Alma Asay began her career at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, where her practice focused on complex commercial litigations,...
Bob Ambrogi is the only person to have held top editorial positions at both National Law Journal and Lawyers Weekly...
Many attorneys who focus on litigation can find themselves sifting through hundreds of documents that are relevant and vital to the success of their case. Can legal technology improve efficiency and the practice of law for these lawyers? In this episode of Law Technology Now, host Bob Ambrogi speaks with Allegory Founder and CEO Alma Asay about litigation management and how new software can greatly improve the litigation process.
Alma Asay began her career at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, where her practice focused on complex commercial litigations, primarily in the fields of media, entertainment and technology. Alma managed and successfully litigated high profile cases, including cases that were part of Gibson Dunn’s winning submissions in 2010 and 2012 for The American Lawyer’s “Litigation Department of the Year.” She was the go-to second chair for Orin Snyder — named by Chambers USA as one of the six best lawyers in the country in the category of “Litigation: Business Trial Lawyers.”
Law Technology Now
The Benefits of Litigation Management Applications
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Monica Bay: Here on ‘Law Technology Now’.
Bob Ambrogi: Hi. Welcome to ‘Law Technology Now’. This is Bob Ambrogi. I am one of the hosts of this program along with Monica Bay, who is a periodic other host of this program. We are on the Legal Talk Network. We are here today — actually at the Above The Law Academy for Private Practice Conference, so we are kind of recording live, even though we are recording it and we are talking right now with the guest Alma Asay from Allegory Law.
Alma Asay: Thank you, Bob.
Bob Ambrogi: So Alma, let’s start by asking you to tell me what is Allegory Law?
Alma Asay: Allegory is a litigation knowledge management platform that I designed based on my experiences working at Gibson Dunn where I was an associate for six years and really frustrated that the focus of litigation technology seemed just to be on eDiscovery and we were left with email, Excel and shared drives to manage our litigations.
So I thought there had to be a better way and started working with some engineers to develop Allegory to connect all the pieces of the case. So everything from witnesses to issues, your case documents such as filings, evidence, transcripts, and then also automate a lot of everyday litigation tasks that bog litigation teams down like creating binders or creating exhibit sets or search.
Bob Ambrogi: I want to get more — talk more about Allegory, but let me just – just kind of back up a little bit to what were some of the problems that you were seeing and the way that you were managing litigation before you got this. What was the problem that needed to be solved?
Alma Asay: Sure. Well, I felt like we are hitting a tipping point where the amount of evidence and testimony and filings was really getting to be too much of the litigation stage. So as the amount of electronic data exploded, of course eDiscovery came in to manage it, but as the amount of data continued to expand, even the amount that trickled down and was produced and litigation got to be huge, and you may just be talking 10,000 documents but at that stage you don’t just need to know that those are relevant to the case. You actually need to know those documents inside and out.
So for example, the last case I worked on, we had over 5,000 important documents that we had to know and have at our fingertips and know the testimony about them, how they have been used in summary judgment filings, we had to know all that off the top of our heads, and that’s just not possible.
So just as one example, we would use Excel as smartly as we could to try to organize all this information. So we created a massive Excel spreadsheet with all the key information of the documents, did some creative coding of columns in order to be able to sort, so there would be testimony right under the document, and then thinking we were very fancy, we linked a column to the documents on the shared drive, and had this meeting with the partner where we were very excited because if he wanted to see a document in more detail we could just click the link and it would open the document, and we started doing this, and it would open the wrong document. And, we were very confused and later learned that if you re-sort an Excel spreadsheet, it breaks all the links, and at that point you can’t fix them.
So we had linked up over 5,000 documents and none of the links could be recovered correctly. So that’s just one example where we were trying.
Bob Ambrogi: No problem, just give me link, that would be good.
Alma Asay: Yeah. We were trying so hard but there was just no tool available to do what we needed to do.
Bob Ambrogi: There are, there were other sort of litigation management applications out there, I mean, I won’t mention names but there is CaseMap, other things of that sort. How did those not do what you needed to have done? Did you try those kinds of applications?
