So you want to start a legal tech company?
You’ve identified a problem in legal services, and brainstormed a potential (technical) solution.
*Please note, this content is informational, and not legal advice.
The information below primarily applies to the United States.
Are you ready to be a Founder?
Many startups begin because someone (or team of folks) have a problem + a potential solution to that problem.
Is this you?
Have you noticed that other people also have this problem and could benefit from your solution?
Are they willing to pay for that solution because the problem is so painful for them?
How do you know?
Listening to potential customers
Listening is a critical first step to understanding the market and how others view the same problem and current (if any) solution(s). Asking questions and truly listening matters before you begin but also throughout the life of your company (also called user research or customer discovery). User research is critical to finding solid product market fit, and it requires you to talk to potential customers early.
*If your end user is a lawyer, as is frequently true in legal tech, it can be challenging to get feedback due to a variety of external factors (like the billable hour / the high premium on lawyers’ time). Find creative ways to get feedback and make it worth their time to provide it.
*If your end user is a non-lawyer, check out this 2019 report on the legal tech for non-lawyers from Rebecca L. Sandefur.
Mike Hewitt of vTestify (2017 Duke Law Tech Lab) briefly shares how it can be hard to get feedback from lawyers.
Your earliest pitch
Telling your story will evolve into the pitchfor your product (and YOU as the right person to create it). This can be scary early on, but know that even if someone else has a similar idea for a solution, no one else will execute the idea exactly like you. You don’t want to give away the “secret sauce” and lose a competitive advantage, but getting feedback is a necessary part of understanding if your idea is worth pursuing
Taking lots of little steps
Approach this process with an entrepreneurial mindset. You won’t get it right the first time, and that’s okay! Build the minimum product you can that will still show potential customers its value, and get it in their hands and get their feedback.
Ray Hadad of vTestify (2017 Duke Law Tech Lab) speaks about the value of feedback in building a functional MVP.
The Lean Startup method helps entrepreneurs save a lot of time and energy by continually making improvements (iterating) your early prototypes (versions of your solution). Don’t spend all your time developing your product in your office, but instead, find early adopters who can provide insights for improvements. This type of external testing validates your idea to let you know that there is room in the market for your product, and lets you know that it is worth spending time and resources to build the most valuable features in a sustainable way.
Fast Forward’s Tech Nonprofit Playbook may also be helpful to those companies with a mission to increase access to justice.
No, not “most valuable player” – though we will still clap for you when you get there. In startups, “MVP” is a “minimum viable product” – that is, a functional prototype that you are able to release to customers.
In order to go from your earliest prototype to a functional MVP to a viable product, you must iterate. This blog post from Y Combinator explains: “An MVP requires a process that you repeat over and over again: Identify your riskiest assumption, find the smallest possible experiment to test that assumption, and use the results of the experiment to course correct.”
When you’re a Founder, you have an idea you love and are passionate about. When the data doesn’t agree with your passions or beliefs – it’s a psychological challenge to look at data and make the right decision. You have to intentionally put yourself in the mindset to listen to the data.
In legal tech, the MVP is often higher than in other types of tech (though perhaps FinTech is more similar to legal tech).
Need help getting started? Looking for a co-Founder who has different skills or expertise than you (like a technical background or design skills)?
Consider joining a brief program like a:
- startup weekend (Ex: Techstars Startup Weekend)
- design sprint (Ex: Google Ventures Design Sprint)
- hackathon (Ex: Global Legal Hackathon, Tubman-Suffolk Hackathon)
These short programs can help you focus time and energy on getting started, with the help of mentors who’ve been there before.
You can find these programs locally for a wide variety of entrepreneurs, or you may want to look for a program focused on legal tech. Local programs may be smaller, more focused, they may not take equity, and they will typically have a different network than the larger, more well-known programs.
Once you have an MVP built, consider an incubator or accelerator.
Build Your Team
Will you add to your team in-house? Or will you outsource to others?
For example, if you do not have the technical skills to build your product, you’ll either want:
a) a technical co-founder who will put in a lot of time in exchange for little pay but future equity
b) a company you can hire to do the technical build, but they will likely charge you more up front, be less collaborative, and you’ll have to be more specific up front with what you want.
If you add a co-founder, you’ll want to think about how you share equity. Foundrs.com has some great questions to consider.
As you build your first prototypes, you’ll also want to think about your business model and where your product fits (or not!) in the current market.
Elizabeth Stone Gerding of Skopos Labs (2017 Duke Law Tech Lab) briefly notes the importance of finding product-market fit.
Who are your competitors, if any? What are you doing differently that sets you apart from others? Or are you blazing an entirely new trail?
Another great resource: https://techindex.law.stanford.edu – “a curated list of legal technology companies, hosted by CodeX, the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics. The database is intended as a resource for the legal technology community, and features data contributions from CodeX, Legal.io, Thomson Reuters and other stakeholders in the community.”
The Business Model Canvas is a helpful place to begin, whether you’re considering a traditional for-profit company, a social enterprise, a nonprofit, or hybrid model. This process can help with finding the right product-market fit.
Tom Boyle of TrustBooks (2017 Duke Law Tech Lab) briefly shares about his decision to outsource sales early on.