Dorna Moini is the founder and CEO of Documate, a document automation platform. Before founding Documate, Dorna was a...
Daniel W. Linna Jr. has a joint appointment at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and McCormick School of Engineering...
Lawyers have the power to do a lot of good for their clients, but oftentimes too much of their efforts go into time draining projects like filling out forms. Obstacles like these not only can be a nuisance for attorneys, but a barrier to legal services for those with the greatest need. To explore this subject and more, Dan Linna welcomes Dorna Moini, founder and CEO of Documate. Together they cover the path that led Dorna to starting her company, the impact she’s striving to make with her company, and why software tools like hers can make a huge difference for those in need of legal assistance and for those able to provide it.
Dorna Moini is the founder and CEO of the document automation platform Documate.
Law Technology Now
Dorna Moini, Founder and CEO of Documate
Daniel Linna: Hello. This is Dan Linna. Welcome to Law Technology Now on the Legal Talk Network. My guest today is Dorna Moini. Dorna is the Founder and CEO of Documate, a document automation platform.
Before founding Documate, Dorna was a litigator first at Sheppard Mullin and then at Sidley Austin. In 2019, the American Bar Association named Dorna to its most recent class of Legal Rebels. And beginning in January, Dorna will be teaching a class on Legal Technology at the University of Southern California Law School.
Dorna, welcome to the show.
Dorna Moini: Thank you so much for having me, Dan. We’ve worked together a little bit in the past in some of the classes that you’ve taught, and I’m really excited to be here with you today.
Daniel Linna: Yes, I’m really excited for our conversation.
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Well, so Dorna, before we start talking about Documate, can you just tell us a little bit about your career path and your legal career before you left Sidley Austin to found Documate?
Dorna Moini: Yeah, absolutely. So, when I first went to law school I thought I was going to be a Human Rights lawyer, kind of like probably many students who go into law school, then went down the corporate law path, worked at Sheppard Mullin and then Sidley Austin, and in both of those firms I was doing mostly a lot of employment litigation, particularly in the trade secrets and employee rating areas.
I did a lot of trial work which was super-fun and it’s an area of law where you get a lot of experience really early on. And my path over to Documate was sort of unexpected and it arose just out of the pro bono legal work that I was doing at the time with domestic violence survivors actually.
Daniel Linna: Well, tell us more about that work. I know you created a tool for – well, you tell us about it exactly, the domestic violence work.
Dorna Moini: Definitely yeah. So, while I was at Sidley I was also doing pro bono work on the side and you have usually as an associate like 100 or 200 hours to do pro bono. I was spending that a lot on with domestic violence survivors. But during that time I also felt like a lot of the work that I was doing was very routine and form-based and met that out of those 200 hours that I had to do pro bono work, I was spending half of it drafting up documents that really a lawyer shouldn’t be doing or maybe a lawyer should just be reviewing. I wanted to spend my time helping them in court going to trial for them, giving them really legal sensitive advice.
So, what I wanted to do, I lived in San Francisco at the time and in San Francisco as you probably have heard, engineers are everywhere and so I had a lot of friends who were engineers and I got together with Michael, who is now my co-founder, and I was like, Michael, do you want to help me build this workflow. Basically what I want to do is build a TurboTax for domestic violence survivors where people can get on the platform and answer several different relevant questions and then be issued with the documents they need and be able to kind of click a button and e-file those over.
So, Michael was excited about this project. I was still at Sidley at the time and we started working on it. And we decided to kind of — we were like this is, we launched it throughout Sidley and a bunch of legal aid organizations, we’re also using it and we decided we wanted to build out a series of different tools for legal aid and for low and moderate income users.
So after that we launched domestic violence platform, we launched an expungement tool, we launched an eviction defense tool, and what it essentially become like the LegalZoom for low and moderate income people, some of those tools that don’t exist out there, and that’s what led us down the path to Documate because we realized that the better way to really serve both the legal aid organizations and really the group of people in the US who don’t have access to legal services was to build more of a platform and allow lawyers to automate their own expertise.
Daniel Linna: Well, so tell us a little more about this domestic violence platform. Is it still being used for example?
Dorna Moini: It is. So it’s actually not directly on our site anymore but although we had a several different legal aid organizations in California who had signed up for it and are still using it.
It’s not available for consumers to use anymore, but there are legal aid organizations and domestic violence shelters who are still using it on a daily basis, particularly in their clinics to just automate that process, then they just review the documents at the end with a client and send them on their way to the court, tell them exactly how to file it.