Alma Asay: Absolutely. So when I first started looking into this area I had no entrepreneurial or tech background, so my inclination was not — oh, I will go build it, it was, let me go find it.
So I asked around and heard about CaseMap and called our little support team and said, hey, can I try this tool CaseMap? And they said, oh, it’s already on your computer. So I opened it up and tried to use it. For a non-tech savvy lawyer like myself it was very cumbersome, and I really was dedicated to trying to learn how to use it.
So even — when I would get, it figured out and get information in there, there was really no way to share that for example with the partner that I was working with, or just have someone else open it and know exactly where everything was.
It’s an organization tool where if you take the time to learn those tools inside and out, and then put a lot of effort into getting everything organized and making decisions as to how to customize it, and for your particular case there is a lot of set up involved and you have to know your facts at the outset, which I think is a fundamental flaw there because usually you don’t know all your facts until right before you’re going to follow your statement of facts. Then it may work for you, but it’s very hard to share with the team and collaborate with people who don’t know how you set up the case.
So the analogy that we use now is, if CaseMap is a rotary phone and Allegory is a smartphone then you’re absolutely right. They occupy the same space, but totally different tools.
Bob Ambrogi: So walk us through what you do?
Alma Asay: So for example, in Allegory, well, off the bat, Allegory is set up so that there is a place for everything already set up. So there’s no customization or initial set up stages. I open Allegory, I start my case, it shows me where to put everything, from motions to categorizing correspondence, to my evidence; it really walks you through how — what is the best practice for managing your litigation.
And then once I’ve added materials to Allegory and link things up, so for example, I can go into a document and I can not only tag the document hot or important or to issue or fact, I can actually go into the text.
So no partner wants a 100-page document marked hot. So I can actually go into the text, highlight the key text, and then link that piece of text to an issue or a witness or a fact. I can also add notes just to that specific piece of text.
Now anytime that document is viewed by anyone else in the team they will get the entire context around it. Anytime that document is printed into a binder you can automatically choose to have a sheet behind all your documents that has all that information so you can see what witnesses have testified about it, what the lawyers have said about it in filings. You can search, it’s like Google for the case. You can plug in a search term and get hits across the entire case at once, and then once everything is in there I can share that information.
So very often your new people join the team, they may not know a lot about the case, they may not have never used Allegory before, and we have people who are immediately able to jump in — oh witnesses. They click witnesses, they find the witness name, immediately they can see all the materials that have been prepared relevant to this witness because those things are automatically crossed-referenced as the team is building the case.
Senior partners for example, they may never use any other feature, but I’ve been in so many trainings where they may be in the back of the room on their BlackBerry and then we get to the search function, and they love it. It’s like Google for the case. No longer are they emailing associates at 3 a.m. saying, I think someone said something at some point about umbrella, where was that? And then the team is frantically looking and nobody knows what they are talking about.
We have had partners who log in, plug in a search term, and because everything is in one place and we give context like hits, like Google, it’s familiar. They plug in a term, they immediately can find what it is that they are thinking about. And so it’s really that putting everything at one place, connecting the dots, leveraging everything that an attorney or a paralegal does, so that it is available through any other workflow that they want to get at that information.
Bob Ambrogi: So has it become sort of the — you talked earlier about eDiscovery software and how there was nothing equivalent for litigation, so has it just sort of become eDiscovery software for the litigation phase of the case, I mean do you transition from the eDiscovery stage into Allegory?
Alma Asay: So we do often get cases, particularly the first case we get, often comes in post discovery. So right before depositions, right before summary judgment, right before trial when they can’t find anything, but I actually think about litigation like an upside-down team. So if you think about litigation going left to right, the traditional practice of litigation all the way from the investigation through witness interviews, analyzing evidence, depositions, motions, trial, and then the eDiscovery process coming top to down and feeding into that litigation process.
