Valentin Pivovarov: Pioneering technology to make legal services cheaper for clients
Not happy with prospects for law school graduates in Ukraine, Valentin Pivovarov, 25, has chosen a specialty that he thinks has promise — shaking up the legal profession with the aid of technology.
Pivovarov wasn't interested in a standard legal career path, so he found inspiration in information technologies. Before long, he had linked up with Rocket Lawyer, one of the first legal companies to offer services online.
“Legal services provided online can significantly simplify people’s access to justice,” Pivovarov said. It can also save on the labor, rent and travel expenses for law firms. All the same, most firms still have "just simple websites" and standard, expensive services, he says.
So in 2014, Pivovarov launched Bitlex, “a startup among law firms” that offered online solutions. The owners sold their shares two years later and most of the 12 employees joined Pivovarov in his new venture, lexnet.io, which focuses on cyberlaw and cryptocurrency.
The company was spotted by Juscutum, an attorneys association that specializes in IT and media law. It proposed that lexnet.io operate under its umbrella. Today it has become a laboratory of tech innovations for the legal sector.
Digital money and law
In April, Ukraine partnered with global technology company Bitfury to put government data on a secure platform. The same technology is used to encrypt bitcoins.
Ukraine is advanced in this area, he said, ranking "among top 10 countries with the biggest development of cryptocurrency.”
Juscutum is now one of the first and few companies that accept bitcoins as payment.
Tech and law
Technology is already changing the legal industry in Ukraine. “On the one hand, Ukraine has plenty of problems; on the other hand, it has a well-developed IT sphere,” Pivovarov said.
Some projects include chatbots and
applications that automate legal work. One is Legal Alarm, a smartphone application that summons a lawyer at the click of a button. It first charges 150 euros and then dispatches a lawyer for those needing emergency legal assistance.
It’s already available for IOS and Android devices. It was partially developed by Juscutum, but now it’s being developed by Pivovarov and his innovations lab. Pivovarov says the idea hit after the Euromaidan Revolution that drove President Viktor Yanukovych from power on Feb. 22, 2014, when there were searches and raider attacks on business.
“There were cases when someone was just breaking doors, and the companies had no emergency communication with lawyers to protect their rights,” Pivovarov said.
The app won a prize at Hiil Justice Accelerator, launched by Hague Institute for the Internationalization of Law, when it was presented in September 2016. “Now the world knows about Ukraine, and they have high hopes for it,” Pivovarov said.
Another recent development is a computer bot to automate legal services, such as setting up legal entities or filing divorce documents.
“Thousands of Ukrainians register businesses monthly. These services are available on the market for some Hr 1,500, while we can do the same for about Hr 200," he said. Cutting costs improves access to legal help. Most people "don’t go to a lawyer, because they think it’s expensive,” he said.
His team is also working on a plugin for Microsoft Word to create templates for common legal documents.
Hackathons and law
Apart from being an entrepreneur and a lawyer, Pivovarov takes part in organizing hackathons for lawyers, events in which computer programmers and others thrash out tech ideas.
He joined Legal Hackers, a global community from 52 countries. He has already organized a hackathon in Europe, inviting more than 150 people. The turnout showed him that people are hungry for innovation.
“Our people are zealous, they long to see changes,” Pivovarov said. “And technologies can make them happen.”
A woman sits in the session hall of the Supreme Court of Ukraine in Kyiv on April 5. (Volodymyr Petrov)