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5 Legal Tech Entrepreneurs to Watch

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They’re founders and CEOs of companies that are shaking up the legal industry. They’re using machine learning and scripts to automate everything from risk assessment to document creation to eDiscovery.

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Here are the five legal tech entrepreneurs you need to keep an eye on, along with their projects and predictions for the trend tech-savvy lawyers can’t afford to ignore.

Hailing from different fields, and even different continents, they told me what brought them to legal tech, what legal tech entrepreneurship means to them, and where legal tech is going.

Mark Oblad, CFA

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Founder and CEO | Valcu Inc.

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What kind of law did you practice before moving into legal tech entrepreneurship?

Directly out of law school I joined Gunderson Dettmer in New York to practice corporate law in the venture space.

What does legal tech entrepreneurship mean to you?

Legal tech entrepreneurship is finding a better way of doing things (often with software). Popular spaces revolve around: handling documentation–creating, storing, transmitting, sharing, analyzing and executing documents; practice management–timekeeping, billing, docketing and CLE; research–finding and interpreting legislation and case law; DIY and Q&A; and lawyer marketing and matching.

Why did you move into legal tech entrepreneurship?

It’s funny—when I left Gunderson Dettmer after about six years (and having learned several programming languages in my free time), I started a company, valcu.co, and had intended to focus entirely on modeling companies and generating valuations.

This was, to my mind, completely outside of, and an exit from, the legal space. We quickly found that private company (409A) valuations required that the legal documents be structured and were built on top of a capitalization table (cap table), which fell back in the domain of what I had worked on at the law firm. So, we brought this area back into the scope of our goals, and became more open to building tools outside of valuations. It also seemed that there was so much overlap among finance, accounting and corporate law that it only made sense to think about the tools in an integrated fashion.

When a friend wanted help incorporating his startup, after initially sending him away (automated/DIY incorporation just didn’t seem so revolutionary to me), we decided to build some tools for him to run his own VC-style startup incorporation. These tools stuck, and we’ve been building out from this foothold since.

What is your current project/projects?

The aim has always been to work back to valuations, and in that sense, build a suite of tools for maintaining a company. Having automated, incorporation, we moved on to more complicated documents. It turns out, some of these documents are really, really complicated and very difficult to automate. Any solution would involve (i) reformulating language in documents to be able to expand with the different variations of data to be merged into the document, (ii) turning conceptual formulas into real code and (iii) working with data that looks more like a tree than a row in a spreadsheet. So, we pick away at the problem until we are exhausted, and then repeat.

To get there, we’ve written a very simple scripting language (https://valcu.co/scripting_docs and https://valcu.co/document_automation). The language wasn’t supposed to be a language or script at all. Rather, when working with lawyers on automating some of these complex documents, we wrote directly in documents some text indicators of the logic we wanted the lawyers to actually read, understand and conceptually sign off on, and the pseudo coding was just flexible enough to address the possibilities lawyers maintain in their forms. We ended up formalizing this pseudo-code to real code. And, we wrote parsers to handle the code just by dropping the document onto the app. It might not sound that exciting, but when you take a document, add some text scripting and then drop the document onto the app, a mini-app is immediately created and the document and its deep logic has been automated. And, the amount of time one has to spend making the initial draft of a document becomes trivial. Put these multiple documents together through valcu.co, the documents for the entire transaction–as lawyers think of transactions–are automated.

Now we’re moving to open source the scripting language as well as the scripted documents and transactions. All the other stuff around cap table and valuations are also in the works.

What is the one legal tech trend tech-savvy lawyers should watch most closely?

There is an enormous amount of friction in corporate transactions. As this comes down with document automation, electronic signature, automated filings and open-sourced transactions, we expect the rate of contracting to increase and that transactional lawyers that stay up with the latest technology trends to continue moving up value chain.

Mary Juetten

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Founder & CEO | Traklight

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What kind of law did you practice before moving into legal tech entrepreneurship?

My career began as a professional accountant and I spent time as VP Finance, management consultant, ran a software division of a large company and was a Finance Director at a Canadian law firm before going back to law school in 2008.