Daniel Linna: Well, so that’s an interesting project. I mean, I think one of the things I would be really interesting in this space too is if we could see that we could get more of these projects. Sometimes they tend to seem to be a little bit siloed and if we can come up with solutions that could actually scale to multiple jurisdictions, is that anything you’ve been thinking about trying to tackle?
Dorna Moini: Yeah, so that’s actually — sort of that was the reason, what you just described is the reason that we moved from the domestic violence platform into what we have is Documate, because what we felt like was we had built this domestic violence tool which applied to about 50 of the 58 counties in California, but it took us a lot of time. The law is so fragmented that we had to make sure we had — most of the law in California is fairly similar. The forms are pretty similar, but then you have all these local forms that we had to also add.
So, that was difficult. It took a lot of time and we thought if we build Documate all of the relevant stakeholders in all of these different jurisdictions, different states, different counties, even more granularly can take what someone else has built and iterate on that.
So that’s sort of what our goal is now is because we’re not focused as much on content anymore, we’re focused on building the best platform for the lawyers. We’re hoping that our lawyers are going to be able to collaborate with each other and use tools that they built most of to pass it on to each other and kind of build on top of. Kind of like almost like GitHub has done for code. You could pull someone else’s GitHub branch and fork off of it and go off in different directions and you’re cutting down and reducing a lot of the work that needed to be done.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, I love that GitHub example. To me I think that’s the perfect example, it’s like thinking about someone’s perfected how to do this particular piece of work and we can just plug that piece and wherever we need it and instead of reinventing the wheel time and again.
Dorna Moini: Exactly, and hopefully the law is becoming more collaborative in that way too.
Daniel Linna: Yeah. Well, I think there’s a ton of work to do in the legal aid space on that, but also in corporations, in law firms, I mean, I know we both have experience, we’re seeing opportunities, and we will talk a little bit more about that too. Just to kind of close the loop a little bit on Documate, so you mentioned TurboTax and expert systems, so you’ve really brand that as a document automation platform but you have tools in Documate that you can create basic expert systems. I mean can you kind of just tell us more like about where you see the dividing line between a document automation platform and an expert system platform?
Dorna Moini: Yeah, so I think a lot of times people, especially the language around legal technology right now is really to infuse the word “AI” and everything, but AI really just comes down to being decision trees, and yes, now we have much more sophisticated versions of AI where you have natural language processing and you have fuzzy logic, but at a base level, it’s just decision trees, and that’s exactly what document automation is and that’s exactly what expert systems for the most part can be.
So we currently — what we tell people about in terms of our product is the no code features because we want to attract people who don’t have any coding knowledge to come on to our platform and be able to build whatever they want and know that they don’t necessarily need an engineer to help them do that. It’s really cool to realize that dream that you have in your head as a non-engineer, but we also have some clients who are building much more complex tools and injecting code into what they have on Documate.
So, for example, we have a law firm who is using a database of case law data through if you know what Neo4j, which is like a graphical database, and so they built all the front-end on Documate but then they have — they’re using these advanced database tools to create more of like a natural language processing and data analysis to decide and give you answers through what you would traditionally think of as an expert system.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, well, that’s one of the reasons why I’ve been excited about using Documate in some of my classes at Northwestern and what I’ve been doing up with serious law school and in the summer programs, we used it for the Institute for the Future Law Practice as well, sometimes when people think of document automation they just think of Mail Merge in Microsoft Word and that’s the end of the capabilities and maybe that’s I guess the most and strictest terms document automation but your platform, you can actually do, so you can add a lot of logic, conditional logic in the documents itself in the workflow, and so you can create an expert system that would allow for much more than just putting words into a fixed template.
Dorna Moini: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
Daniel Linna: Well, no, so one other thing I wanted to ask you about is I think one of the many things interesting about Documate is that it’s actually built on top of Docassemble which more-and-more people I think are getting familiar with this platform. It’s open source, it’s a free platform. How did you decide to use Docassemble to create your company Documate on top of Docassemble?
Dorna Moini: Yeah, so when we had first launched the domestic-violence platform, we built that all completely from scratch and it took us several months. I was the idea person and Michael, my co-founder, was actually putting it into code and we didn’t know that Docassemble existed.
And then we went to the Legal Services Corporation Conference, which is usually in January, it’s actually coming up this in about a month now in Portland and we met Jonathan Pyle who had created Docassemble and he gave this session on Docassemble and he was talking about — he used to be — is still a lawyer, he actually does Docassemble on the side, which is quite impressive.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, yeah.
