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Social justice tech entrepreneur intros legal advice app

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Serisha Barrat, founder of Lawyered Up.
Serisha Barrat, founder of Lawyered Up.

New app Lawyered Up will provide legal online counsel for people who need legal advice, but may not be able to afford the high costs associated with legal services.

The pandemic has catalysed a change in the legal landscape, with legal practitioners taking to online channels to offer their services.

Recognising the need of online legal resources, 27-year-old Serisha Barrat is preparing to launch Lawyered Up, a digital legal turnkey platform, to offer a range of legal services.

Officially launching to the public in the second quarter of 2022, the app will serve a dual purpose of offering immediate access to online legal counsel and providing access to important legal documents.

This includes free services and assistance to victims of gender-based violence (GBV) and legal advice on an array of issues, including cannabis law, media and entertainment, blockchain technology law, mining licences, legal due diligence and business administration.

Cape Town-based Barrat says she was inspired to pivot to an online platform after attending the 2019 World Economic Forum discussions on legal tech and the fourth industrial revolution.

“The pandemic prompted an upsurge in online adoption. People got used to accessing services online and expectations have changed, for the long-term,” explains Barrat.

“The legal profession needs to keep pace. Given this, we developed our platform, which eliminates the need for face-to-face communication by digitising signing documents and jurisdiction impediments. Our aim is three-fold: to help the public access immediate, affordable legal assistance; create greater job opportunities for lawyers; and serve those impacted by GBV.”

According to Barrat, SA is among the most marginalised countries regarding the provision of affordable legal assistance, where people often have unequal access to legal assistance.

Lawyered Up, she adds, is geared towards fostering greater accessibility by facilitating easier communication between lawyers and clients.

Through Lawyered Up, Barrat aims to positively contribute to the growth of the economy through active social collaboration and establishing partnerships to add value to the under-privileged communities.

After having graduated from the University of Witwatersrand with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and linguistics, she is completing a second law degree from UNISA.

The blending of these two degrees contributed to providing her with the necessary skills for the business, she notes.

Since 2020, Lawyered Up has gone from being an idea, to the final stages of completion, thanks to securing R5 million funding from an undisclosed investor. Barrat is in talks with another investor and a second funding deal will possibly be signed soon.

The app offers over 100 listed attorneys for pro-bono GBV assistance, and has a database of 250 individuals signed up to test the application and download once it launches.

The business conducts a rigorous vetting process to ensure qualified lawyers are listed on the platform.

A partnership between Lawyered Up and Art of Charity – a non-profit organisation – provides relevant legislation, legal templates, expert guidance and commentary to curb the scourge of GBV.

“South Africa’s dramatic increase in GBV cases is devastating to see. I want Lawyered Up to offer real assistance to people through empowering legal counsel. Hence I teamed with pro-bono lawyers to assist with protection orders for free. All free GBV-related services will be automated in the app.

“The future plan is to provide real-time swabs and blood samples in a bus service outside police stations and team up with counselling services to deal with the root cause of GBV,” she concludes.

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