Turning a legal service into a product has already been proven to be both profitable for lawyers and a huge help in increasing access to justice. So, how do you join this new wave and productize your services? Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway talk with Dorna Moini about strategies for creating a legal product for your target market, pricing recommendations for today’s clients, and future outlooks as legal products change the way we deliver services in the profession.
Dorna Moini is the CEO and founder of Gavel, a no-code platform for building document automation and client-facing legal products.
Intro: Welcome to The Digital Edge with Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway. Your hosts, both legal technologists, authors, and lecturers, invite industry professionals to discuss a new topic related to lawyers and technology. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Sharon Nelson: Welcome to the hundred and 81st edition of The Digital Edge lawyers and technology. We’re glad to have you with us. I’m Sharon Nelson, president of Sensei Enterprises and Information Technology, Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics firm in Fairfax, Virginia.
Jim Calloway: And I’m Jim Calloway, director of the Oklahoma Bar Associations Management Assistance Program. Today, our topic is turning your legal services into legal products. Our guest today is Dorna Moini, the CEO and founder of Gavel, a no-code platform for building document automation and client facing legal products. Prior to starting Gavel, Dorna was a litigator at Sidley Austin. There in her pro bono practice she worked with legal aid organizations to build a web application for domestic violence survivors to complete and file their paperwork which led to the idea for Gavel. Dorna’s on the Legal Services Corporation emerging leader’s council and a member of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles Advisory Board. She was named an ABA Legal Rebel and a Fast Case 50 honoree. She also teaches the Legal Innovations Lab at USC Law School. Thanks for joining us today, Dorna.
Dorna Moini: Yes. Thank you so much for having me. Excited to be here.
Sharon Nelson: Dorna, what is Gavel and how did it get start.
Dorna Moini: Yeah, so I always think that it’s helpful to start with the origin story of Gavel to tell you a little bit about what we do now. So, Gavel is a platform for building end-to-end workflow automation, document automation and legal products. And the way that we started is that I was previously a lawyer, I practiced for about seven years and I wanted to build something for myself, for my own practice at the time. I was doing a lot of work with domestic violence survivors pro bono and was finding that a lot of the work that I was doing was process oriented or rules based. So, it may have been very complex from a legal or factual standpoint but there were rules that we could have used to automate the process. And so, what I wanted to do was build a tool almost like TurboTax, actually that was the initial dream and vision, but not for tax, for domestic violence survivors.
I, as a lawyer by trade, I did not know how to code and so I got together with a friend of mine who was an engineer, and I asked him if he would help me build this end-to-end tool for automating the many parts of the domestic violence legal process so that I could then focus a lot of my time on reviewing those documents, taking the client to court, and then taking on appeals or other types of issues that might come up in their case.
So, he helped me build that. We launched it and we were getting a lot of great traction from customers who were using it within our law firm. We were using it and with legal aid organizations where we were using it. And that was what gave us the idea for building a platform on which other lawyers could do the same. So, we got a little bit of press for this domestic violence tool that we had built. We called it help self-legal at the time and it was a tool that anyone could get on to fill out documents for their restraining order process. And we started getting inbound interest not just from our core customer who were the survivors of domestic violence, but also from other lawyers. And what the other lawyers were telling us is that they wanted to build tools that were similar to what we had built for domestic violence, but for other areas of law and completely different jurisdictions. And so that’s when we realized that we needed to be able to build a platform because we wanted to help lawyers take their expertise, put it into the system without needing to know how to code and launch products that they could use either internally at their firm to make their practices more efficient or to turn it into products, legal tech products that they white label and provide to the greater public. So, that’s what we do now. We are that platform.
Jim Calloway: Well, Dorna, just to make sure our listeners know, what is Legal Service Productization.
Dorna Moini: Yeah. So, Legal Service Productization basically refers to the conversion of legal services into a legal product that can be sold to the public online. And you know, at Gavel we believe that productizing the law is part of the future of legal service delivery.