Dorna Moini: And he had built this tool for lawyers to build document automation and he was sort of saying that anyone can get on the Docassemble platform and build things out. You do have to learn quite a bit of code to do anything more complex than like “Hello, World!”
But we were like, wait a minute, if he’s built something that really addresses this exact market and at the time we were only working with legal aid organizations and he knows that this works for it, why don’t we build something that’s no code and is built on top of that? So you can much more easily build out these workflows and really make it feel like it’s kind of happening out of your dreams.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, well, so tell us what’s your — kind of your vision for the company? Do you have like a product roadmap or have particular updates in mind that you want to bring to the Documate platform?
Dorna Moini: Yeah, definitely, so our kind of goals for 2020 specifically is, one, to be the most powerful document automation software available. What we’ve seen is the tools that exist out there right now are either incredibly powerful but they require a lot of coding knowledge that you really need to have an IT team or an engineer in-house or on the opposite side of the spectrum, they’re really easy to use, but as you said, they’re basically kind of like mail merge. They don’t do much more than that.
And so, we want to be able to mesh those two together and we’re constantly adding new features on that front. We want to be an affordable way and an accessible platform for small and mid-sized law firms. We already give our software for free to legal aid and to educators and we’re adding a lot of data features for you to be able to store data, you might be using Clio as your CRM but that holds only a very specific subset of data; whereas, when you’re doing document automation, you’re literally capturing every piece of information that exists about your client.
And so, you will now have centralized venture launching this feature this week, we have been in client data right now but you’ll have every single piece of data that you’ve collected from a client inside of Documate in the system. So that’s second, more of the data functionality.
And then third is, enabling lawyers to be able to collaborate better, kind of like we were discussing earlier and share their workflows with each other. So we’re going to be creating more of sort of page and location for our lawyers to network with each other. They can already do that a little bit through our slack group. We have a slack group for our clients and really anyone who wants to join. What this will enable them to do is be able to pull a workflow that someone else has created and kind of build on top of that like we were talking about earlier.
Daniel Linna: That all sounds great and I think one of the most important points to me about undertaking the work to engage in document automation, people get really focused on the AI part of it and the natural language generation, for example, things like that. There’s data — data is lacking big time in this space and so if you use a tool, like Docassemble, and you go through the work of creating this workflow and automating documents and you can start generating data that can also be really helpful in this workflow.
So that all really sounds great and that leads me to this other question I wanted to ask. You have had some success stories in document automation projects. I’m sure you also have had some failures or maybe some projects that don’t work out as well as people wanted it to.
What would you say are the best practices for success with a document automation project?
Dorna Moini: Well, they say — they actually say this about starting any business, but I think the key is to start with something that you know. So it’s a problem that you’ve had, a problem that you’ve experienced in your own practice because you then know both your process and that you’re solving a particular need.
Otherwise, if you’re not already doing that, the next kind of second best option is to do something where you’ve talked to all these relevant stakeholders. So in the student context when students are building tools, they usually haven’t practiced and so they don’t — unless they’re LLM students, so they don’t really know what they want to build and they haven’t experienced it firsthand necessarily.
But oftentimes what I usually recommend is they go out and talk to people in the field, like go talk to your professors, go talk to your legal aid organizations, go talk to people in the community and potential customers and see what their problems are. So you know first that you’re solving a need and second that you’re solving it in the right way.
Lawyers have been really successful in automating a lot of the areas that they know about, but legal tech entrepreneur sometimes want to build a solution to something without necessarily having experienced the problem. So I think those two should always match up.
And then we also actually recently came out with — we started basically talking to several different document automation specialists, the people who had worked on document automation projects in the past and asked them and kind of knew the Documate system and asked them if they wanted to be part of a new group that we have on our site called the Document Automation Specialists, we’re going to call them Documaters very soon.
But, we have them kind of available if someone wants to contract with them independently to talk through the process because these people know they’ve done several different document automation projects. They know exactly what kind of mapping you should build out, what kind of logical workflows you should build out on paper before you put it into an idea, and they’ve experienced also the user testing side of it in terms of how you can get people — how you understand whether your system is usable and understandable by end-users.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, all great advice and you made the point that it’s like starting a business, or I mean, I think so much of this in the legal vertical we can learn from problem-solving and software development and in other spaces and in getting people engaged to understand how to map a process and really understand the user needs, human-centered design and then the user testing on the backend.
I mean, it turns out that success with these projects it does take a lot of work, right, and so I think people maybe sometimes underestimate. They want AI to be a magical solution or they want any one of these tools to be a magical solution and it turns out that there’s a lot of work that goes into really making the most of these tools.
