Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Volunteer for CA State Bar Committee Appointments

One great way to encourage innovation in the legal profession is to lead the legal profession. The CA State Bar is looking for about 200 volunteers to fill positions on numerous committees, boards and commissions. See the CA State Bar's posting below.


State Bar committees need volunteers

The State Bar is recruiting about 200 dedicated volunteers to fill about 200 positions on more than three dozen committees, boards and commissions. Groups with open positions range from committees dealing with access and fairness issues to section executive committees focused on particular areas of the law to a committee addressing questions of professional responsibility and conduct.
If your interest is the day-to-day delivery of legal services to poor and middle-income individuals, administering the IOLTA program and exploring ways to improve access to civil justice, positions on legal services committees are also available. Most of the appointments carry a three-year term. You can get an application by calling the bar’s appointments office at 415-538-2370 or by faxing 415-538-2305. The deadline to apply for most positions is Feb. 3, 2014.
A complete list of openings, application forms and detailed committee information are available at the State Bar’s website at www.calbar.org/appointments. Applicants can apply to up to three committees, but can only be appointed to one. The State Bar’s Board of Trustees will make the appointments between May and July 2014, and committee terms begin Sept. 14, 2014.
The committees seeking applicants include:
  • Courts/administration of justice committees which review proposed changes in civil procedure, alternative dispute resolution, appellate and federal rules, procedures and practices, as well as comment on proposed legislation governing these issues
  • Insurance committees, which act as counsel to the board of trustees on insurance matters and oversee the bar’s member group insurance programs, including life, accidental death and dismemberment, disability, personal auto and homeowners, long-term care, workers’ compensation and professional liability
  • Regulatory committees such as the Committee of Bar Examiners,Committee on Mandatory Fee Arbitration and Legal Specializationcommissions, which are established by statute and oversee mandated admission, arbitration and certification programs of the State Bar
  • The Council on Access and Fairness, which is devoted to increasing diversity in the legal profession
Other positions are also open on bar committees:
  • Six positions will open on the American Bar Association House of Delegates next August. State Bar delegates serve two-year terms and may serve three consecutive terms. The State Bar does not reimburse its delegates for travel or meeting expenses. All applicants, including incumbents seeking reappointment, must file the 2014-15 application form by Feb. 3.
  • In addition, two lawyer positions on the Judicial Council will become vacant. Members serve staggered three-year terms that run from Sept. 15 to Sept. 14. Applicants must file the 2014-15 State Bar application by Feb. 3.
  • The Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation will have 15 openings on its 2015 roster. Applications are due by June 2, 2014 for terms that begin Feb. 1, 2015.
  • In addition, two positions will open on the 2015 Lawyer Assistance Program Oversight Committee. Members serve four-year terms that can be renewed. All applicants, including incumbents seeking reappointment, must file the 2014-15 application form by June 2, 2014.
More information about these appointments and application requirements is available on the State Bar website under Other Entity Appointments.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Slide Decks for Seattle and LA Legal Tech & Innovation Meetups

Dan Lear and Janelle Milodragovich have posted the slides that  they presented last week at the first meeting of the Seattle Legal Innovation and Technology Meetup, in Seattle, Washington here.

I also posted the slides from the first LA Legal Innovation Meetup meeting last month here.

Other legal hacking, technology, or innovation groups are listed at http://legalinformatics.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/legal-hacking-technology-and-innovation-groups/

HT Dan Lear, Robert Richards

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Lawdingo Raises $690K

Congratulations to Nikhil Nirmel of Lawdingo, who just raised $690K! You can read more at the TechCrunch article here, and read our previous interview with him here.

Juicy bits here:

The new funding comes from angel investors (and funds run by angel investors) including Nathaniel Stevens, Kartik Hosanagar, Gene Alston, Altair Capital, Atsany Captial, and Andrew Moroz. It brings Lawdingo’s total funding to $850,000.

