FirstCOUNSEL – Connecting startups and lawyers through legaltech and the gig economy

By Huifen Zheng

In this new digital age, all industries are up for disruption, and the legal industry is no different. Girls in Tech Singapore interviewed Linda Schindler, COO of FirstCOUNSEL, and found out more about her journey: from being a lawyer in the Silicon Valley, to running a legaltech startup in Singapore.

Traditionally, law firms have been billing their clients by the hour, and legal services have generally been considered to be expensive for startups and small businesses. All this is set to change as the legal industry innovates solutions to better serve the new wave of clients: startups, SMEs and gig economy professionals.

Legaltech refers to the use of software and digital services to improve the way that legal services are provided to clients. This is a growing market globally, with the United States as the leading market for many new legaltech startups.
One such legaltech business was recently launched in Singapore  – FirstCOUNSEL. Founded by experienced corporate lawyer Azmul Haque, FirstCOUNSEL was set up to provide on-demand legal support at affordable fees for startups and small business.

Girls in Tech Singapore (GITSG) spoke to Linda Schindler, the chief operating officer of FirstCOUNSEL, to find out more about her journey, as well as get her take on how startups can optimise with the right fit for legal help.

GITSG: Hi Linda, thanks for speaking with Girls in Tech. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Linda: I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, so very early on I could already see first hand the trials and tribulations of running your own business. Later on, I went to law school in California and subsequently qualified as a lawyer with the California Bar.
Over the course of my career as a lawyer for entrepreneurs and SMEs, it was apparent that sound legal advice is crucial to sustainable business growth. When any business expands, they are very likely to encounter legal issues or need guidance on how to structure their companies or contracts in a way that protects their legal rights. However, many small businesses cannot afford to engage law firms, which tend to be expensive with potentially unpredictable fees.

GITSG: What do you see as a common theme or trend with small businesses and startups when it comes to legal needs and support?
Linda: Entrepreneurs end up searching the internet for templates and patching together contracts which do not work for their specific situation. If they are lucky enough to have friends who are lawyers, they may ask these friends for some ad-hoc advice. But the friend may not be a specialist in that particular area, and thus the issue is not resolved.
Through my experiences I can see there is a real market for a different way of providing practical, on-demand legal support and usable templates for small businesses, while still being cost-efficient.

GITSG: Is that why you joined FirstCOUNSEL?
Linda: Yes, I joined FirstCOUNSEL because I believe entrepreneurs and SMEs are underserved and we need to help them access affordable legal support.
FirstCOUNSEL is a legaltech startup whose mission is to transform the way legal support is delivered to the early-stage economy – empowering them to start, run and scale their business successfully.

GITSG:  How is this mission accomplished?
Linda: Our platform uses a combination of contract automation and omni-channel support. We enable our customers to have access to basic business legal support, including company incorporation, customizable legal templates, and connect them with a curated group of specialist lawyers who work gig-economy style. Users can engage their own in-house counsel on-demand — for 1 hour, 1 day or 1 week and beyond.
The use of technology and online solutions means that overheads are kept lower, and the cost savings are passed on to our users.

GITSG: What makes FirstCOUNSEL unique?
Linda: Along with our platform, we offer underutilized but qualified lawyers (our FirstCounsellors) an opportunity to work flexible schedules in a non-traditional career path.
Being able to connect and help both sides of the startup economy makes my job really rewarding.

GITSG: This is very exciting! What’s next for FirstCOUNSEL?
Linda: Currently we are serving the Singapore market, but we do plan to expand to other markets where it makes sense.

FirstCOUNSEL’s legal dashboard is easily accessible – a few clicks give you instant access to a catalogue of legal resources across the spectrum of startup needs – from employee agreements and term sheets, to all your legal documentation on the cloud. Pay only for what you need, and purchase add-ons as your requirements increase – with email, phone and chat support included.

Our thanks to Linda for sharing her story – look out for the FirstCOUNSEL team at your next startup community event and say hi!

Huifen is a technology lawyer who has worked in financial services, telecommunications and R&D. She is deeply interested in the intersection of law and technology, and wrote her masters’ thesis on the topic of the data privacy and the Internet of Things (IOT). She is currently the Asia-Pacific counsel for the online payments business of a global FSI company.


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