the legal industry where there’s a need for quality, online lawyers. I think it’s similar to the aftermath of the dot com crash in the early 2000s, where there was a period of innovation that saw companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Dropbox founded and funded. We also see an increased demand for cheaper legal alternatives — perhaps comparable to when more mid-tier law firms emerged as a cheaper alternative in Australia after the 2007 financial crisis. So we can see some silver linings!
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