And typically building legal products is done by standardizing those client deliverables, usually through document automation or through some sort of intake process that guides people down different paths and allows them to generate work product online. And one thing that’s really important to note here is that it does not necessarily need to be just a tech only product. It can be a tech product that’s combined with hybrid services where you may also provide a few hours of legal advice, or you may provide other services in addition to that.
So what I think is really unique about Legal Service Productization and where you can really create a lot of value within your firm is to think about all the different ways that you could be pricing that could be attractive to your client base.
Sharon Nelson: So what are the major components of legal products that lawyers should be thinking about?
Dorna Moini: It really is a bunch of different pieces of your tech stack as a law firm. So typically, productization starts with creating some form of client intake. So, something that your users can get onto, answer questions, be guided down different paths. So let’s dive a little bit deeper into that. Let’s say you are a family law attorney. You may be providing divorces online or some kind of other family law service, and depending on whether the individuals who you’re serving have kids or need some form of visitation or custody rights, you may be guiding them down different paths to ask them additional questions. So, it’s really important to remove the cognitive overload on your clients. And so, that client intake, you can craft it and curate it in a way that makes it really easy for your users to know exactly what they need to fill out and not be burdened with anything they don’t need to fill out.
The next step in the process is document automation. So, document automation is taking all that information and pulling it into your many complex documents. And so, when you’re building these tools, you can embed logic, variables, calculations, date calculations, and then lists of items that you can categorize in all sorts of different ways inside of your documents. And that allows you to immediately after someone fills out a client intake, generate the first documents in a particular case, which reduces a lot of the time that you’re spending on that case.
Next step is sometimes some form of review. So, you as the attorney might be reviewing those documents or giving some additional advice and counsel, but sometimes it might be a completely DIY service where you’re not actually involved in that at all. You’re just allowing the client to go through the process all on their own.
And then finally is the portal experience. So, we at Gavel are really doubling down on ensuring that the client portal experience is a really robust and easy to use experience. So, when the lawyer creates the tool on the platform, the end user can also access that information really easily and know exactly where everything is. So that means data collection and making sure that your data is stored in a way that’s really understandable to the user. It also means allowing the end user to understand what steps should come next in the process. So, for example, if they’ve just filled out step one of their divorce, you want to make sure that it’s very clear to them when they need to fill out step two of their divorce, what the process is and what are the next steps. And so that’s part of the client portal experience where you would provide them, all sorts of guidance and trigger different actions to happen inside of the system, which can all be set up in Gavel as well.
Jim Calloway: So why are legal products taking off right now?
Dorna Moini: I think it’s really, it’s a combination of different factors and it’s based on both the consumer side and the demand side and also the supply side. So historically, on the supply side, the attorneys who are providing these services, there has been a lot of hesitancy to use technology because things were not in the cloud. People did not really necessarily trust cloud software. And nowadays that has become very much industry standard. Everyone is aware, and technology has advanced significantly so that storing your data in the cloud is incredibly secure, just as secure as storing it on an on-premises server.
Two is lawyers just have more access to technology that’s easy to use.
So even five years ago, when I was still at a law firm, I had a very difficult time setting up systems inside of software because it required me to learn how to understand complex syntax to potentially spin up servers of my own sometimes. So, the processes was very difficult. Now, there’s an abundance of different software tools, no code tools, and also marketing expertise that can help any lawyer get up and running on both the technology side and understanding how to do online marketing. So, the tool set is there for lawyers to take advantage of it.
And then third on the lawyer side, on the supply side, I would say is that historically we’ve thought of the billable hour as the bill and doll, the best way to bill. And I think that we’re starting to realize especially with the huge portion of the middle class who’s looking for legal services, who can’t afford the hourly rate but has some form of disposable income. We’re starting to realize that there’s a lot of opportunity to price differently and in ways that actually can benefit the attorney.
