This Wednesday, October 17, marks the the third annual Legal Geek Law Tech Conference.

What started out as 30 people eating pizza and drinking beer in the basement of a startup warehouse in San Francisco, Legal Geek has grown into one of the largest legal tech conferences in the world with over 2,000 attendees from 40 countries coming this year.

They’ll have over a 100 speakers from US, Canada, Russia, Singapore, New Zealand, Spain, France, Netherlands and Israel. Legal Geek’s new In-House stage hopes to make legal tech more relevant for general GC’s.

Founded by Jimmy Vestbirk, Legal Geek is a startup community with over 6,000 members. Like organizations and startups in the States, they see their members, “Friends of Legal Geek” changing the legal profession forever.

I have been following Legal Geek and Vestbirk for a couple years and been drawn to the fun they they have, the passion they bring and to the people and companies they cover.

Road trips in the orange VW bus across the UK and the continent bring coverage of legal tech and its people. All interviews, of course, in the back seat of the VW bus. Their blog brings regular news, including the “Lawyers who Code” series.

LexBlog brings its “Legal Tech Founders Series” to Legal Geek, where I’ll interview a number of legal tech company founders. We have a good number lined up, but drop me a note if you want to be interviewed.

In addition to the main conference on Wednesday, Legal Geek, has a startup event tonight and design conference on Thursday. Quite a show, and glad to be here.

We’ll take LexBlog’s Legal Tech Founders series on the road this week to New Orleans for the annual Clio Cloud Conference.

For this series, I get behind press releases, funding announcements and new products to capture the story of a legal tech founder – so you can see what it’s all about, and maybe join them as a founder.

  • Why start a company?
  • What was the problem you saw that needed solving?
  • What gave you the courage to quit a day job and give up a regular paycheck?
  • How did you get by without a paycheck?
  • Bootstrap or funding?
  • When did you think you could pull it off?
  • What was the absolute low point?
  • What would you tell some crazy enough to think they want to be a legal tech entrepreneur?

A couple months ago, I hosted about a dozen legal tech founders for video interviews at ILTACon in D.C.  The stories – outstanding. The people – outstanding. Totally enjoyed it – and so did they. Check out the Legal Tech Founders site to catch the interviews, along with a transcript of our conversation.

What better place to take the Legal tech Founders series than to Clio Cloud 2018.

Clio is the epitome of a legal tech startup. Clio has also has done more as a platform for legal tech startups than any company.

Clio has built a huge ecosystem around its platform by integrating with over 100 legal technology solutions, the vast vast majority built by companies led by legal tech entrepreneurs and founders.  From Clio’s standpoint, it’s about working with companies that are pushing the boundaries of innovation in legal technology.

Legal tech founder? Willing to share your story? Look for LexBlog’s media booth in New Orleans.

I already have ten legal tech founders scheduled to talk with.  If you want to get scheduled ahead of time, email Caroline Hess, LexBlog’s marketing and communications lead.

See you there.

ILTACon came alive last week in DC for legal tech startups and emerging growth companies – and for folks like me who find these companies interesting.

ILTACon (Internal Legal Technology Association), an annual conference for legal technology folks from around the world and ALM’s Legaltech Conference have historically been dominated by large company legal tech.

The empahsis being, as it appeared to me, large companies selling to large law firms and corporations.

Guys like me who I practiced in a small law firm and started legal tech companies can be overwhelmed. Walking through the exhibit hall in years past I hardly understood what the companies were selling. Sessions seemed to be presented by people from larger organizations.

Unlike Clio Cloud, ABA TechShow and AALL Annual (American Assoc of Law Libraries), where I could understand the technology and relate to the people and their causes, I was a little lost at ILTACon.

This year seemed different, and maybe it comes down to what you make of the conference.

This year there were numerous legal tech startups and emerging growth companies. Whether speaking, exhibiting or just walking the halls, legal tech entrepreneurs were present — in big numbers.

Perhaps it was my growing interest in the stories of legal tech entrepreneurs, but there is something more going on.

The legal community is ripe for new legal tech.