One of the more popular features [...] is the ability to “get a call now” — Lawdingo can instantly connect users with a relevant lawyer by phone. Lawyers provide Lawdingo with their availability, so when a request comes in, the system reaches out to the ones who are available and have relevant expertise until it finds one who’s free to talk.
The business model has also been tweaked, with Lawdingo abandoning a plan where lawyers bid to promote their listings. The company has since gone back to the flat subscription fee that it started out with.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

MyRight, LegalCrunch, Legitimo: A Journey of Two Serial Legal Entrepreneurs

I really enjoyed this next interview with NYC-based Keval Amin and Nikhil Jhunjhnuwala. They're already on project number three of what I'm sure will be many more exciting law startup projects to come.

Tell me about yourselves
We’ve known each other since fifth grade, since we lived a couple of houses away from each other. I think we met on the school bus. We also both went to Rutgers together, and then parted ways—Keval went to design school, and Nikhil went to law school at USC. Keval’s original idea was to do industrial design for things like plates and silverware. While learned about that process, he learned about how business works. Nikhil was in law school for his 1L year and realized that the law isn’t very complicated—it just needs to be simplified for lay people.

I know you guys have a lot of projects going on, so tell me about those.
In 2011, our first company was MyRight—a WebMD of law. WebMD has a symptom checker, and Nikhil had this idea of seeing whether the common person could put in symptoms and get an answer. Through talking to Keval, we were able to synthesize something real.  We got into StartEngine, an LA accelerator program, for that, and were able to get cash and mentorship to shape the company. We were too ambitious though, and really needed more cash than we’d originally thought. After the technical cofounder left in January 2013, we decided to pivot.

We then started LegalCrunch, an expungement service. For those unfamiliar with expungement, if you have a criminal record, expunging the record essentially clears criminal history from public record. We developed in a matter of weeks an automated system where people with criminal records can take an eligibility test using several factors to determine whether we can help them with their expungement. If so, the system will generate paperwork for the customer to sign and mail. In less than a year, we’re already generating revenue with LegalCrunch in just New Jersey and Ohio.

Recently, we created Legitimo, a mobile app targeting the Spanish-speaking population that helps people do contracts. It came randomly—we had just moved to New York, and there was a Spanish-language themed hackathon sponsored by a Latino organization. We wanted to get involved in the startup scene, so we showed up and came up with the idea at the Hackathon. The app can create a simple contract in under a minute in both Spanish and English.

Legitimo is Spanish for “legit.” In our market testing, the latino community would read our company name and understand it. In fact, our tagline is “it’s legit.”
We’re targeting a demographic that tends to be a cash-based community that really needs legal protection. When Nikhil was in law school he used to volunteer at several legal aid clinics, and anyone who spoke Spanish was an invaluable asset.

Tell me a bit about what you learned from the MyRight experience.
We learned so much, it’s hard to know where to begin. By far, we learned that failing is not a reason to stop doing what someone is really passionate about. We could have quit when our tech cofounder left, but we’re passionate about legal innovation and creating a company. After just one month of LegalCrunch, we were already making small amounts of revenue. We also got a lot of perspective—there’s lots of room for innovation in law, but it’s also more difficult to introduce that innovation than in other industries. Lawyers and bar associations push back, and you have to deal with lawyers who are litigious by nature. But despite all the obstacles, we still stay because of the potential for impact and change.

Now that you’re done with MyRight, do you think a WebMD of law is feasible?
I think it’s feasible. It takes a lot more investment of resources and energy than we initially thought it would. MyRight is something we’d like to put out there and integrate with something we do in the future. It’s not very far-fetched or crazy technology. Others are doing something similar in a narrower sense. Our biggest weakness was that we lacked a business model—we were giving people free information, but there was no solid business plan at the time, so we had to pivot. Whereas with LegalCrunch, we put a website up and created a kit in a few weeks without too much planning.

Expungements have a very narrow target market. How do you advertise?
We’ve learned to respond to the things our target demographic looks for. Whereas MyRight targeted a board range of legal topics, LegalCrunch is narrower. We write articles to be ranked in SEO by Google, and are also using Pay Per Click (PPC). We also partner with lots of lawyers—usually solo practitioners.