And then on demand side, that’s also been a big reason why legal services are taking over right now and legal productization is taking over right now, is that on the demand side, consumers want affordability, but they also want convenience. So even those who can’t afford your traditional rates, they want to be accessing your services through a really convenient online and digital experience. There’s a combination of those folks who want the convenience and then also the folks who maybe would never have used your services in the first place, but now that you’re providing it to them at a more affordable rate or a unique unbundled service, they actually can afford it or they can have access to that service now.
Jim Calloway: Before we move on to our next segment, let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Welcome back to the Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today our subject is turning your legal services into legal products. Our guest today is Dorna Moini, the CEO and founder of Gavel, a no-code platform for building document automation and client facing products. Prior to starting Gavel, Dorna was a litigator at Sidley Austin. There in her pro bono practice, she worked with legal aid organizations to build a web application for domestic violence survivors to complete and file their paperwork, which led to the idea for Gavel. So Dorna, what pricing structures do you typically see legal products being sold through, and how should those creating legal products be thinking about pricing and finding the right price?
Dorna Moini: Creating legal products actually allows you to price in all different models. The ones that we see most commonly are flat fee. So for example, you may have an estate planning practice and you may charge a specific flat fee for completing a specific set of documents. Second would be pay per use. So, you may have a set of employment documents where every single time that someone generates a separation agreement, they’re going to pay you a specific fee for that particular document or document set. And then finally is subscription services. And these are really taking off right now, and that’s where you provide a monthly or annual payment model and it’s sort of like an all you can eat model where the consumer, your client who’s using your online legal product can use it as much as they want for that specific subscription fee model.
Jim Calloway: Does building a legal product mean that lawyers are now no longer needed? What does this mean for the future of our profession?
Dorna Moini: I hear this question a lot and a lot of times I hear it from people outside of the legal industry who are wondering, well does automation, does document automation, legal technology, does this all take away the need for attorneys? And I think going back to what we discussed about the middle class and this huge segment of the population who needs legal services but maybe can’t afford the very expensive hourly rate of an attorney, there’s a lot of opportunity for revenue inside of the middle class. And so, I think that really what this means is not that lawyers are going to have less work, but rather that they’re going to have more work in certain areas and be able to scale those practices out. So instead of serving one person at a specific rate, you may be serving 10, 20, 100 people at a lower or more affordable rate, and one that allows you to really practice at the top of your license and provide the services that you really want the law school to provide.
Sharon Nelson: So tell me what’s a legal product people may have created or used without even knowing it?
Dorna Moini: The most simple form of legal product is an informational product. So, if you have ever created a blog post or a checklist, it may not have been super technology heavy, but it really is a legal product. It’s something that you have taken your expertise, put into a more standardizable model and distributed more broadly. So, for those of you who are worried out there listening to this podcast about what’s the first step, you probably have already taken the first step into dipping your toes into legal products.
Sharon Nelson: That’s great. I love it that they do this without even thinking about it.
Dorna Moini: Exactly.
Jim Calloway: So what are the most interesting use cases you’ve seen in these productized legal services?
Dorna Moini: I think it’s always fun to talk about the different customer bases that our customers have. The legal products that they’re building are serving so many different types of audiences. So those span between consumer audiences, small, medium sized businesses, enterprises, and even other lawyers. So maybe I’ll give you one quick example of each of those. Starting with the consumer audience, there’s a platform which many of your listeners may have actually heard of called Hello Divorce. Hello Divorce is a, basically a TurboTax for divorce. They were built on the Gavel platform and that allowed them to serve many consumers without necessarily needing to have a huge tech team building out that software because they were able to build out all those rules, white label it, customize it, and launch it to their customers directly on Gavel.
Two is SMB. So, selling to small and medium sized businesses. There’s a platform called Just Tech who is based out of Canada and they help small and medium sized businesses with breach reporting, data breach reporting, creating those initial policies, and then in worst case scenario, helping them with a situation where there actually has been a data breach and they’ve created a lot of automation and automated documents as part of that process.
