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.