So I think there’s — some people have gotten caught up in the industry in this idea that litigation starts after discovery and that’s just not the case, there is so much that happens before during and as documents come through the eDiscovery process, so Allegory is built to be used from day one, the first day that your client calls you and says, we have this issue, here are the 10 key documents, can you start looking at them, can you interview witnesses, put together a complaint, all that work product can be captured from day one forward rather than waiting until after the eDiscovery process and then having to go back and find those notes in a notebook somewhere.
Bob Ambrogi: Right, yeah, I didn’t mean to suggest eDiscovery is one phase and then litigation is the next phase, I understand that it starts well before you’ve ever filed the case in the first place.
But, because there is such distinctive, as you say, sort of well-developed eDiscovery technology, there is a huge market for that technology, it sort of becomes bifurcated I think in some people’s minds.
Monica Bay: Absolutely.
Bob Ambrogi: Yeah, then you have the eDiscovery stage and then you have the dealing with the rest of its stage, it’s what it kind of comes down to.
Monica Bay: Right, so Allegory is really built for that traditional litigation practice, it’s not an eDiscovery so we integrate with various eDiscovery services. For example, we have a relativity plug-in. We are not trying to reinvent the wheel on eDiscovery, we are just trying to provide a tool that’s actually tailored to attorneys and paralegals. So over 85% of our users are attorneys and paralegals and how the tool is built for them so that when the document come through that triage eDiscovery process and identified as important they are not going into folders on a shared drive, completely disconnected from everything else in the case, but they are going into Allegory, and that way all the work product that the team does from that moment forward is captured and leveraged.
Bob Ambrogi: So you are into cloud?
Monica Bay: Yes.
Bob Ambrogi: Where is all this stuff stored?
Monica Bay: We work with Amazon Web Services, which of course is an industry leader in providing cloud services. We have a member of our team who is solely dedicated to the stability and security of our Allegory environment on Amazon. So we built a virtual private cloud, we have encryption at rest and in transit, we use multiple locations as Amazon is about to launch in Canada and in the UK. We will be able to leverage the fact that they are deploying the same technology in these other countries to spin up instances of Allegory there as well.
Bob Ambrogi: And who are your customers, I mean, are you sort of targeting larger firms, does it matter, what size firm you are in, is it a particular kind of a litigation profile that best works with your software?
Monica Bay: Well, generally they are cases where there are a lot of facts at issue. So if it’s a strictly legal question with maybe ten documents at issue, those usually aren’t the cases where people are feeling the pain in terms of being able to find the facts that they need, but we do work with firms of all sizes. So we’re about split between litigation boutiques and Big Law and I’ve always been passionate about the fact that even small law firm should have access to great technology, and this is a litigation tool, it’s not a big law tool, it’s not a small law tool, you have big law lawyers who have small cases, small law lawyers who have big cases. So our smallest firm is two people, all the way up to we have several firms listed in the vault and for Big Law.
Bob Ambrogi: How do people pay you? What do you charge?
Monica Bay: For the software we have licenses by firm based on the number of users, so we have different packages up to 5 users, up to 10 users, and then we have a knowledge management fee based on the number of files in a particular case. So up 200 files per case is free and then over that we have tiers based on the number of files, and we charge for files not gigabytes, because we want you to be able to add video and pictures, and you can play audio-visual files right in Allegory and that’s been a big hit for our clients, particularly with things like deposition video. So we’re never going to charge based on gigabytes because we don’t want to be overcharging for those things.
Bob Ambrogi: What if I can just go away from the product itself a little bit and talk about the process of developing and building? As you said earlier at the outset that you really didn’t have a technology background or I don’t think even an entrepreneurial background, if I understood. So how did you go about building this company?
Monica Bay: So when I was a lawyer I loved practicing law, I loved the teams that I worked with, I got to work on really interesting cases.
Bob Ambrogi: Easy to say now that you’re not practicing law.
Monica Bay: Right. And my favorite part of it really was diving into the facts, and I realized that just knowing how to use Excel somehow made me technologically savvy and we would implement really strict processes on our cases, but we still couldn’t keep up with that all.
Bob Ambrogi: Statistical affairs with using Excel makes you technologically savvy.
