M y name is Charlie Uniman and I’m the founder and host of Legal Tech StartUp Focus, or LTSF, a free worldwide online community of over 670 members that is devoted to nurturing legal tech startups (www.legaltechstartupfocus.com). Before going into more detail about LTSF’s aim, let me provide some background.
Until I left practice six years ago, I was a practicing corporate lawyer for almost 40 years in New York City law firms. As a partner at these firms, and as a longstanding technology enthusiast (a “techie,” if you will), I advocated at partnership meetings for the use of legal tech to enhance the efficiency of firm practice. Upon leaving the practice of law, I worked at a legal tech startup with a small team to develop and market a cloud-based application for law firms to help manage corporate transactions.
I often failed to persuade my law partners to acquire and adopt legal tech. And, my colleagues’ and my efforts at our legal tech startup failed too. I believe that both failures were caused not only by mistakes that I and others made, but also by bad timing because these failed efforts were undertaken too early.
As far as timing goes, only now do I see legal tech winning not only “mindshare” among the media and among practicing legal professionals, but also winning market share among those professionals as well. As I like to put it from the vantage point of the way the market for legal tech looks today, when it comes to selling legal tech and achieving innovation in law firms and enterprise legal departments; well, legal tech has been a “25-year overnight success.”
Now, I’ll be among the first to say that there’s a lot more to achieving innovation in the way law is practiced than building workable technology. There are regulatory, financial and cultural factors that adversely affect the acquisition and use of legal tech by legal professionals. Much has been written (and spoken) about those adverse factors in blog posts, podcasts, newspaper and magazine articles and academic research papers.
Much has also been written (and spoken) about the technology itself behind various legal tech offerings – the technology’s functionality and ease-of-use, in particular. There are numerous bloggers, podcasters, magazine and newspaper writers and academics who discuss what applications are under development or are already in the market, whether those applications can be adopted at law firms and enterprise legal departments if the applications are hosted in the cloud instead of located in servers that are “on-premises,” whether those applications can interoperate with legacy technology in use by legal professionals and whether artificial intelligence software will – all by itself - revolutionize the practice of law.
In my view, however, too little is written and spoken about the opportunities and challenges that confront the startups that, for the most part, are developing, marketing and selling legal tech. Yes, technology startups do get a great deal of media attention generally. But the startups that devote themselves to building and selling legal technology “get very little love.”
Moreover, legal tech startups face opportunities and challenges that are “all their own” because of the very same regulatory, financial and cultural issues that adversely affect the acquisition and use of legal tech among legal practitioners. The issues that confront legal tech startups include (i) the long sales cycles that confront startups that aim to sell legal tech to law firms, (ii) the same firms’ seeming hostility to business-model change, (iii) the resistance to project management and workflow innovation that retard legal tech adoption at law firms and enterprise legal departments and (iv) the regulatory environments around the world that restrict or prohibit not only how people who are not licensed lawyers can innovate the delivery of legal services, but also how law firms can take outside equity investment from investors who are not lawyers themselves. These issues (among others) uniquely (and most often adversely) affect how legal tech startups obtain venture capital investment, market and sell their offerings, hire and compensate their employees and obtain (and provide a return on) investment capital from venture capital firms, accelerators/incubators and other outside investors.
The principal aim of the Legal Tech StartUp Focus community is to provide a free, friendly and informative online community for the founders, employees and investors who work at and fund legal tech startups and for the lawyers and other legal professionals who purchase and use the tech that these startups offer. Legal Tech StartUp Focus also aims to provide law professors and their students, as well as bloggers, podcasters and other media participants who have an interest in legal tech, with a place where they can learn about, and comment upon, developments in the legal tech startup sector.
I hope that the members of the Legal Tech StartUp Focus community will exchange ideas and best business practices, give and receive advice, celebrate business victories, seek solace from business defeats, make friends with the other women and men who are interested in the legal tech startup world and, most importantly of all, help each other and legal tech startups to succeed. If you are interested in the legal tech startup world, please become a member of the growing LTSF community by signing up at www.legaltechstartupfocus.com