  • Law firms and legal shops in corporations have seen the handwriting on the wall. The efficiencies and innovation brought by tech is upon them, no more holding on to the status quo. Larger tech and publishing companies are not the most innovative.
  • Legal tech is being written about everywhere, much of the ‘print’ about legal tech startups.
  • Funding, whether from family and friends or traditional capital/venture capital for companies having gotten traction, is more available for legal tech startups. Funders see the potential for growth and profits — if not an early exit.
  • The costs of developing legal tech solutions is not near as great as years past. Open source, cloud hosting and partnering with existing platforms are all available.
  • Lawyers are seeing opportunity,  inspiration and excitement in legal tech versus traditional law, with its limited opportunities. More lawyers are willing to take the chance.
  • AI and data driven analytics are going to lead to big change in the law. Getting in early as a founder or employee is exciting, and possibly rewarding.

Before heading out to DC, I came up with the idea of fearturing legal tech founders on LexBlog. I had seen ILTACon dedicate time and space to a ‘Startup Hub’ so I knew these folks would be there.

LexBlog’s Legal Tech Founders Series running on LexBlog, YouTube and my Facebook is my work of tracking down about a dozen founders for video interviews. Great conversations and stories, which I’ll discuss in more detail in a post later this week.

So for legal tech founders, I say “check out ILTACon next year.” Sure, the majority of attendees and exhibitors will be focused on large law and corporations.

But you have a place – picking up on the vibe, meeting with other founders and participating in the scheduled social events — and your own – to get to know other entrepreneurs. You may even pick up a potential customer or two. I did.

One after another of the legal tech founders at ILTACon told me business success was all about relationships – for partnerships, hiring, funding, customers and tech development. ILTACon is one of the places where you build relationships as a legal tech founder.

I’ve gone from dissing ILTACon a bit to being a fan. For me, it’s the legal tech startups who breathed new life into ILTACon.

Vanderbilt Law School’s Program on Law and Innovation hosts the Summit on Law and Innovation (SoLI) on Monday in Nashville.

Assuming you’ll not be there, you may register for a Livecast at a cost of $100. As a blogger, you may be comped livecast attendance by the hosts. Having gotten to know the organizers and many of the speakers, I expect it’ll be an excellent event,

SoLI sees legal education, legal practice, and legal technology developing independently of one another, intersecting at times but often following their own distinct paths.

We believe that now is the time to fully integrate and innovate the academy, practice, and technology facets of the legal profession, collaboratively creating new connections and breaking down silos that have kept them apart for too long.

SoLI’s theme of “Breaking Down Silos + Building Connections” brings together top thought and action leaders from legal academia, practicing attorneys, and technologists, to share knowledge, present alternative perspectives, and cross-pollinate ideas. SoLI’s ambitious plenary agenda includes keynote addresses, TED-style talks, dialogues between thought leaders and Summit participants, and a dynamic design thinking bootcamp inviting active collaboration among all attendees.

The co-organizers and driving forces of SoLI are Cat Moon, Adjumct Professor, Program on Law and Innovation.  Vanderbilt Law School and Larry Bridgesmith, Director and Adjunct Professor, Program on Law and Innovation at Vanderbilt Law.

Presenters include a talented cross section of legal tech and innovation.

  • Dean Chris Guthrie, Vanderbilt Law School
  • Alyson Carrel, Northwestern Law School
  • Casey Kuhlman, Monax
  • Rita Khanna, LexisNexis
  • Elizabeth Renieris, Ouroboros LLP + Evernym
  • Lawton Penn, Davis Wright Tremaine
  • JB Ruhl, Vanderbilt Law School
  • Joe Green, ThomsonReuters
  • Andy Daws, Kim Technologies
  • Ann Pruitt, Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services
  • Kathleen Pearson, Pillsbury
  • Camille Reynolds, Fenwick & West
  • Teresa Walker, Waller
  • Brian Kuhn, IBM Watson Legal
  • Katrina Lee, Ohio State University Law School
  • Mary Juetten, Evolve Law
  • Patrick Palace, Palace Law
  • Marie Bernard, Nextlaw Labs
  • Alix Devendra, Start Here HQ
  • Nicole Braddick, Theory and Principle
  • Jose Torres, Universidad Sergio Arboleda

I don’t know that you can knock down the silos and bring about collaboration between legal companies, practicing lawyers and academia in a conference. That’s more likely to take place via discussion and debate on the Internet by the folks here and many others. But conferences like this are good start.

In the future, I’d suggest conferences not charge for Livecasts. Breaking down the silos requires open and free discussion — and your conference’s cause, mission and discussion is carried much further when spread beyond the conference hall’s four walls.