Monica Bay: I know but it’s true, it was surprising but it is true. So I was just — that classic I was frustrated, I had a problem and I couldn’t find a solution and I made the mistake of mentioning it to a few friends and I had a friend who said, well, I want you to meet my engineering friends, and so next thing I knew I was in Brooklyn talking to these two guys, and I never had any contact with software development or engineering and —
Bob Ambrogi: When was this — how long ago was this all happened?
Monica Bay: This was in August of 2011, so little over five years ago, and I remember telling them this is going to happen, just like eDiscovery happened this has to happen because we’re hitting a tipping point where you just can’t keep track of all of this and it’s the case-critical information that you have to know so well. And I said, this is going to happen whether I do it or not, but it would be really cool to get there first.
And next thing I knew, one thing led to another, and we were developing this software and I kind of learned as I went along that I was an entrepreneur building a startup, that didn’t really occur to me until later I just thought we were going to build software and somehow thought, well, if you build this amazing software it will sell itself, which I guess is a thought that a lot of people have it first and then you learn, no, you’ve got to get out there and you’ve got to learn how to sell it.
Bob Ambrogi: Yeah. So have you learned how to sell it?
Monica Bay: I sure hope so. No, we have some amazing customers, particularly with Big Law it was really challenging at first because every firm would say, well, what other big firms are using it? And, we all talk about in Big Law how one will follow the other. And so I just kept thinking if I could just get that one and I wanted to say to them, well, if not you then no one ever.
And then once we got a few Big Law clients, it became a lot easier obviously, and now we have very, very happy customers who have been wonderful about serving as references and it makes all the difference in the world when we talk to a firm now and we tell them, you tell us who you want to hear from, a partner, a paralegal, an associate, big law, small law, and we can find whatever kind of reference they are looking for who will talk not just generally but practically about how they used Allegory to help them.
Bob Ambrogi: How have you been financed?
Monica Bay: We’ve raised to date just under $1 million, ultimately it was all individuals. I did try in Silicon Valley for a little while to raise venture financing, but I found it extremely challenging, and ultimately decided that I was better off giving a go and trying to make revenue than I was continuing to try to raise money. So we raised $995,000 and I thought we would just build solely based on revenue from there. And then over the last year I’ve seen the market shift, the way that I thought this will happen, indeed firms are starting to recognize more and more that they need a tool like this.
So it’s no longer me going in and explaining to them why they have a need, it’s more they have the need and they’re looking at Allegory as a possible solution. And I realize that we wouldn’t be able to scale fast enough, if we just kept trying to take on the work that we could handle with the team as is and grow incrementally. So we’re currently going out and raising again, but by now I’ve met so many wonderful people in the legal industry who are as passionate as we are about bringing technology and better means to do things in the legal industry that we are raising money from individuals, again, but these are individuals who have had success before in the legal industry and are really interested in what we’re doing.
Bob Ambrogi: I was just reading an article, I forget whether you wrote it or were interviewed for it, I think it was Thomson Reuters Executive Briefing perhaps, in which you talked about some of the challenges you faced as a woman in Silicon Valley trying to raise capital. I found that I was surprised frankly to read that because I guess I wouldn’t have thought, that was the case, but can you tell us about that?
Monica Bay: Absolutely. So I was very surprised to experience it. I felt very fortunate that when I was in New York working as a lawyer I never felt treated differently for being a woman, and in fact, it just didn’t occur to me. And then when I went out to Silicon Valley to try to raise money it was the first time really in my life that on a professional level I consistently felt treated differently, and when I would talk to male colleagues it’s just — our experiences were entirely different.
I had instances of potential investor calling me at 7 a.m. and leaving weird phone messages, and you go into meetings and they make comments about your dating life when you’re trying to pitch them to invest in your business. The most frustrating part about it is, you learn a lot as a young entrepreneur and you make mistakes and you try to fix them, and the deflating part of that was there was nothing I could fix, there was nothing I could change about the fact that I was a woman, and there was this one week where I had some really disheartening meetings on that front and then the next week I was in New York at a meeting at one of the top law firms in the world in a room full of lawyers and the Chief Information Officer at this firm, and I was treated with the utmost respect, there was no different, and the dichotomy was just so striking. And it was about that time that I decided that I was better off just trying to make a go of making revenue and not spending my wheels just feeling completely deflated trying to raise money.
