This blog was originally featured on the Evolve Law blog.
Recent years have seen a rise in the number of legal tech companies, but not an acceleration in the rate of legal tech adoption among legal practitioners. Here at Evolve Law, we are trying to accelerate the adoption rate with educational events that bring together the legal community to hear discussions and demos surrounding the latest in legal technology. One of our most recent events, "Building the Legal Startup," was hosted by Stanford University, and featured a number of thoughtful speakers and panelists offering their insights and advice on what's needed for legal tech startups to grow and thrive.
The Evolution of Legal Tech
We were fortunate enough to have Eddie Hartman, co-founder and chief product officer of LegalZoom, offer the opening talk. The talk illustrated how traditional practitioners of the law are failing to grasp how technology is impacting how people obtain their legal services, and in fact that many lawyers and firms are opposed to the introduction of technology into the law. To illustrate his point, he described the three different types of goods:
- Search good. A search good is something that is familiar and can be easily evaluated before being purchased.
- Experience good. An experience good requires first hand experience with this good to appraise its quality, but once you have, you understand it to be good or bad.
- Credence good. Even after your experience, you're still not sure if it's any good.
Not being sure if their experience or the product or service they received is any good is most people's experience with the law. The average person isn't well versed enough in the law to adequately say whether their contracts or wills are up to standards.
Irrespective of quality, most people can't even afford to take advantage of traditional legal services based on the fees and hourly rates charged by the traditional practicing attorney. The overwhelming majority of Americans who are facing a legal issue don't avail themselves of the services of an attorney. It is this disconnect and monopoly on legal services, Eddie argued, that necessitates the need for legal tech disruption.
Selling Into Legal
The panel was moderated by our own Mary Juetten and featured Josh King, VP, Business Development & General Counsel, Avvo; Jeroen Plink, Managing Director USA, Glasswall Solutions; Miriam Rivera,Managing Director, Bay Area Growth Fund; and Steven Silberbach, VP Global Sales, Clio. The discussion centered around what it was that makes selling to lawyers and law firms difficult.
One of the barriers for legal tech firms is the general lack of awareness on the part of law firms as to what role legal tech can play in their practices. Law firms and the lawyers that staff them can tend to be conservative by nature, and adverse to change. They tend to be focused on the needs of their clients, and as such reactive to the particular events that require their attention. Many don't look beyond their own self-interest, and don't give consideration to anything that doesn't work directly to their benefit. Many smaller practitioners have to weigh investment in their practice against investment in personal needs or wants.
It is that relative shortsightedness that makes it hard for many attorneys to step back and look at the larger picture when it comes to their firm. The sales process can be long for legal tech companies, an agonizing grind for those eager to generate revenue. But despite this appearance of intransigence from attorneys, there is a key to selling to lawyers, as the panel illuminated.
Many legal tech companies make the mistake of thinking that lawyers need to be sold to by other lawyers, or that lawyers require an altogether different sales approach from any other business. And while it is true that you may need to make adjustments to what you would normally do in a sales call with other businesses, the consensus on the panel was that selling to attorneys was ultimately not that far removed from selling to any other small business owner. The only requirement for legal tech companies is that they need to make clear to attorneys what it is that their product does and how it can add value to their practice. They have to understand that most lawyers aren't necessarily looking at ways in which they can improve their firm; it's incumbent upon the sales person to make the case to change how the attorney operates to someone who wasn't necessarily looking to change the way they do business.
Sales can be a tricky area for a lot of legal tech startups. Many founders don't come from a sales background and aren't fluent in the ins and outs of the sales world. In those instances, it's helpful to work with someone who does come from the sales world, or to seek out a mentor or adviser that has some level of knowledge regarding sales. Having the right sales people in place is one of the most important matters in the early stages of your business. Even if you as a founder are never going to be the expert on sales, it's important that you possess enough knowledge to be able to measure and judge the performance of your sales people. Even more so than the rest of your team, you have to be willing and able to make changes early with your sales team when things aren't working.
Marketing vs Sales vs Product Development
Within any legal tech startup, there can be a tension between sales and product development people. Both are vital for the future of your company, but each has differing views on where the the overall focus of the company should be. As a leader, you have to determine the balance that you strike between how much of your resources you commit to each. What's important is determining a strategy and focus, and sticking to it, rather than finding yourself at the whims of customer demands in the interest of making a sale or two. While it's important to listen to your customers, it's dangerous to start shifting the direction of your company based on that feedback.
When it comes to marketing, flexibility is vital in early stages. You have to be able to change your messaging when you find that it isn't resonating with your audience. Once you've found a message that works, your marketing can help drive people to your site and hopefully keep them coming back. But getting people to visit your site isn't enough. That's where having a marketing expert who can help turn those visits and page views into actual conversations between potential customers and sales people can be a huge difference-maker between yourself and other companies in your field.
Fundraising can be a difficult task for any company, legal tech or otherwise. Part of good fundraising is setting yourself up for success before you even go out for your next round. The panel laid out some of the qualities that VCs tend to look for in companies as well as characteristics that businesses that successfully raise funds tend to have.
Companies that the panel have seen be successful raising funds have had a partnership between legal expertise and tech expertise. They have also been able to answer basic questions that VCs are looking at: is there a minimum viable product? Do you have customers? Do you have the right team? Do you have experience in the market? Investors need to see that you have the right processes and the right team in place before they think about putting money into your company. They also want to know that there's a sizable market for your product; if you don't have a product with a big total addressable market, you likely won't get much interest from VCs.
First You Get The Power, Then You Get The Money, Then You Get The Reference
Anyone familiar with the oeuvre of Al Pacino and Brian de Palma should appreciate the inspiration behind Jules' Darwin Talk. From a certain perspective, Tony Montana is a classic immigrant-made-good story, arriving on our shores with nothing and using his gumption and guile to become a successful entrepreneur. And if you take out the violence and drugs, there are some lessons that can be drawn from Tony rise through the, shall we say, less-than-legitimate business world.
Selling is hard, and the sales cycle can be long, especially when it comes to lawyers. Lawyers are by nature skeptics, and as a sales person you have to break through that natural skepticism to get them to buy into what your product has to offer. Having perseverance is vital in trying to sell to lawyers. Staying in the game and grinding away at making sales is a good way to build character and to build the brand credibility that lawyers look for when they're thinking about buying from you.
And funding is hard to come by in legal tech, as the dollars going into funding companies in the sector are being far outstripped by their counterparts in fintech. That's why trying to build through sales and revenue rather than looking for funding is a viable option for many legal tech companies. Sales are a way to bring in revenue and get money without having to give away part of your company. Once you've started to sell, you can appear more attractive to investors and won't have to give away as much of your company.
Respect within the legal community can be perhaps the hardest thing to come by for legal tech companies. Lawyers aren't buying because they don't think much of legal tech. While those of us in legal tech obviously are aiming for short-term success, ultimately we're also aiming to change the legal tech industry. Legal tech companies not only have to advocate for change in the legal industry, they also need to make the industry itself understand the changing landscape.