Are you looking to expand into other topics aside from expungement?
Maybe later. We’re using expungement as an entry point into document automation, but there’s already a lot on our plate.

Why did you start off in New Jersey and Ohio?
We’re from New Jersey. Ohio recently passed an expungement law that made more people eligible than before, so it was a good opportunity.

How does UPL figure into your startup?
You have to address UPL if you are a law startup, but we’re not practicing law. We are an information service and document preparation service.

What’s been your greatest challenge?
In a startup, you have to wear a lot of different hats, play lots of different roles, and you’re always thrown in to something you don’t know anything about. It’s not easy. Also, in law, there’s not a lot of leeway to do innovative things. It’s hard to market law and it’s not very fun. All the other legal websites out there try to create an aura of credibility or authority, but that’s not really in line with our personality. We want to make law accessible, not intimidating or scary, but it’s hard to change people’s perceptions. There are surveys out there in which 70-80% of consumers have a negative reaction when law is mentioned. We try to position LegalCrunch to instill some confidence in consumers, but still have dinosaurs and fun characters on the website to give people a sense of comfort.

Conversely, what’s been your greatest success?
There are so many tiny wins, but to us, they’re huge wins. Little milestones add up. For example, we were thrilled when we got our first customer, and when we helped clear our first person’s expungement. People have come to us and said, “you are my only hope. I can’t afford a lawyer.” We try the best we can without committing UPL by being a helpful resource. A number of people have told us that they didn’t know where else to turn to. They were so grateful, and those thank yous are very motivating. We’re also thrilled we’ve been able to gain credibility in just a few months. Government agencies, probation officers, and unemployment offices have started to refer customers to us. It’s slow, but it’s happening.

Any advice to aspiring legal entrepreneurs?
Don’t give up.  You’ll probably fail a lot and get frustrated, but the more failures you have, the more you success you may have in the future. There are a lot of obstacles in this field, but you’re making real change. It’s easy to make a social app or cat website, but its more fulfilling and challenging to be in this field. We need more legal startups out there.

How have you two managed to sustain yourselves financially throughout this process?
We had about 9 months worth of investment money for MyRight. We moved back home to sustain LegalCrunch, though eventually moved to (and currently live in) New York City, which has afforded us a number of opportunities in the law tech space, including starting Legitimo. For those contemplating doing a regular job or side job, make sure its something easy that you enjoy, since you’ll be doing that 9-5 and still have to come home and work some more. Don’t do something you don’t care about. Many people with side jobs still work in law during the day. We also have moved home. It’s not too bad. It’s best if you have a clear vision. You really get to understand who you are as a person. You’ll have a lot of doubts, and there will always be mornings when you wake up and ask, “why am I doing this? I could have been normal.” It’s easy to give up, but we want to let others out there contemplating a law startup that it’s okay to move up and give up a normal lifestyle.

Nikhil, any plans to return to law school?

Maybe. It’s not something that’s out of the question. I’m not sure I’d practice law, but I wouldn’t be opposed to just finishing the degree.

Friday, October 25, 2013

PlainLegal: Combining an Online Marketplace with Workflow Tools

Apologies for a little gap in writing. It's taken a little while to settle in after my move to LA, but I promise we have some interesting articles in the pipeline! Today's article features former Biglaw attorney, now legal entrepreneur Nehal Madhani of PlainLegal, based out of NYC.

Tell me about PlainLegal.
PlainLegal is a marketplace that makes it easy for businesses to work with trusted lawyers. We show businesses relevant lawyers that can solve their legal problems and provide workflow tools for both sides that increase efficiency and transparency. Each lawyer on PlainLegal is screened to ensure a certain level of quality. We look for lawyers who understand the legal needs of their clients, communicate in plain English, and can efficiently deliver high-quality services at affordable rates. Our platform is unique because we combine a curated marketplace of lawyers with tools that make it easier for clients and lawyers to work together. 