Bob Ambrogi: That’s really fascinating, I mean, I live well outside the Silicon Valley bubble, but it’s not what I would have expected. So as you look towards going after financing in the future, what have you learned from that, is there something you want to do differently the next time around?
Monica Bay: Well yeah, so this time around we are really focused on individuals in the legal industry who are passionate about the space. A lot of them used to be lawyers.
So they are the same kinds of people that I meet when I go in pitch at law firms, they are just far removed from it, they may have gone and started their own legal innovation company and then sold it or partners at law firms who have been involved in innovation initiative, so it’s the kinds of people that I worked as a lawyer.
I’m not going out to Silicon Valley or anywhere else and trying to pitch big VCs and it’s not just the woman thing, it’s also I think legal tech is a challenging market because it follows a different model and I’ve had investors told me that —
Bob Ambrogi: VCs don’t play get legal tech either.
Alma Asay: Absolutely, and some of them — I’m very grateful they just spelled it out in an e-mail said, I think this is a great idea but we don’t do legal tech because it doesn’t fit our model and I appreciate that honesty, and it’s true. So rather than spin my wheels going and trying to explain to them why this can be a success in a way that we agree doesn’t fit their model, I’d rather find people who are really passionate about the industry and recognize the opportunity already.
Bob Ambrogi: Yeah. So I know you’ve described Allegory Law is something kind of unique on the market, do you see yourself as having competitors, and if so, who are they?
Alma Asay: Well, you mentioned CaseMap before. So CaseMap, Case Notebook are the rotary phone competitors, very often when we’re being brought in its people looking for a change from those. In terms of modern technologies there’s a tool called Opus 2 Magnum out of the UK and it was —
Bob Ambrogi: I just recorded for this podcast.
Alma Asay: Well, there you go, so you know them. So it was started primarily as the depositions tool and really got built up in the UK by creating trial bundles, so there’s some UK specific aspects and now they’re expanding to cover other areas of litigation where we started with covering the full spectrum of litigation and don’t do some of the deposition trial specific things that they currently do, although we will soon. So generally if we’re being pitted up against modern tool, it’s the two of us.
Bob Ambrogi: Opus 2?
Alma Asay: Yeah.
Bob Ambrogi: What else would you like our listeners to know about Allegory Law that we haven’t talked about so far in this session?
Alma Asay: I would say our team. My first non-tech hire was a man named Corey Barnes, he was the paralegal I worked with from the time I was a first-year at Gibson, Dunn and this is a man who would work three days straight and not complain and just hustles so hard and now he does that for every one of our clients, and I’m not only proud of our technology, but I’m so proud of our team. They all are very dedicated to making sure our clients are happy and helping them in any way that they possibly can.
On the non tech side we worked with Big Law, we worked at Big Law, we get it, we get the pressures. When people are in trial and they need any answer at 3 a.m. we get that, and I’m just — I couldn’t be more proud, and I think that as much as the technology is why we are succeeding.
Bob Ambrogi: What is the size of your team right now?
Alma Asay: Ten people.
Bob Ambrogi: Ten people? So from you to a ten-person company and who knows what’s next, right?
Alma Asay: Yeah. And it is —
Bob Ambrogi: Stay tuned.
Alma Asay: — it is quite amazing to have a team around you, it’s just night and day.
Bob Ambrogi: Yeah. Sure. Well, almost say, CEO and Founder of Allegory Law, it’s been a pleasure to speak to you. Thanks for being with us.
Alma Asay: Same Bob. Thank you so much for having me.
Bob Ambrogi: Thanks. And that wraps up this session of ‘Law Technology Now’. Thanks for being with us. We’re here on the Legal Talk Network.
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