I thought I would be a white collar crime prosecutor but decided I wanted to create software to help small businesses identify Intellectual Property after working with entrepreneurs who had made early stage mistakes that cost them dearly. Traklight‘s original objective was a “TurboTax-like” experience for self-discovery of IP and we have grown into being a self-assessment for business risks, including IP.

What does legal tech entrepreneurship mean to you?

Legal tech entrepreneurship is more than creating a company with a product to solve a problem and then making sales. It’s change management, particularly if you are creating client-driven technology or alternatives to the traditional approach to the law. It’s critical to secure beta and then pilot customers in the law as most attorneys will not use technology as an early adopter – we are trying to change that with Evolve Law.

Ultimately the law is no different that other industries; the client or customer must be satisfied to recommend you or your firm to others and continue to hire you.

Why did you move into legal tech entrepreneurship?

We actually fell into legal tech entrepreneurship. Traklight was originally created for inventors, creators, and small business, but we realized through our work with attorneys on our advisory board that we had automated the client interview and update process so that attorneys could save time and get right to the practice of law because our software issue spots risks. We have been working with attorneys and also integrating with other legal tech providers, like Clio for about two years now.

What was your first entrepreneurial venture?

Now that I look back, it was really an intrapreneurial venture in the early 2000s when I was leading a software division of a large company where we were given much freedom to accelerate sales. I worked as a COO for a startup in Phoenix while I was in the very early stages of Traklight and finishing law school. It was a great experience as I entered the technology sector in AZ and made tons of connections that I could leverage for Traklight.

What is your current project/projects?

Traklight is now laser-focused on partnerships where our platform is integrated or white-labelled to spot issues and help small and medium businesses address risks to maximize value. We have a new program to work with attorneys by setting up custom portals for their firms. With attorneys, we focus on the client experience, giving a client educational reports while spotting the issues using technology is a competitive advantage for firms.

Evolve Law’s community is growing—we have almost 60 innovators and will do over 12 events in our first year. In addition to a legal tech toolkit and these events, we are starting podcasts, blogs, and working with law firms to accelerate the pace of legal tech adoption. Only by collaborating will we move the industry forward.

What is the one legal tech trend tech-savvy lawyers should watch most closely?

Tech-savvy lawyers should be tuned into clients’ needs. There is a huge latent legal market made up of consumers and companies that do not seek legal advice. By understanding the needs of those potential clients, there is much business to be won. Every client wants an efficient solution and technology can provide cost savings for the lawyer and the client. However, the solutions must be elegant and integrated so that the client experience is seamless. Tech-savvy lawyers can help shape those solutions by working with legal tech innovators and be early adopters.

AJ Shankar

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Founder | Everlaw

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What kind of law did you practice before moving into legal tech entrepreneurship?

I was a computer scientist with no formal legal training. My introduction to the law was as a technical expert.

What does legal tech entrepreneurship mean to you?

It’s about harnessing available technologies to improve how law is practiced, thereby impacting everything from lawyer job satisfaction to access to justice. Entrepreneurship is what makes these kinds of advances available quickly and eventually elevates the entire field.

Why did you move into legal tech entrepreneurship?

I saw some of the difficulties that lawyers were having when dealing with massive amounts of data. With my computer science background, I could see how their experience and efficiency could be significantly improved with the right technology.

What was your first entrepreneurial venture?

The entrepreneur bug hit me pretty early. In high school, a few friends and I offered to build a simple web presence for local businesses for $100. It sounds like a good deal now, but this was in the mid-90s, so we were way ahead of our time. We were rejected by everyone! The local dentist, for instance, thought it preposterous that he would ever need a web page. I learned that you can provide an amazing product for your customers, but it won’t matter unless you’re addressing their pain points.

What is the one legal tech trend that tech-savvy lawyers should watch most closely?

I think a key trend is the use of technology to augment, rather than replace, lawyers. Good algorithms can help lawyers focus their efforts on what matters most. For example, your discovery tool can identify training inconsistencies early on, or your research tool can indicate in advance how a judge might lean.

For more information on AJ Shankar, check out this interview I did with him last year:

Rick Kabra

cosmolex

CEO | CosmoLex Cloud

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What kind of law did you practice before moving into legal tech entrepreneurship?