What does the process look like for the customer?
PlainLegal streamlines the legal process. First, a customer describes their legal issue in plain English. From there, we show relevant lawyers that can help with that problem (we have a thorough screening process that each lawyer must go through before being accepted). Next, we provide a simple form that helps the entrepreneur explain their legal need to the lawyer. Once the lawyer and entrepreneur have agreed to work together, we provide access to simple workflow tools that increase the efficiency and transparency of the legal process for the customer. Through our research, we identified several pain points throughout the life of the legal project, so we built our workflow tools to eliminate those points of friction.

What was the most interesting thing you learned from all your market research?
Customers seem to face similar problems that cause them to avoid dealing with their legal problems. The first is identifying the legal problem. The second is finding a good, affordable lawyer. The third is actually working with that lawyer. We address each one of those problems with our marketplace and platform.

What makes a good lawyer?
For us, good lawyers are those who have relevant experience, communicate with customers in plain English, and provide clear, actionable steps to address legal issues.

How do you increase the efficiency of the legal process?
We have tools that streamline key aspects of the lawyer-client relationship such as communication and document management tools. For lawyers, we also enable them to create and upload engagement letters as well as collect payments.

What’s been your greatest challenge so far?
It’s the same as most other online marketplaces -- growing both sides at the right pace and avoiding a chicken-and-egg problem. We’ve addressed the chicken-and-egg problem with productivity tools that lawyers can use with their existing clients as well. 

What’s been your greatest success so far?
We’re still early in our process, but I’m happy to have helped our initial customers connect with a lawyer that solved their legal problems. Some of our customers had a tight deadline, and we were able to immediately connect them with the right lawyer.

How were you able to find your initial customer base?
Our first customers came from direct outreach, word of mouth, and referrals from other customers. 

How have you been able to handle the tech part the startup?
I learned how to program and developed our prototype. Recently, I’ve brought on a full-time developer to take over the tech side so that I can spend more time building the business.

Any advice to the aspiring legal entrepreneur?
Be patient and willing to understand/adapt to your constituents within the industry. Too many entrepreneurs (not just in the legal space) are intent on "disrupting" an industry. We should be building something that helps all parties.

What is your vision for either your startup, or the legal industry as a whole?
I have a few goals—I want legal services to be easy and affordable. I’d also like to see businesses start taking a preventative approach instead of a reactive approach to their business. As part of that, I’d like to see legal advice being regarded as a strategic and valuable element of a business. 

There are many great entrepreneurs working on problems in the space. I’m excited to see where the legal industry will go in the next 5-10 years, and I believe that we can make a meaningful impact on the accessibility of legal services. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What is a "law startup"? + Crowdsourcing a law startup directory

In attempting to start a list of law or legal startups (what's the proper term?), it is a challenge in and of itself to clearly define what constitutes a "law or legal startup." What is a law startup, and what is it not?

I personally have no clear guidelines, and would rather be over-than-under inclusive. Some startups are tech-heavy, others are non-profits and civic engagement mechanisms, and still others are advocacy organizations. I'm open to all groups, so long as they're interested in innovation of the law, the practice of law, or access to law. I'm particularly interested in groups that want to find new ways of doing old things.

I would note though that I'm not very interested in groups that sell law practice technology to lawyers unless its distinguishable different or innovative. There are tons of companies selling run-of-the-mill software to lawyers or e-discovery firms, but feel free to comment and debate if as to whether you agree or disagree.

Lastly, I'm sharing the list of law-related startups that I've come across in the hopes that the community will contribute. Feel free to add in your own group, or groups that you've come across. It seems as if there's been an explosion of law-related startups in the last two years. Certainly, the recession resulting in jobless lawyers was a catalyst. Maybe, as we collect more information, evidence of that trend will become more clear. Don't be offended if you're not already on the list--this is my first attempt to organize information and get a clearer picture of the community.

