EXCLUSIVE – Advocate turned coder set to disrupt the courtroom – The Weekly Scaleup with Kim McAllister

I was a Meghan Markle fan way before Prince Harry – Suits is one of my favourite ever shows.

Everyone loves the suave Harvey Spectre, but I prefer the ridiculous intelligence of Mike Ross; the genius lawyer with the photographic memory – who actually never finished law school.

So you can imagine meeting a real-life Mike was pretty cool for me.

He introduced himself as “an advocate who now works in IT”, which immediately piqued my interest, and now, having chatted about his company over coffee, I am very excited to tell you his story. This is an exclusive guys!

Peter Milligan is one of a handful of people to pass the Bar without first doing a law degree. The accountancy graduate practised as an advocate for 25 years, growing more and more frustrated with the levels of paperwork and the alarming regularity of stress, burn out and mental health problems among his colleagues.

Convinced there must be a more efficient way, he scoured the internet for software to ease the burden –Scrivener, an app that organises documents helped, as long as he also used Excel and Word – but the disjointed nature only frustrated him further. 

“It was just too much work to fit into too few hours,” he said. “Clients would be paying me for three days to work on a case that, nine times out of ten, I would settle first thing on the Tuesday morning. You spend such a lot of time preparing for cases that ultimately don’t proceed.” 

It was while washing pots and pans during a cookery course that he had the lightbulb moment.

What if he could apply the kitchen brigade system to law?

What if, instead of reworking and repeating, each stakeholder simply added their bit?

He could see it clearly in his head – unfortunately he couldn’t seem to explain it well to others. After a couple of failed attempts to engage software engineers, he realised there was only one thing for it. He’d do it himself.

“I bought a 577 page book on how to code and read it one Christmas holidays – I’m such fun,” he told me, drily.

Over the next three years he worked on his idea. The connections between elements of a case had to come from an algorithm, and this proved almost impossible to perfect… until one morning.

The sun was rising over the Atlantic and he was pacing the hotel balcony, using holiday time to work on ‘The Monster’ as his wife was now calling it. He went over to his laptop, hit a few keys, pressed return… and it worked.

Carly Simon ‘Let the River Run’ came on his iPod and he had to stop to absorb the moment.  

“There were only 12 words on the screen but they represented so much to me,” he said, smiling at the memory. “It gave me an enormous sense of achievement. I thought ‘this is potentially a game changer’. I really did write it for myself, it became the Holy Grail to me, a massive challenge for years – and I’d done it.”

In fact, it was only the start.

“I liken this experience to a walk in the wilderness – and I love hillwalking,” he told me. “I found a little cave and I was delighted so I walked in, but as my eyes adjusted I realised it was a chasm, going back for miles.” 

What quickly became apparent was that this algorithm which connected and linked complex information would provide a foundation for all sorts of possibilities.

He spent the next two years building the rest of the software and began using it in practice. Colleagues started to show interest and then to ask if they could use it. At that point he knew he needed to make it commercially viable.

“My version was held together with bits of string and sticky tape – there was no way I could allow anyone else to risk it!” he joked.

Through a series of fortuitous meetings, Peter met Eric Jutrzenka, an experienced software engineer who was, at that point, working on a complicated algorithm for fun. His interest was immediately piqued by Peter’s programme. Having previously worked in a start-up he could see the potential and came on board as co-founder. He rewrote the code on Java to realize its full potential; meanwhile Peter visited Business Gateway, where his advisor’s enthusiasm gave him an enormous boost.

As the potential of his software began to dawn on him, his legal instincts kicked in. He registered the company, protected its IP, put trademarks in place and secured the copyright and design rights.

He also began to engage with litigators internationally and confirmed that the software had universal relevance.

Peter called this shiny new commercially viable version MISO, inspired by mise en place in reference to his lightbulb moment.

His chairman is Jonathan Lake QC, currently leading evidence on the Edinburgh tram inquiry. The company has secured its first round of investment as well as an innovation grant from Scottish Enterprise and is planning the second round for mid-2018. 

The first quarters of next year are all about completing the MVP (minimum viable product) and building the network of innovative litigators across the world who will use it and provide the feedback to help refine it. A test version will be available in the next few months.

I’ve written about a lot of tech startups and I believe this is really one to watch.

You heard it here first. 

Kim McAllister is a Journalist & Communications Consultant and director of Impact Online

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