Orbital Witness, a London-based generative AI platform for property lawyers, has closed a £7.5 million Seed A round. The investment was led by Parker89, the prop tech investor, who was joined by LocalGlobe, Outward VC, Seedcamp, Portfolio Ventures and Realty Corporation.
The law and innovation are rarely mentioned together, and property lawyers often work in ways that their Victorian predecessors would recognise. Orbital Witness’s platform has helped transform the due diligence of property transactions. The latest investment brings the total raised by the platform to £11.5 million and will be used to continue the platform’s growth as it expands into the consumer market.
Transforming paper-heavy legal processes
Property transactions involve an enormous amount of paperwork. Aside from the legal transfer of ownership, the diligence process will involve investigations into almost anything that might affect the property, from covenants and limits that might affect the land, restrictions that might have been placed in leases, and even the potential effect of proposed planning applications nearby.
This has also been a time-consuming and expensive process, involving applications for documents which then have to be sifted through. The average transaction in the commercial property market will involve around 1,200 pages of paperwork — around the length of War and Peace, although the paperwork is likely to be more complex and less entertaining.
Will Pearce, who founded Orbital Witness with Ed Boulle in 2018, explained, “these processes are weighing down legal experts and burying them in a mountain of paperwork. This is also slowing down the process for buyers and making it more complicated than needed.” Orbital Witness’s platform largely automates the process, collating the documents digitally, and using generative AI to analyse them almost instantly, identifying the key points a buyer needs to know, and moving the process quickly and efficiently.
The platform is already being widely used within the legal profession, with over 2,000 lawyers and property professionals, including all the Magic Circle law firms like Slaughter & May and Freshfields, and corporate users like Tesla and M&S. Orbital Witness estimates that the platform has saved over 74 million minutes across 76,000 transactions.
Pearce says that the technology offers lawyer-grade accuracy. “We’ve spent a huge amount of time and effort ensuring that we meet the very highest standards of accuracy,” he told TFN. “The trust placed in us by the country’s leading law firms is a testament to this quality.” Orbital Witness has done this by including lawyers in their 44-strong team.
“We have a team of real estate lawyers embedded in our technical teams,” explained Pearce. As well as checking the legal accuracy of the model’s results, he said they “have built systems to provide guard-rails against a model hallucinating.” And they have optimised their Optical Character Recognition to ensure that some older documents — many property documents originated from pre-digital times — are processed accurately.
Parker89’s investment reflected how Orbital Witness matched their mission. “We find and invest in the teams and technologies that will usher in the future business models and working practices of a real estate transaction,” says Paul Hurst, Parker 89’s managing director. “Orbital Witness’ vision of automated diligence – combining risk-spotting AI with insurance to enhance efficiency in real estate transactions – fits perfectly into our investment strategy.”
Making property purchases easy for everyone
Although Orbital Witness has been focused on the commercial property market, they are planning to enter the consumer market, bringing their platform’s benefits to residential purchases. Although the individual transactions may not be the size of the commercial property market, the legal issues that surround home-buying are no less complex. Leasehold purchase, in particular, might be complicated by issues from whether the purchaser can have pets, to the rights they might, or might not, have over land around their property.
It means that home-buying can be slow. In 2022, more than a third of home purchases fell through, and those that were completed took on average five months.
By speeding up the initial discovery process from weeks or months to just seconds, Pearce hopes Orbital Witness will be able to not only save time and money for those buying homes, but prevent the heartache that comes when prospective buyers realise their dream home is not all they hoped.
Orbital Witness has launched a product for residential conveyancers, but Pearce’s vision is that their technology could be embedded in property portals, so there is complete transparency from the start. “People could find out, on day one, whether they have rights to park their car outside the property, or if there’s a service charge they need to be aware of, for example. Instead of waiting months for these crucial insights, they will be instant,” said Pearce. “Long-term, our vision is to enable everyone to access the power of this technology.”