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Emily Foges, CEO of Luminance, on disrupting the legal sector and reaching a $20m valuation

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At Tech City News, we’re always keen to shine a light on those who make up the UK’s thriving technology community.

This week, we spoke with Emily Foges, CEO of Luminance, a LegalTech startup. 

Foges talked about disrupting the legal sector, her predictions for the industry and her 36-person paella pan. 

5 UK tech firms disrupting the insurance sector

Tech vertical: Artificial Intelligence

Funding: £5m (Invoke Capital & Talis Capital)

Staff count: 25

Location: Cambridge & London

Founded: September 2015

Q: Where did the idea for Luminance come from?

In M&A situations, the typical ‘data room’ has become a vast, impenetrable repository of documents with the potential to reveal or conceal the true nature – and therefore value – of a company. Law firms have tried various ways of keeping up with the volume of work this represents, but in 2015 we could see that none of the existing solutions were working. Adding human resources put budgets under severe strain, not to mention the boredom thresholds of young lawyers, whilst outsourcing raised concerns over quality and control. Technology solutions were emerging, but key-word search based systems require too much effort to set up rules and queries for too little return. The latest research from the University of Cambridge combines natural language processing, machine learning and probabilistic maths to be able to read large volumes of data extremely fast, and with a high degree of accuracy. The due diligence problem seemed like the ideal use case for this completely new approach.

Q: What’s your background? What were you doing before?

I spent 20 years working on M&A transactions for businesses, seeing first-hand the importance of due diligence and what it can mean if it goes wrong. You spend a lot of time unpicking those problems and it gets expensive for all concerned. Luminance introduces speed, efficiency and accuracy into the process of finding those hidden risks in the data room. If lawyers are able to spend more time advising their clients on the implications of their findings, we should see a much higher hit-rate in terms of successful outcomes for all parties in an M&A deal.

Q: Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

I learned at the feet of the five-times paella champion of Mexico City and have my own 36-person paella pan, which gets deployed over an open fire all summer in our garden. If you’re going to start catering you might as well invite the whole street.

Q: How is Luminance going? Can you share stats on number of users/revenue?

We have seen tremendous demand from law firms, corporates, investors and others. Since launching in September we have gone live with clients in four countries, and several more pins are due to go on the map over the next couple of months. We also received new funding in December that valued the company at $20 million.

Q: What has been the most enjoyable part about setting up your company?

Being at the intersection of two industries – law and technology – that have not dealt together much in the past, is very exciting. Many law firms are just starting to explore how technology can enhance their businesses, and these tend to be really interesting, intellectually curious people. It’s a real pleasure to work with them.

Q: Who do you see as your main competitors and how do you differ?

There are other legacy products on the market. The fundamental difference is Luminance’s machine learning, which has been built from the ground up to understand and make sense of any data it sees, at extremely high speeds. It comes with no preconceptions, so it can find the ‘unknown unknowns’. Luminance helps lawyers prioritise their work by highlighting the anomalous clauses in a document, saving them from having to trawl through thousands of documents to find risks. Luminance is also intuitive to use ‘out of the box’; it can be up and running within an hour – including training. Other products have lengthy implementation and customisation processes, and require significant services support.

Q: Where do you see the industry going in the next 12 months?

While the field of legal AI is beginning to seem crowded, ultimately lawyers are not techies and the vast majority don’t want to be. We are going to see law firms realising this and moving away from providers that require costly up-front time investment. Instead, we will see a growth in popularity of technology solutions that are easier to adopt and more user-friendly, with interfaces that don’t require extensive training. People won’t accept complicated, demanding apps in their personal life, so why would they in their business?

Q: What piece of business advice do you wish someone had told you before you set up Luminance?

It’s amazing what you can do when you strip away the trappings of a large corporation. The rules are different. You don’t need to worry about things like ‘staff motivation’ and your software development lifecycle is a hell of a lot shorter when the purpose and focus of the business is so clear.

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