Here's the link to the GoogleDoc: http://tinyurl.com/l24ccne

Monday, September 30, 2013

SueWith.Me: Kickstarting Class Actions

Happy lawless, government-less day. Oddly, for the first time in my life, today is the first time that I've been told that I'm not allowed to work. That working is actually illegal. The workaholic inside me is feeling a bit lost and perplexed, but maybe SueWith.Me has a solution! I'd only recently heard of this relatively new startup, but the concept is very exciting! Meet Patrick Cahill of SueWith.Me. Maybe he'll help the rest of the country file a class action against the imbeciles up on Capitol Hill who seem to be unable to do their job today (hey! it could happen!)

Tell me about yourself.
I'd always wanted to have my own business. For the past four years, I've run my own marketing firm that helps professional service firms market their services. I wanted a new challenge though, and have always enjoyed the process of starting something new. 

My father was a police officer, state trooper, and president of the police union. He later on went to Suffolk Law School, so I grew up observing him and how his legal background helped him shape issues that his peers were having trouble with. My mom is part of a union as well as teacher. Their work in unions showed me how business must respond to groups of people that take issue with an injustice. Recently, I've seen my friends and colleagues protesting in public areas, and while I support their efforts, I thought there must be a more effective use of their time. Protesting doesn't seem to have much impact on huge corporations, and I thought there must be a way to organize efforts efficiently and on a national scale.

And you're not a lawyer, right?
No. I didn't make this site with the intention of shaking up how law is practiced, but I did want to create a mechanism for access to justice.

How do you envision this working?
If an individual feels that they have encountered an injustice or are owed damages from a large company or government entity, and if the entity performed an illegal act, the individual can post a description of the case, and we'll let them know whether we will post it or not. We'd use social sharing tools to grow an audience. Others can become a "peer" on these cases for $2.50. We charge $2.50 because we want to make sure people are  passionate about the issue, that the people are real, and the money would go to help fund the lawsuit. It is a small hurdle to overcome, but a hurdle that makes people put their money where their opinions are. There would be multiple "tipping points," i.e. when a certain number of people sign up to a case, it could trigger an attorney review. When the case reaches the final tipping point, we hope to hand the case out to a class action law firm.  We would work with a few law firms to have them pitch to the peers, who would then vote on the firm they want to represent them. 

Have you been working with attorneys on this?
Not yet. The plan is to go forward and see what mistakes we make in the process. I didn't want to approach law firms until we built a legitimate platform with clients signing up. I'd like more legitimacy before approaching the law firms.

How will the recent Supreme Court cases affect you?
My understanding is that the rulings make it harder to group individuals together for a class action suit. Still, my thought is that if thousands of people come together and the law firm spends zero dollars on trying to find plaintiffs, then its still a useful platform. We're just here to provide the masses for the law firms. 

How information do you collect?
We collect the basic contact information. People have to also check a box saying that they think they are affected by the issue and are owed damages. We'd then have the firms pitch to this peer network. Our use doesn't end thought when the case is handed off to the law firm. We also offer a ourselves as a simple communication platform between the law firm and peer network during the case. The law firm can also use SueWith.Me to efficiently get additional information from peers.

How long have you been around?
We publicly announced ourselves two weeks ago. We've been working on this for a few months now. 

Why do you curate the ideas posted on the platform?
We want to maintain some level of quality control. We have three levels--first, we monitor what is or isn't posted on the platform in order to build a good reputation in helping to pursue wrongful cases. Second, peers pay in to help fund an attorney review, and third, attorneys assess the potential of the case. We don't really want to see the "I burned my tongue on coffee" cases."

What's been your greatest challenge?
We want more people to share their ideas and be willing to put them out there to the public. In our first two weeks, we found that lots of people have great ideas, but it takes effort to get people to submit their case ideas. We want people to open up, submit ideas, tell their friends, and then spread the word.

What's been your greatest success?
I read a previous interview on your blog where another founder said its too early to claim success. I feel the same way. However, I do think there are milestones. I got the first email earlier this week from someone I didn't know asking about posting an idea on the site. The case was strangely aligned with someone I felt passionate about. Another milestone was getting an interview request from you.  Those are motiving milestones.

