First off, can you introduce yourself and let folks know how you got into legaltech? I am a practicing lawyer in Baja California, Mexico,...
#LegalTechLives With A.J. Shankar, Founder and CEO of Everlaw
Tell us more about your company, Everlaw, for our readers who may not be familiar. What do you do differently there?
Everlaw blends modern design with cutting-edge technology to help corporations, law firms and government entities solve the toughest problems in the legal industry. Our elegant, cloud-based ediscovery platform features drag-and-drop uploading, flexible productions, blink-speed search, automatic predictions based on machine learning and robust real-time collaboration so legal practitioners can focus on what they do best. Everlaw’s clients include 8 of the top 10 class action firms and is used by state attorneys general in every state.
You have a Phd in computer science. How did you go from academia to founding your own company? Was it a natural transition for you? What were some of the challenges you faced?
I got into the legal field by accident. When I was in grad school, a law firm approached the Computer Science department looking for a technical expert in a particular area. I ended up working with them part-time while in school and got to learn first-hand about the technical challenges in law—neat stuff.
I wouldn’t say founding a company was a natural transition for me, though I’ve very much enjoyed the challenge. I’ve always thought of myself as a better teammate than captain, so making that adjustment has been a major growth opportunity for me.
What attracted you to the area of eDiscovery? What are the unique challenges of working in this niche?
Some attractions first:
- There is a clear need for better technology. The volume and complexity of discoverable data has been growing geometrically for decades, and yet, lawyers are still expected to find the important stuff just as well.
- From a nerd perspective—and I am a huge nerd—the discovery problem is gloriously deep. This isn’t a chat app where after Version 1.0, improvements are superficial. Finding the needle in the haystack in discovery requires bringing to bear a huge and varied set of computer science and design specialties. It’s kept me (and our team) excited about the product every single day, and it still feels like we’re just getting started.
- It’s a niche! Many people (whether potential investors or potential hires) have never heard of it. There is a lot of education required.
- There is a healthy dose of cynicism in the space. People have been promising “fast and easy” forever, so we have to work extra hard to get someone in front of an Everlaw demo, at which point they realize we’ve actually done it.
Everlaw captured the attention of the legaltech world back in January 2016 when it was announced that Andreessen Horowitz led your $8.1 million Series A financing. How did you get a mainstream VC firm to get excited about legaltech?
Andreessen Horowitz board partner Steven Sinofsky, who heard my pitch, was at Microsoft during United States v. Microsoft. Luckily for me, he was intimately aware of the challenges posed by discovery and also had the engineering background to appreciate how great technology could address those challenges.
What are your tips for other legaltech companies that are currently starting out and looking to attract early investor capital?
The good news is that legaltech is definitely heating up! Go after investment firms who have experience in legal or, better yet, a VC partner who’s a former attorney. People will invest in what they know, so do your homework.
You recently said in TechRepublic that entrepreneurs should resist the urge to check their phones in order to think more big picture thoughts. What other advice do you have for entrepreneurs? What are the most important lessons that you’ve learned about entrepreneurship?
Details matter. Be explicit. Great organizations require superb communication and consistency, and none of that happens by accident.
You’ve been quoted as saying about AI and legaltech that, “I’m quite sure it won’t replace attorneys any time soon. In fact, attorneys are some of the people who stand to benefit most from its advance.” Do you find that many lawyers fear AI?
Yes, it’s a recurring theme in “what’s-next?”-style legal conferences. From most frequent to least frequent, I see (1) lawyers who aren’t threatened by and don’t care about AI; (2) lawyers who are concerned about AI eroding their job prospects; and (3) lawyers excited about what AI can do for them. I’d like to start seeing more people in this third category!
Is the legal profession ready to embrace legal technology?
For sure. Like other professionals, lawyers love good, functional technology. That’s why they were so quick to adopt smartphones like Blackberries. I think they are discerning clients so the challenge is on us, as vendors, to make great technology that they’ll want to use (rather than have to use).
We ask everyone the same final question: What non-work related invention would you like to have right now?
When I’m meeting someone, something that tells me their name (obviously), and whether and where I’ve met them before.
Soojung is a content marketer at ROSS Intelligence. She is also a writer, user experience designer and former journalist who is interested in all things related to technology and startups.
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