I’m not an attorney and never even went to law school. I’m a software engineer who decided to make a business out of creating technology solutions that solve real-world problems for legal professionals. Looking back, the fact that I do not have a background in legal work has often been a huge advantage. It’s allowed me to see the processes and procedures objectively, not getting bogged down by preconceived notions of what’s possible and what’s not… and that has helped me develop fresh solutions in problem areas that had been accepted as just part of “the nature of the beast” for many years by people inside the legal profession.

What does legal tech entrepreneurship mean to you?

It’s all about helping lawyers learn to embrace and really come to trust technology as something that makes their everyday work life much easier and their overall practice more successful. For many years, the legal world has been somewhat “technology averse,” and many lawyers still say that they “hate” technology.

In order to remain competitive, it’s imperative that lawyers themselves begin to move with the times and get “unstuck.” That puts the pressure on me to create technical solutions that are both easy to use and clearly valuable in terms of providing concrete benefits—such as saved time, reducing errors, improving compliance, boosting revenues, etc. It’s also about refusing to accept today’s limitations and envisioning the components that will define tomorrow’s more streamlined law practice.

Why did you move into legal tech entrepreneurship?

My initial move into the legal tech field came as something of an accident. It was 2005, and I was looking for a technology-based company that I could afford to acquire to start my next new venture. In the process, we found a software firm looking for a buyer. They had a good product, and they had thousands of law firm customers! Up until then, I had been used to situations dealing with just a handful of very large corporate clients, so this was something quite new to me—and something which I found very exciting.

As I began to learn the nuts and bolts of how small firms and solo practitioners operate, how they spend their time on a daily basis, I was amazed at just how much help they needed… and how much needed to be done just to bring them into the the 20th century (let alone the 21st century).

In terms of leveraging technology, these lawyers and small firms were a couple of decades behind big corporations. They were still doing so many mundane chores manually — sapping all their time and energy. After ten years working side-by-side with my customers in the legal world, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love helping to level the playing field for small firms so that they can compete effectively with the larger firms. And, with continual demands for efficiency as the pace of law speeds up, there is always more to do.

What was your first entrepreneurial venture?

That was pretty much a disaster. After earning my PhD from NJIT in 1997, I spent a few years as technology professional in corporate America—and hated every minute of it. Endless project lists that were months (and often years) behind schedule. Choked by bureaucracy and sabotaged by office politics.

I remember complaining to my colleagues that if I had known about all the BS involved in “big corporate,” I wouldn’t have left India in the first place. One of my managers told me that I might be happier out on my own, and even though I had little capital or business education, I took his advice and put my life savings into a “dot.com” era company.

Of course, I made every mistake you can make, and it all quickly folded when the “dot.bomb” hit in 2000. Luckily, my former employer took me back, but I only stayed a short while and went back to being an entrepreneur as soon as I could. In retrospect, those early failures were my crash course MBA, and they helped me eventually figure out what does it take to become a successful entrepreneur.

What is the one legal tech trend tech-savvy lawyers should watch most closely?

I’m a big believer in being “cutting edge” without stepping over the line to “bleeding edge.” So I focus on what’s practical, dependable, and cost-efficient right now. And right now, all the action is coming from the cloud.

That’s because Cloud apps completely remove the burden of supporting or wrestling with any office technology at all. We all have our laptops, tablets, and cell phones—and now we can use those same devices to handle all our professional tasks as well. Cloud-based solutions are transforming the very nature of how we all view and use technology. In the same way that “apps” made smartphones “smart,” cloud-based software is now delivering solutions that allow lawyers to work smarter, not harder.

At the end of the day, tomorrow’s lawyer will be able to handle much larger caseloads, with far less effort and more dependable results than anyone ever thought possible.

Ned Gannon

ebrevialogo

Co-founder & CEO | eBrevia

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What kind of law did you practice before moving into legal tech entrepreneurship?

Prior to moving into legal tech entrepreneurship, I practiced corporate law, primarily representing private equity funds and companies in mergers and acquisitions. When I was a junior associate and representing buyers, I conducted due diligence as part of these deals. With a team of other junior associates, I reviewed all of the target company’s contracts to summarize their content and identify problematic provisions. When representing the seller, I reviewed the target company’s contracts in order to populate the disclosure schedules to the merger agreement or stock purchase agreement.