Any advice to the aspiring (legal or non-legal) entrepreneur?
I've started a few businesses, and a couple of them are reasonably successful--but they're all different. My advice would be to overcome the initial inertia. Ask what it takes to get someone to pay for this idea. Its good to share the idea and see if there's enough traction to validate it. Lots of people also stress about the business plan. If you have an idea of where you want to be and what you want to accomplish, forget the 3-5 year goals; instead, create small plans for next month. As you're actually implementing those small plans, you find a lot that shapes your business and makes it better. If you cling too tightly to your initial idea, it will cost you time and money.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Lawdingo: The Non-Lawyer, Non-Engineer Changing the Legal Landscape

I was able to meet up with Nikhil Nirmel recently during a trip to NYC. We had previously met at the CodeX Conference, and he was one of the nicest people I'd met, so I figured I'd ask him for an interview on top of coffee. Lawdingo is a Y-Combinator backed startup that's recently moved from San Francisco to NYC. 

Before we get into the interview though, check out his hilarious commercial.  Cracks me up every time.

Tell me about yourself.
I started a company, Lawdingo, with the belief that I could get the legal industry online starting with initial legal consultations. I was the research lead at Yelp and an early employee of Yodle. I studied Operations and Information Management at Penn's Wharton School, and went through Y Combinator earlier this year. I'm 27 and as of recently I live in New York City. For some reason, I'm obsessed with building communications products.

What does Lawdingo do?
Lawdingo lets people find, talk to and work with lawyers online. We're creating a national network of attorneys who operate the virtual part of their practice through Lawdingo. This people gives people who just need to talk to a lawyer a huge amount of convenience. In just a few clicks and minutes they can be on the phone with an appropriate attorney, and in a few more clicks they can have entered into an attorney-client relationship with that lawyer, all online and all in one place.

How does Lawdingo connect people?
We're able to provide consumers with the experience of being on the phone with a lawyer who is familiar with the laws surrounding their particular need, literally two minutes after having come to the website, anywhere in the country, for free. How we manage to do that is our little secret, but I'll say that we've done some pretty crazy stuff with telephony, calendar integrations and payments.

Do you find working the legal startup space difficult as a non-lawyer?
Surprisingly not. I think in general, insiders of any industry are quick to mistake the way things are with the way things are meant to be. As an analytical outsider with nothing to lose I can examine the legal industry more objectively and spot a bunch of obvious ways it should be better. Also, as someone who to this day still knows quite little about the law itself, I've built a product that assumes you know nothing about the law too, and that makes for a more widely-appealing experience.

Any ethical considerations?
Sure, yeah, I certainly considered the rules of legal ethics as I designed the product. Specifically, we're not splitting fees, there are no referrals per the definition of a referral, and the company itself doesn't provide legal advice. And for participating lawyers, it's their responsibility to use the same level of professional responsibility with Lawdingo clients as they would with clients who they meet through any other means.

What we do is facilitate the discovery, communication and transactions between consumers and licensed attorneys. From a user experience perspective, the way we've combined these processes is just magical, but from the specific standpoint of legal ethics, there's nothing new here, and that's by design.

What's your biggest challenge?
I would say that figuring out the right economic model while trying to scale has been a challenge. It's complicated because we're facilitating initial legal consultations, which for both parties is of huge value, but is traditionally offered for free. That's compounded by our need to have great lawyer and client coverage in every state in every practice area right off the bat. you can't charge for inclusion if you want to build a big network. You also can't charge for transactions because they will happen off the platform anyway and are hard to track.

So how do you make money? 
All lawyers want to grow their practice. We provide them with high quality, paying clients that they couldn't get any other way. They're literally stealing business from bigger firms because increasingly, consumers prefer the convenience of Lawdingo to the vastness of larger firms.

