Legal Tech in Love – Married Couple with Separate Start-Ups
[Note: As of 27 October 2021, InCloudCounsel changed its name to Ontra. This note added 29 Jan 2022.]
In networking for a new job, I recently met (remotely) Troy Pospisil, the Founder and CEO of InCloudCounsel. Two surprises stood out in speaking with him. First, InCloudCounsel is an established Alternative Legal Service Provider (ALSP). I track the sector but had not previously come across it. And second, his wife, Dorna Moini, also founded a legal tech company, Documate, a cloud-based no-code document automation platform. I immediately thought that both surprises warranted a blog post. I subsequently interviewed Troy and Dorna.
Question: I’ve been in legal tech a long time, including working with and for legal tech start-ups. You are the first married couple I’ve met where both are legal tech entrepreneurs in different businesses. Did you meet via legal tech?
No. We met in college, at New York University, on the northeast corner of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. [RF: I can picture it well because my alma mater, NYU Law, sits on the Square.]
Troy: After graduating, I worked in management consulting at Monitor Deloitte and then moved to H.I.G. Capital, a private equity firm. Working at a large financial services firm, I saw an opportunity in the market: clients spending millions of dollars and countless hours on repetitive commercial contracts. Inspired by a combination of enterprise software tools and marketplace platforms, I had the idea to combine a cloud-based software platform with virtual attorneys to address high volumes of contracts.
Dorna: After I graduated law school, I was a litigator for many years, last at Sidley Austin. During that time, I had an active pro bono practice and found that the early stages of my immigration and domestic violence cases were form-heavy and rule-based. I wanted to automate that process for my clients so that I and other volunteer lawyers could spend time on their higher-value work. With my developer, we built a domestic violence platform for my firm and several legal aid organizations. I hadn’t planned to leave practice, but seeing the power of technology in delivering legal services led me to want to create a scalable platform for others to do the same – without any technical knowledge.
Tell me a bit about each of your companies.
Documate is a platform to build legal document automation and expert systems without using any code. We started as a “TurboTax” for domestic violence restraining orders, which we called HelpSelf. I wanted to offer a suite of similar tools for other pro or low bono domains but realized that would require at least one expert per jurisdiction and many developers – a heavy lift. So I focused instead on building a scalable platform for the experts, shifting from content to tool. Now, Documate is a no-code document automation tool that lawyers can use, either internally to accelerate and standardize their work, or externally to serve clients and generate new forms of revenue.
We started with small and medium sized law firms, and now have several AmLaw 100 firms on our platform. But our roots and mission will always be in legal aid, so we continue to support our non-profit legal aid organizations through free and discounted software, including through our “Legal Tech for a Change” partnership with LSC and the ABA.
InCloudCounsel offers global, scalable solutions that modernizes companies’ high volume contracting processes by combining cloud based software and part-time virtual attorneys. Our goal is to completely free in-house legal teams from marking up, negotiating, and abstracting routine legal documents. In addition to freedom, we deliver faster turnaround times, lower legal costs, and better negotiation outcomes.
Our software platform combines workflow, automation, and document and data management tools designed to streamline the contracting process and minimize the lawyer and human time required. Our data management features provide reporting and benchmark across contracts to enable sophisticated obligation management and benchmarking. For the human component, we partner with attorneys who have, on average, 14 years of experience. InCloudCounsel accepts less than 4% of attorneys who apply to be in its network. Many of our customers process and manage thousands of contracts per year through our platform.
Both of your businesses involve documents but they are fundamentally different. Do you find it helpful to compare notes at home, say over dinner?
We do talk about work at the dinner table. Though our tech and customers differ, we find it helpful to compare notes on sales, marketing, branding, hiring, and managing teams.
Going beyond nitty-gritty business issues, we each find it good to have a spouse who understands the challenges of entrepreneurship. When you are building a business, the highs are incredibly high and lows can feel especially low. We each readily relate to that, and can help both celebrate and balance one another.
Troy – given my long experience with alternative providers, I’m intrigued about how you see InCloudCounsel fitting in the legal ecosystem.
Large law firms should focus on being the absolute best at helping their clients solve complex problems, such as M&A transactions and litigation. They generally don’t make money or deliver an excellent customer experience with high volume work. Most law firms understand this and see solutions like InCloudCounsel as complementary to their business, as opposed to competitive. As for alternative legal service providers, the market is big with many solutions and providers. Each tends to excel at a particular niche. InCloudCounsel is typically brought in to take work off the plate of the internal legal team vs. displacing another ALSP.
Troy – one more question for you. You sell into corporations, including some very large ones. How does that compare to selling to law firms?
InCloudCounsel generally sells into law departments. I find that the bigger the company, the more stakeholders are involved in the evaluation and decision making process. This could include stakeholders from legal, compliance, IT, and procurement. We don’t sell into large law firms, but I suspect that this would also be a complex sales process.
And Dorna, document assembly is one of the oldest and most-populated legal tech product categories, with programs available in the 1970s on mainframe computers. How do you differentiate Documate?
Document automation has been around for years, and while that’s the core of our business, our clients are doing much more. On Documate, our clients build legal products and expert systems, collaborate with clients, and generate revenue through new legal service delivery models.
More importantly, we empower the lawyer to do it on their own. Documate has the power of complex code – loops, complex calculations, and nested logic to your heart’s desire – with the ease of use and delightful UX of a modern, no-code platform.
Can you each tell me a bit about the tech at your companies.
Dorna: Documate is built by lawyers and engineers to democratize the development process, allowing lawyers to build without learning a line of code. As a result, we are very thoughtful about product development. We’ve built a clean and easy interface that allows you to do everything an engineer would normally do with code. As we move forward, we’re also building data analytics tools to give our clients more insight into their own practices.
Troy: InCloudCounsel has a large product development team that includes dedicated teams focused on machine learning, front end engineering, back end engineering, product management, data, and design. About half of our overall company sits inside our product and engineering departments. Machine learning problems usually start with a workflow that’s being repetitively performed by a human and where our team sees an opportunity to either fully automate or make the task far more efficient. Starting with a task that is already being manually performed can really jump start the development of the machine learning tools, because we are usually starting with a tagged data set that we can use to begin testing models.
No discussion today would be complete without asking how the COVID crisis is affecting you.
Dorna: We’ve seen an uptick in lawyers and courts wanting to go online, quickly making this crisis a tipping point in technology for lawyers. The legal field recognizes that online collaboration is no longer a novelty, but a necessity. As our clients think about new ways to deliver legal services, we’ll be there to help them adapt and build scalable legal products.
Troy: I think COVID will accelerate the 20-year trend of corporations outsourcing non-core functions. Coming out of an economic downturn, most organizations will be even more hesitant to incur fixed costs. Companies like InCloudCounsel that variabilize a historically fixed cost will be attractive options for non-core, repetitive legal work.
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