About a year ago, Nikhil Jhunjhnuwala got a frantic call from a young friend named Julia asking him if he thought she had a legal case. A week earlier, the venue that had held her quinceanera—the 15th birthday celebration—had breached almost all of their previously agreed upon obligations: the space was a mess, the band left early, and there weren’t enough staff people to properly run the event. In short, they had completely failed to make good on their promises to her. However Julia, like many people who purchase goods and services, didn’t have a written contract—the agreement was created verbally and without any of the proper protections necessary to successfully sue for breach of contract. This got Nikhil thinking.
Shortly after this conversation, he began working on Legitimo, an app that allows users to make a legal contract on their phones in under a minute. I spoke with Nikhil recently to found out how Legitimo works and how he sees it affecting the field of contract law.
How does Legitimo work?
It’s an app, available on Android and iPhone. You log in, and there are a number of simple contract templates that you can use. You pick the one that’s right for you, say a one day service contract, and you’re prompted to answer questions about your situation, or the service you’re providing. Really simple questions, to get some of the details down, they’re pretty short as well. When you finish answering the questions, the contract is automatically created, and you then have the option to send the contract to the other party, sign it, and you can make it a pdf. Basically you create a contract on your phone, in under a minute.
What are the different contract categories?
Right now we provide four different categories, five contracts total. There is a service contract, a sale and purchase contract, a sub-lease, and a loan agreement. We started by just going for the basics.
Are you planning to add more?
We do want to specialize some of the contracts and make them a bit more personalized. So there is a possibility that we’ll add more in the future, but it’s really going to depend on what we’ve learned from our users. If we notice that service contracts are being used often, say particularly related to domestic service, then we might personalize a template for that type of contract. But it’ll take a little time and testing to figure out what exactly we should focus on.
What is your target market?
Our target market is the Latino demographic within the United States. I mean, anybody cold use this app—it’s not limited to a specific demographic. But we are focusing on Latinos because they suffer from inadequate access to justice. That’s partly because of a language gap and partly a culture gap, and there are also socioeconomic factors at play. We feel that this could be very valuable for them. It’s also one of the fastest growing demographics in the US that has the highest usage of smart phones.
What’s your current stage of development?
Right now we’re in a pretty early stage. We launched at the beginning of January. We have about 1,000 users so far. People are mostly using it for service contracts. We notice a lot of contracts being made by small businesses or small service providers. For example, a couple of people have their own photography businesses, and we’ve seen people use it for painting and small household remodeling jobs. Service seems to be one of the bigger areas it’s being used for, but it’s still pretty early, and we want to do more testing and bring our users up to 10,000 or 100,000 to really understand what the needs are.
Where did the idea for Legitimo come from? And how did you get involved?
I used to go to UCLA Law School. I went for about 2 years. And I volunteered at this one program where we mentored middle schoolers in east LA. My mentee, Julia, was interested in the law, so we would sometimes talk about that, and we stayed in touch over the years. She called me up about 8 months ago and told me that her quinceanera was ruined. The venue was a complete mess. It was understaffed, the band left early, she had to do a lot of the cleaning up, —and it kind of ruined her special day. Her family had spent thousands on this party. So she called me and asked if she could sue the people who had done that to her and get some of her money back.
The first thing I asked was if there was a written agreement or some piece of evidence we could fall back on to prove in small claims court what they had agreed upon. But there was nothing like that—everything had just been a verbal agreement. So I told her the truth—that yes, she could go to small claims court, but the judge is going to make a determination based on the evidence, and it seems like there’s very little evidence, so it’s going to be a back and forth battle of “he said this” and “she said that.” The outcome of getting any of her money back was slim.
The idea just sort of occurred to me when I was wondering why it wasn’t easier for people to make contracts and protect themselves legally in these situations. Law and technology fit really well, and I’ve always thought we could use technology to simplify law. So from hearing Julia’s story, it made a lot of sense to build a contract building app— something that could give you free legal protection before anything goes wrong, and if something goes wrong, at least you’re protected, and you have that proof to show what was agreed upon.
What languages is it in?
Currently in English and Spanish, but we have plans to expand globally. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people requesting it in different languages. We really see it becoming a Rosetta Stone of contracts, perhaps.
How do you see the field of law changing, and do you see Legitimo playing a role in that?
Law is becoming more and more accessible to people, and the need to hire a lawyer, I think, is changing. We’re always going to need lawyers. We’re not going to replace them, but a lot of people don’t protect themselves or take any legal action because they think the only way is to hire a lawyer, and that opens them up to liability. It’s one of those cost benefit analyses: people say to themselves, what’s the likelihood of something bad happening, and what’s the cost of hiring a lawyer? It’s way too much, so they don’t hire a lawyer.
But now we’re seeing the law change in that we can use technology to really give people access to the same types of protections that people who have had money to hire lawyer have always had. So we see the playing field getting leveled. Lawyers will never be replaced, but their roles might be different. Instead of drafting simple contracts or working on very relatively simplistic work, they’ll become more specialized for high-level legal analysis.
In terms of Legitimo, I see it giving people access to contracts, first of all, and helping people become more aware of the law. The way I see it now is, a lot of people don’t want anything to do with the law or have such a negative connotation of the law. I see Legitimo as a step in the direction of, seeing how the law can help you and how it can be simple, and doesn’t have to be intimidating. Law is the foundation of our society, and it’s unfortunate that a lot of people don’t know how it works, so I see this as showing people how something that seems scary, like a contract, can be accessible and easy.
Is it free?
Yes! We don’t want to charge for it—that would be going against all of our ideologies.
Learn more about the Legitimo app and how to download it here.