Three is the enterprise model. So, I think a lot of times when people think about legal products, they think only about things that can be served to the consumers and individuals. But we also have some folks on our platform who are serving enterprise customers and large corporate institutions. So, one example I’ll give of that is a law firm based out of the UK who has built a tool in the UK, in China and Brazil, and so it’s in three different languages that they’ve been easily able to translate. And it helps large organizations with transfer pricing laws, which don’t ask me to explain that, but it is very complex form of tax law and I thought that was a really interesting used case.
And then finally is lawyer to lawyer. So, we have a lawyer on the platform who I think has built an incredible tool called My Probate docs. And he’s a probate lawyer but he’s built a software platform for other probate lawyers by creating all of this automation. And he now sells to other probate lawyers so they can use that tool with their customers. So, there are really lots of different use cases and client bases.
Jim Calloway: Before we move on to our next segment, let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Sharon Nelson: Welcome back to the Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today our subject is turning your legal services into legal products. Our guest today is Dorna Moini, the CEO and founder of Gavel, a no-code platform for building document automation and client facing legal products prior to starting Gavel Dorna was a litigator at Sidley Austin. There in her pro bono practice, she worked with legal aid organizations to build a web application for domestic violence survivors to complete and file their paperwork, which led to the idea for Gavel. So Dorna, what advice do you have for those looking to develop or launch legal tech innovations now that you have all this experience?
Dorna Moini: It’s a big jump and there’s a lot to build, but what I usually advise a lot of our customers on is sort of my little motto here which is “Think big, start small and iterate rapidly”. So, think big means it’s wonderful usually when people are diving into building a legal product, people have a huge vision for what they want to build. They want to build a platform that serves all of a particular area of law across the world. And that’s a great huge vision to have. However, you should start small within one jurisdiction, one audience, and one particular practice area, and try to be as narrow as possible. So, for example when we were building our domestic violence application, we started in California, only in domestic violence, and we actually focused on a series of counties in California because we knew that a lot of the counties had their own rules. And so, we really wanted to stay focused to make sure that we met that need before we started scaling out.
And then the third part is iterate rapidly. So, once you have that first version, launch your, we call it MVP, minimum viable product. Launch your MVP as quickly as possible. Come up with the requirements that you have for that minimum viable product and what is absolutely necessary to get your first product out and then get it into people’s hands as quickly as possible even though it might not be perfect because that’s where you’re going to get the biggest learnings from your user base as to how you should be changing things and how you can expand it. So that’s the iterate rapidly part. As you start to get feedback very quickly, implement that feedback, and then that’ll help you grow your product into the larger scale tool that you want to build with the bigger dream that you have.
Jim Calloway: Well, here’s an important question for today’s time. How does Legal Productization affect the access to justice gap?
Dorna Moini: Yeah, so you may have seen the Legal Services Corporation does a justice gap report, and the last justice gap report said that about 92% of low-income Americans don’t have access to critical legal needs that they have. And I’m not saying that technology is going to solve that problem completely, there are lots of different ways that we need to tackle the access to justice gap and getting legal services into the hands of the people who need it, but technology is definitely part of that process. And we work with a lot of legal aid organizations across the country and actually across the world, and we actually have a few grants with the Legal Services Corporation that are live right now where these legal services organizations are building legal tools that allow them to scale out the services that they would otherwise be providing through pro bono services to more people. And so, technology is definitely a one part of the solution, though there need to be many more parts of the solution as well.
Sharon Nelson: Well, thanks for joining us today, Dorna. This has really been fascinating and you’re obviously an entrepreneur who has a lot on the ball, and I like how you encapsulated your message into Think Big, Start Small and Iterate Rapidly. You can remember that line. So, thanks for being with us. I know our listeners had a good time too.
Dorna Moini: Wonderful. Thank you so much for having me.
Sharon Nelson: And that does it for this edition of The Digital Edge Lawyers and Technology. Remember, you can subscribe to all of the editions of this podcast at legaltalknetwork.com or an Apple Podcast. And if you enjoyed our podcasts, please rate us in Apple Podcast.
Jim Calloway: Thanks for joining us. Goodbye, Ms. Sharon.
Sharon Nelson: Happy trails Cowboy.
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