How about clients who want a good lawyer?
Good is subjective! We try to help users define what good is for them. For some it's other users' ratings, and we have a whole reputation system that does that. For others it's price, proximity to them, immediate availability or something else, and we have lots of filters for all of those. As of very recently, users can also connect their LinkedIn account to see which lawyers they share common connections with.

Functionality aside, I've found that a lawyers' interpersonal skills seem to have a lot more to do with a client's assessment of a lawyer than does the lawyer's intimate knowledge of the law. And I think that even in a quick 5 to 10 minute phone call, both a lawyer and a client can get a sense for the character of the person on the other line. All this makes Lawdingo a great tool for finding the right fit between clients and lawyers without the hassle of driving from law office to law office.

What's your greatest success so far?
By number of lawyers on the platform, Lawdingo would now be a among the top 25 law firms in the world. And it's still just me running everything! So that's pretty cool.

As an entrepreneur, is it hard being solo?
Yes, it's hard. I work insane hours, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I'd like to be the poster child for a whole new way of running a business. Instead of just doing things that need to get done, I try to spend most of my work time putting in places processes that get things done. Importantly, I also think being solo means you can attack a very specific vision free of compromise. I think co-founders' need for agreement produces companies that may sometimes lack clarity of purpose.

If you're not a coder, how do you get the coding done?
I get coding the same way I get done anything I can't do. I get an advisor who knows how to think about it and I contract people who know how to actually do it . So with coding, I have an excellent technical advisor and excellent developers all over the world. It's almost a truism in the startup world that this never works, but I think the quality of my product is evidence to the contrary.

That said, I wouldn't recommend that children try this at home. I happen to have years of experience failing miserably at this, but by now I've sort of become an expert in managing a dispersed global product team.

What advice might you have to aspiring legal entrepreneurs?
Give up and join Lawdingo instead! Ok, just kidding. I think good advice might be to be aware of the weird economic incentives underlie that lawyers' behavior. For example, having time means less billable hours, giving free advice means the potential to land big clients, and so on. My other advice, which isn't specific to legal startups, is to always out-product your competition. Be really specific about how your product adds value. Great products feel invisible, like they aren't even there, and that takes a huge amount of work to achieve.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Robot, Robot, & Hwang: Community Building for a Legal Refresh

Despite its two robot partners, I enjoyed my conversation with Tim Hwang of Robot, Robot, & Hwang on bringing a human voice to the legal innovation movement.

Read more below about what this part-philosopher, part-lawyer, part-technologist is doing to bring about a legal refresh.

Tell me about yourself.
I was inspired to get into legal technology while I was working a number of years back at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. The origins of the Center are in cyberlaw: the ways in which legal concepts shape the development of technology, particularly with regards to the Internet.

I got interested in the reverse: how technology itself comes back around to shape the practice of law itself. In particular, I got interested in the ways in which the legal industry might one day be upended in the same way that many other information industries like journalism have been.

So I went to law school. I ended up going awkwardly in secret because I was working my way through school -- and it turns out that they won’t hire you if they think you’re in school at the same time. So, I never mentioned it to most people until I graduated three years later!

My long-term goal now is to figure out how to turn Robot, Robot, & Hwang -- a joke website about a law firm run mostly by robots -- into a real firm, run mostly by robots.  

What do you want to build?
Community. One of the things that often gets missed in the Valley is the fact that really important successes happen because there is a robust and diverse ecosystem of friendships and talents supporting the development of a technology. I think if you’re honest about wanting legal technology to be something that changes The Law (capital T, capital L), it behooves you to constantly be trying to bring in the many different types of people that implies -- legal technology folks need to be building bridges to access to justice advocates, designers, sociologists, activists, and everyday people impacted by how the law is made and executed.

What do you see as the biggest challenges in this field?
On the business side, the biggest challenge is that people who are trying to sell their innovations to law firms often face active opposition because it causes obvious problems with the classic models of hourly billing (read more about that here). We’re going to have to find a way to build with this, or build around it.