Legal librarian and tech leader, Sarah Glassmeyer shared that she logged into Twitter last week to find another legal tech conference with all male panels.

Glassmeyer presumably was referring to ALM’s Legalweek Show, long known as Legaltech show. The first session I sat in, a pretty good one on AI, was six men, no women

I then noticed the keynote speakers being advertised on large screens. I shared on Twitter that of the sixteen keynote speakers only three were women.

ALM’s response to my tweet and another discussing the lack of diversity was to point out there were “several women speakers” throughout their show, drawing over 10,000 people. I have to believe they were saying that there were several women speakers throughout each of the separate tracks, as opposed to throughout the conference.

No matter ALM’s Legalweek Show, there’s a problem. Per Glassmeyer.

We have either one of two problems here.  Either the conference organizers didn’t do due diligence in finding diverse panels to speak at their conference OR there simply aren’t diverse people making legal tech.  The former is bad, but the latter is devastating.

Rather than complain, Glassmeyer is taking action.

I’m crowdsourcing a list of legal tech and innovation people from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds.   As of this writing, there’s about 50 people listed.  Feel free to add yourself.  If you’re planning a conference, please consult it and diversify your speaker line up.  If you’re hiring, reach out to the people on the list and ask them to apply or distribute the job ad to their networks.

Glassmeyer suggests (and I am with her):

  1. Refuse to speak on non-diverse panels.
  2. Offer to give up your slot to a diverse individual.  Have suggestions ready (Another way this list might come in handy.)
  3. Insist that any conference you speak at or attend has a code of conduct.  Here’s a great starting point for one. And yes, your conference needs one.
  4. Speak out about the need for diversity.  This can’t be a battle only fought by underrepresented populations.  Some CIS het White men need to take up the banner. I know some of you just rolled your eyes at the phrase “CIS Het White Men.”  Get over it.

I’ll add another, when you see panels and programs lacking diversity, take some pictures and share them on Twitter. Let the conference host respond.

Five or six years ago I was asked by the Practicing Law Institute to put together two all day programs on social media and blogging. The first thing I was handed were the diversity requirements for reach panel and the entire program. It’s obvious other conferences are not following PLI’s lead — or at least not enforcing any diversity policies they may have.

I speak a fair amount and I don’t recall the diversity of all the legal tech programs and, if I was on a panel, the diversity of each of the panels. The best I recall is that the programs and panels were mostly white men.

We may be bringing tech and innovation to the law, but some things are not changing, as Will Hornsby commented to a picture I shared tweet from a future of law conference in London in November.

Glassmeyer’s right, time to stop complaining and time to start demanding diversity in legal tech conference speakers.

With the rise of the startup culture, law grads are looking for in-house opportunities. Hands-on action and innovation, as opposed the grunt work many young lawyers are doing at law firms, is appealing to grads looking to find purpose and to see tangible results in the workplace.

This from Caroline Spiezio (@CarolineSpiezio), reporting for Corporate Counsel.

Look at Samantha Von Hoene, who three years ago turned down a clerking position at a law firm to intern in-house at a finance firm.

Von Hoene told Spiezio:

Most people said, ‘Oh Sam, you’re so crazy, the rest of us are going to the law firm first, and we want to go in-house but [on] the traditional route. It seemed like they’d already resigned themselves to this route. I was viewed as someone who was taking a different path.

Three years later, Von Hoene is head of legal affairs at Enjoy Technology, a startup that sends experts to deliver, install and explain how to use technology products from companies such as Sonos and AT&T. Being the only lawyer at an emerging growth company, she gets hands on business and legal experience.

When I got to Enjoy there were no guidelines. It was like that [idea of] ‘hey, we’re scrappy and we want to move quickly and here’s what we wanna do,’” she said. “I’ve spent the past two and a half years working with teams and internal clients. Over 50 percent of my day is in cross-functional and operational meetings.

Smart law schools are looking to get grads in startups. Spiezio reports UC Hastings has launched a Startup Legal Garage to match students with startup companies for the experience and the network of contacts.

I’m seeing students from Michigan State’s Law School jump on opportunities in startups for clerking while in school and upon graduation. Like UC Hastings, Michigan State is educating and empowering its students on this front with its LegalRnD program.

Michigan State 3L, Andrew Sanders, responding to my tweet sharing Spiezio’s story, says that he loved clerking for Elevate, a technology and legal services provider to law firms and corporate legal teams.