Bleary-eyed and between bites of cold pizza at 3 a.m., I saw firsthand how inefficient and inaccurate these contract review processes could be.

What does legal tech entrepreneurship mean to you?

This is an exciting time to be a legal tech entrepreneur. Through hard work, resourcefulness, and intelligent risk-taking, the entrepreneur delivers targeted, sophisticated technology in a scalable, profitable way to create substantial value for law firms and clients in a rapidly changing legal industry.

Why did you move into legal tech entrepreneurship?

eBrevia embodies the classic case of entrepreneurs feeling pain themselves and then developing a solution.

One of my co-founders and a friend from Harvard Law School, Adam Nguyen, was a corporate law associate as well, and experienced the tedious and sometimes inaccurate process of reviewing contracts. Together, we set out to create a solution to make contract review more efficient, accurate and cost effective.

We came across some sophisticated machine learning technology developed at Columbia University that had been successfully spun out for applications in other industries. We sponsored research at Columbia and worked closely with Professor Kathy McKeown, the Director of Columbia’s Data Science Institute. We also met our third co-founder and CTO, Jake Mundt, a computer scientist and expert in machine learning, through the project at the university.

A key factor in our decision to found the company was the strong trend toward value and efficiency in the legal industry, a trend which has rapidly accelerated in recent years. Clients now routinely bring more work in-house, refuse to pay for junior level work at law firms, require more flat fee arrangements, and outsource low-level work to India or lower cost areas in the United States. Increasingly, by using technology like eBrevia’s, law firms are differentiating themselves by showing they are more efficient, accurate and cost effective than their competitors.

What is your current project/projects?

eBrevia’s machine learning software enables attorneys to review contracts more efficiently, accurately and cost efficiently. The software is used for due diligence in mergers and acquisitions, contract management and lease abstraction. Most users estimate the software saves them about 50% of the time in their review. eBrevia’s clients include global law firms, global accounting firms, and in-house legal departments. Recently, eBrevia signed a partnership with RR Donnelley, a Fortune 500 company that owns Venue, one of the world’s largest virtual data rooms.

What is the one legal tech trend tech-savvy lawyers should watch most closely?

Artificial intelligence is transforming knowledge work across a variety of industries, and the legal industry is no exception. Based on the nature of some of its more routine tasks, such as due diligence, the legal industry is particularly amenable to machine learning innovation. That being said, in the near term, the most successful implementations of AI will enable an attorney to work more accurately and efficiently, rather than supplanting all of her tasks. AI can also assist tech-savvy lawyers in offering more sophisticated and nuanced advice, for instance, in creating a database of market terms for private equity funds and hedge funds. Tech-savvy lawyers should follow advances in AI and learn to use tools that will allow them to better serve their clients and thrive in a changing legal landscape.

Conclusion

Who’d we miss? Let us know in the comments!

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About the Author

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz helps B2B software companies with their sales and marketing at Capterra. Her writing has appeared in The Week, Forbes, the Chicago Tribune, The Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications. She has been quoted by the New York Times Magazine and has been a columnist at Bitcoin Magazine. Her media appearances include Fox News and Al Jazeera America. If you're a B2B software company looking for more exposure, email Cathy at cathy@capterra.com . To read more of her thoughts, follow her on Twitter.

Comments

Cathy, great list and thank you for putting it together. I love to stay on top of the LegalTech field. I also think you should take a look at Shawn Kennedy, founder and CEO of eDepoze. Just launched Lexcity, a litigation software platform. He is a 12 year practicing lawyer who saw that there was not much out there for digital litigation post e-discovery events such as depositions, arbitration, mediation, witness prep, exhibits, and trial. Would love to get you in touch with him for an interview! Thanks again!

Cathy Reisenwitz

Thanks for the tip! I’ll reach out. Mind emailing me his email? I’m at cathy@capterra.com. Thanks again!

[…] From risk assessment, to corporate management, to document analytics, the legal industry is seeing an array of innovative tools being developed for its unique needs. Enterprise software site Capterra has identified five entrepreneurs unafraid to challenge the status quo, with eBrevia CEO Ned Gannon among them. Check out the full list to see some of the ways entrepreneurs are bringing speed and automation to law and get the inside scoop on eBrevia’s founding story. […]

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