On the institutional side, there's a question of what happens when legal institutions -- like bar associations -- start taking a look at the mass of fledgling companies starting to rise in the space. If bar associations take a strong tack against these tools on the grounds of unauthorized practice of law as some did in the 1990s, it could be a formidable challenge.

What do you see as your successes so far?
So far, I'm happiest with the fact that there is a growing community of people interested in this space, and that Robot, Robot & Hwang got to play some small role in it. Our first conference -- NELIC -- was in 2010: and it was really small, only about 80 people, maximum. In contrast, for our recent conference -- FutureLaw -- the audience was noticeably bigger, and the products were undoubtedly way more mature.

So what I take from that: our scrappy, nerdy little community is coalescing! My friend Dan Katz likes to talk about these small communities as the Homebrew Computer Club for the law, and I think we’re seeing the truth of that metaphor as the years go by.

Do you think people need to be an attorney to be an entrepreneur in this space?
Tim hesitates. No, I don't know that it’s absolutely necessary that you need to be a lawyer or have a lawyer on board, and it’s obvious that a lot can be learned from non-lawyers. In my mind, this is going to be an empirical question: there are all kinds of legal startups out there right now--some with attorneys on staff and others without--and I think we’ll have to see where the chips fall.

What's the tone with which legal startups should engage the traditional legal community?
The community needs to learn how to articulate a positive agenda. People are often enamored with fighting or disrupting the traditional legal establishment, but the rhetoric often rings hollow because the community hasn't articulated a compelling vision of what they want to replace the traditional system with.

What we're doing has to be constructive. We must know specifically what we want. For example, we can't just say "the legal education system is broken" and leave it at that. We need to articulate what the legal education system needs to be. We can't just say “Biglaw is doomed." We need to have a concrete message what what there should be instead.

Getting to that point might just be a matter of time, but I’m thrilled to be part of a community that is engaging and building that future.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Event in Portland on Innovations in Law

reposting from the U.S. District Court Website for Oregon

Innovations in the Law: Science and Technology

September 20, 2013

9:00 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. PDT

Portland, Oregon

The Innovations in the Law: Science & Technology conference is presented by the Oregon Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and the Ninth Circuit Lawyer Representatives. This one-day conference will be hosted at the renowned Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland, Oregon. Through keynote speeches, panel discussions, and pop presentations, a distinguished assembly of industry leaders from across the country will explore a wide range of topics, including improving the delivery of legal services, innovations in the courts, gaps in the law, and how the public's use of technology impacts law enforcement.
Click the links at the bottom of the page or the menu on the left for more information. 

Welcome Letter from Chief Judge Aiken

As Chief Judge for the District of Oregon, and in partnership with the Oregon Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and the Ninth Circuit Lawyer Representatives, it is my pleasure to invite you to the 2013 District of Oregon Conference: "Innovations in the Law: Science & Technology." This conference, the first of its kind in Oregon, will be held at the renowned Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) on September 20 in Portland, Oregon.
It is well known that change is the only constant in life. As members of the legal field, we need to apply this maxim and start approaching how we do our work differently, if only because the world is moving so fast. Accordingly, the aim of this event is to facilitate novel and thought-provoking discussions regarding how the integration of law and technology will enable us to look forward and identify new solutions, shaped out of creativity and collaboration. It is our privilege to host industry leaders and legal professionals, from all over the country, who will deliver the most current and advanced information on law, science, and technology. Please come join us for what will surely be a groundbreaking and sensational event!
A sincere thank you to the team who helped put this conference together – it was truly a collaborative effort and a pleasure to work with each of you.
Chief Judge Ann Aiken
HT @marcidale @popvox for the heads up!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Consumers are Online (Are the Attorneys?)

76 percent of consumers went online to find a lawyerThis is an older article, but still important. The Pew Research Center found that in 2011, 3 out of 4 consumers seeking an attorney over the last year used online resources at some point in the process.

The internet and mobile phones have changed the way people do things. So while consumers are going online to find attorneys, the attorneys are... hiding offline? Read more here.