Many law students view start ups and “non-traditional” law jobs as risky. Von Hoene doesn’t regret taking the risk and hopes law grads will join her in organizations where they can immediately make a difference and prove themselves.

A hope of mine is that people in the industry start making pathways where others who are younger in their career have opportunities to prove themselves. This is a really exciting, new way of thinking. While young lawyers may not bring 10 years of experience, just fresh out of law school, they’re hungry. They want to identify problems and figure out solutions, which is far more valuable.

Legal services are being reengineered. The number of lawyers needed to do traditional legal work is on the decline, law grads are not getting the jobs they thought they would. Fortunate for law grads are the opportunities that startups, legal and non-legal, provide them.

Key is opening your eyes, having faculty and a law school seeing the opportunities and the willingness to take a chance and be different – to bet on yourself.

Chatting with Bob Ambrogi, while he was visiting Seattle this week, we agreed that legal tech was growing like at no other time.

Tech’s been around legal for a long time and we’ve had a lot of folks like he and I involved in legal tech companies and its coverage for a couple decades or more. But the last three or four years have brought us a slew of companies and solutions disrupting legal like never before.

So I was surprised to read Holden Page’s story at crunchbase that investment in legal tech startups hit a hard peak in 2015 and has been on the decline since.

While over a billion has been placed in legal tech startups, the pace of that investment in terms of deal and dollar volume has stalled.

Included in this stalling are startups that look to help lawyers automate and improve workflows through new software and services, and startups that look to do away with lawyers using artificial intelligence and other software innovations. Crunchbase puts both markets of legal tech startups under one category. For the purposes of this article, we will be examining both sides of the coin, with later reporting on the progress being made in each individual market.

Here’s the peak and valleys of venture capital investment depicted.

legal tech vc investment

2015’s peak was made by a couple big investments. $125 million in Chicago-based Relativity and $71.5 million in Avvo, representing the majority of the $132 million total raised by the Seattle company.

While VC investment is on the decline, VC money may not be needed. It doesn’t take as much money to get a tech company up and going as it has in the past.

Open source, lower hosting costs and social media for marketing/selling has made it possible for those willing to put in sweat equity and, in some cases, to take a small investment. Ambrogi’s charting the growth in the number of legal startups, now close to 700, is proof positive of that.

Page also notes that seed-stage funding (smaller investment until business can cash flow or until it is ready for further investment) in legal tech companies has risen in 2017. For many companies a seed investment is all they’ll need,

From 2011 to 2014, over 50 percent of the funding rounds made in legal startups were in the seed stage. And while the percentage of seed-stage deals dropped from 2015 to 2016, 2017 YTD has seen a rebound with nearly 45 percent of known funding rounds being made in the seed stage. This is bucking the overall trend seen in 2017, especially in the US, where seed-stage investment has experienced declines in favor of late-stage deals.

Seed-stage startups attracting funding in 2017 include Juro, which helps companies manage their contracts using AI. CourtBuddy also received a $1 million seed-stage funding round in 2017. The startup, which won the American Bar Association’s Legal Access Award for 2017, matches clients to affordable lawyers.

Page cautions that larger investments could also remain tough in legal with bar associations fighting innovative legal services and lawyers slow to grasp technology.

But while seed-stage investments show promise, it’s no guarantee that legal tech startups will rebound in terms of deal and dollar volume as a whole. It’s possible that regulatory hurdles, of which large startups like Avvo have run into, could prove too difficult to overcome. VCs likely aren’t fans of funding lawyers to combat, well, more lawyers.

Additionally, modernizing software services for lawyers isn’t a slam dunk. Many lawyers are slow to adopt technology—why fix what’s not broken—and tech entrepreneurs who weren’t once lawyers may find it difficult to break into a somewhat insular community. Moving fast and breaking things is not a welcome attitude when selling to lawyers due to various ethical constraints.

Smart legal tech entrepreneurs should not view the decline of venture capital investment as limiting their chances for success. Most companies do not need venture capital and raising such money is not always a sign of success. Ask around, raising money can be a curse.

VC money in legal tech may be on the decline, but law firms and large traditional legal players such as RELX (LexisNexis), Thomson Retuter (West), and ALM should not expect to see disruption in legal slowed. Both law firms and these companies will be heavily impacted by legal tech startups which never received venture capital.