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F-LEX Startup Story Pt 1: An Interview with Mary Bonsor

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Mary Bonsor is CEO and co-founder of F-LEX, a legaltech startup using automation to create a seamless recruitment experience for applicants, law firms and legal departments. In Part 1 of our F-LEX series, Mary spoke to Becky Baker, our Editor, about her journey from lawyer to entrepreneur and what she learned about commercial awareness along the way.  Training contract hunters, listen up!

Becky: Tell us about how you founded F-LEX.

Mary: The idea for F-LEX didn’t come from a single ‘light-bulb’ moment; it had been brewing for a while before I decided to leave my law firm and develop the first proof of concept with James [Moore], one of my co-founders.

I remember walking around the City while I was doing the GDL and LPC, desperate for work; I eventually managed to find a role as a secretary for a shipping arbitrator, but it wasn’t easy.  Fast forward a few years and I had qualified into litigation, and I was staring in the face of an imminent court deadline with forty bundles to make.  I looked out the window at a group of Kaplan law students leaving university.  I wished I could enlist a few to help me.

From experience, I knew that all of those Kaplan students would have jumped at the opportunity to get legal work experience, even if it was just making bundles.  I wondered why someone hadn’t already forged that link between law students desperate for work and associates desperate for their help.

After I met James, who is an experienced software developer, we started working on a tech platform that could connect law students and firms as efficiently as possible.  We analysed what was taking too long in the traditional recruitment relationship, and how we could use tech to make it easier.  

It took a year to get to the point where I could leave my job and work on the concept full-time.  After a lot of research, networking and flyering outside my old law school, BPP, two law firms trialled our first proof of concept in 2016.  The money went straight to the students they hired.  Now, almost four years later, we have over 4,000 paralegals on our books and a roster of clients that includes magic circle law firms and large in-house legal teams.

Becky: How did you find the transition from being a lawyer to an entrepreneur?

Mary: My skills changed dramatically as I built F-LEX.  I thought I was commercially aware when I was a newly qualified lawyer, but I really didn’t develop true commercial awareness until I ran my own business.  

Commercial awareness is just being able to understand how a business is run by looking at profitability, the structure of the business, and risk, particularly financial risk.  Law schools and law firms rarely teach developing lawyers the skills to assess many other types of risk other than legal risk, which leaves a big gap in their skillset.  I didn’t develop the skills to manage financial and other business risks until I was running F-LEX, when I had to look at the numbers and understand how changes in the numbers would affect the business.

Becky: How can aspiring lawyers develop commercial awareness?

Mary: You may already have developed commercial awareness if you have worked in a start-up or a shop.  You’ll have seen how the business is run, whether it is profitable, how it assesses its own risk and makes decisions on how to move forward, and how those decisions affect its financial position. All our paralegals are trained to think this way, and law schools should introduce a lot more training for aspiring lawyers on how to handle numbers – we should all be Excel whizzes.

If you want to stand out from the crowd as a lawyer, financial skills are essential.  You’ll be able to give more commercially astute advice to clients, and you’ll also know your own value as a lawyer.  When I was billing as an NQ, I didn’t know how much I needed to bill to give the firm a good return on me as an investment!  If you can work out your ROI, and meet or exceed it, you will certainly stand out at your firm.

Becky Baker was talking to Mary Bonsor, CEO and co-founder of F-LEX. For more information, or if you have any comments or questions, please contact becky@legaltechnologist.co.uk. Look out for Part 2 of our F-LEX series in July, where Mary tells us about her vision of the future for F-LEX and the whole legal market.

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