Small Business: Legal fees calculator Two Bees aims to make life easier for lawyers

Auckland barrister Steve Keall talks simplifying New Zealand’s legal system with technology and developing an app to make lawyers more accountable for the way they charge clients.

What does your business do?

Two Bees is a civil litigation costs calculator that helps people to find out their costs upfront and decide if they want to proceed with a case. When lawyers do their cost calculations usually they open up Microsoft Excel and work it out and that might take half an hour, whereas my little calculator uses a check-box system which means a user can perform the calculation and then created a printable report in very little time.

In civil cases, what costs you can recover from the other person if you succeed are contained in tables. The tables are based on different daily rates and time periods for different steps. Figuring everything out can take time.

Some civil litigation is very expensive and uncertain. A lawyer can address that uncertainty to some extent by explaining to a potential client what they may recover if they succeed. Two Bees lets the lawyer do that very easily, potentially while they are speaking with someone. I hope that if lawyers use the app this way, it may improve the information people receive about the overall economics of litigation. Typically a lawyer will charge more than a person will recover under the rules. That difference can be ascertained easily by using the app. This is important information the client should have before they commit to anything.

There are situations where people involved in civil litigation are surprised at the difference between what it costs and what they can recover under the rules from their opponent; because there hasn’t been a proper discussion about it beforehand. There is potential for technology to act as a tool to make the information clients need more easy to produce.

What was the motivation for starting it?

Around the beginning of 2019, I was doing billing cost calculations – something that forms part of my practice as a civil litigator, and I found it could be quite time consuming and it occurred to me that there was not yet any simple calculator that would speed up that process by taking a check-box approach rather than doing the maths. I thought ‘Why is there not a tool to make this systematic and automatic’ so I decided to set out to make my own.

I partnered with a web and software development firm in Nelson called UpShift to produce the code necessary to build the platform, and we launched the app in September 2020 after about six months under development.

How big is your team?

It is yours truly, mainly. I have mentioned UpShift who had significant involvement initially. They then assist me as needed. I also get some software and project assistance from a student intern Katherine Huet.

How many people are actively using your app?

Our data suggests hundreds of people are visiting the webpage and using the app every day. We do not know who these people are but assume that they are lawyers. There are about 13,000 lawyers total in New Zealand, and somewhat less than half of them would be involved in litigation, and maybe half that number again in civil litigation. So, a couple of hundred visits per day tends to suggest that a good number of civil litigators are using it.

How many hours a week are you working on Two Bees?

I do this work around my full-time legal practice. Say 10 hours per week. Having set the app free in the wild, the idea is that it should take care of itself.

How do litigation costs differ in New Zealand from other countries?

In civil litigation around the world there is a general idea that the loser pays the winner’s costs at the end. New Zealand takes a middle ground between England where in theory you get all of your costs back (called the “indemnity” approach) and the US where, generally, there is no entitlement (the “no costs” approach). In New Zealand, there is an objective scale which, in the end, provides a specific amount of money for a specific step, regardless of how much you have actually paid. The monetary sums reflected in these rules are intended to represent about two thirds of actual costs. Although they are probably representative of around half.

How do you make money from Two Bees?

The online web app is presently free, although that is likely to change soon. The Android app and the Apple app are subscription-based, so, the business makes money from subscription income. That is the only source of income derived from Two Bees. There is no interest in either advertising or data.

Where do you see Two Bees in three to five years’ time?

I would love for all civil litigation lawyers to be using it regularly so that they are having better discussions with clients, and clients are getting better outcomes. I want Two Bees to be widespread through the legal industry and improve the overall service.

What advice do you give to others who are thinking of starting their own business?

I like what Marc Randolph, the founder of Netflix says: all ideas are bad ideas to begin with, but you can turn an idea into a good idea by testing it. So, you have to find a way to test any idea as cheaply and quickly as possible. Testing is what reveals what is a good product. Keep tweaking it based on feedback you receive.

Disclaimer: Steve Keall is the brother of NZ Herald business reporter Chris Keall.

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