Dorna Moini: Definitely, yeah. It’s everything — all of the expertise that’s in your head still needs to get out there onto the screen.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, yeah, right. Well, and then the point two of usually what you’re really trying to do I think one of the things that to me is great about document automation is you’re trying to — I mean there’s this tendency I think in all legal organizations that we all operate as individuals. We decide the way we’re going to draft an answer or a brief or a particular contract and the whole point here is that there’s a lot of costs to that of this kind of reinventing the wheel each of us on our own. There’s many costs not just in creating the work product but then downstream when people need to go and do something with that work product having there’s ten different ways that we did it.
How can we have more standards and consistency and that involves more than just the one expert, it’s like bringing multiple experts to the table and ask, well, what are we really trying to accomplish here for our organization, what is the best way to do it or a reasonable approach?
And then once you start doing it, you can start gathering data that helps you inform and keep, so it’s really never-ending, this engaging and this sort of work approach to keep thinking about how do we keep improving the things that we’re doing?
Dorna Moini: Yeah, definitely, and you and I had talked about this before, there’s this sort of pessimistic outlook on lawyers that that will never happen. Standardized documents will never happen because lawyers just want to create more work for themselves, but hopefully, I think that a lot of lawyers don’t want to do that basic standardized rote work.
They want to be focused on what they actually went to law school for. So, hopefully the legal field can move in the right direction there as long as I think we need some kind of mobilizing force to push us in that direction.
Daniel Linna: Well, how are we going to mobilize people? How are we going to push people in that direction? I mean what do you think — what do you think we need to be doing to engage more people in seeing the upside of innovating and using technology and using it to really expand the reach of our profession?
Dorna Moini: I think in the legal aid field because there’s such a necessity and there’s such a dearth of lawyers, they have almost been — not they not necessarily have the funds to do everything they want to but in ideas they have a lot of ideas in terms of how to change the legal fields.
Like when you go to the LSC ITC the conference that LSC puts on every year, there are lots of really cool ideas floating around, not necessarily enough money to execute and implement all of them, but it’s born out of necessity; whereas, in a lot of the for-profit legal market, there hasn’t been that kind of necessity because lawyers are paid by the hour.
But I think what’s important is to change the way that lawyers think about legal services to make them realize that the more they can have access to some of the middle class and build these sort of flat fee service tools or legal tech tools, the better that is technically for their own business because they’re going to be able to have more volume-based practices and automation can actually be a friendly tool for really growing the size of the legal market and the legal pie.
Daniel Linna: Well, let me push back a little bit on something you said, because I think funding is a challenging issue because of course everyone’s always going to want more funding. I don’t care where you are, you could be in a well-off corporation and you’re going to say that, oh, we need more funding to be able to do this.
I mean, we’ll probably never have enough funding to increase access to legal services but we’re expending resources in the legal industry all over the place inside of law schools at companies, right? I think Jim Sandman makes the case and I’ve been trying to pick up on this about we can learn from corporations and law firms and think about what we learned there and we are plowing it back into thinking about how to improve access to legal services and justice.
So, what if we assumed we had all the money in the world? We’re still going to have to lead and mobilize people and how can we make better use of the resources that we’re expending now, right, and so I mean, is that — am I going too far now to suggest that we can’t allow funding to be an excuse? We’ve got to figure out how to move the profession forward.
Dorna Moini: That’s a really good question and I actually think it comes back to sort of people like you who are professors at law schools because where it really stems from is law school, the youth of the legal field who can decide which paths they take. They can go and use that funding in the right ways to make the legal field more efficient or they particularly in the access to justice field, just directing those resources and being aware of the fact that exists will lead people not necessarily just through funding but through attention to kind of start helping solve this problem.
Daniel Linna: Well, let’s shift gears just a little bit, and I mean, there’s a lot of debate about how much law firms are actually innovating and so you’re only a couple of years removed from being in a large law firm and not just your experience initially at that law firm but you could see everything across the market, right, you’re interacting with other firms.
I mean, how much do you think law firms are actually innovating? What are you seeing in the market?
Dorna Moini: I think it’s a lot based on — it’s all coming from the demand side. So even during the time that I was at a law firm in the first year, I remember feeling like I was pulling templates off a system to reinvent like as you said, “reinvent the wheel constantly.”
And I saw firsthand clients starting to push back on fees, clients starting to — clients knowing that there are tools to make things more efficient. Even some of the litigation work that we did started being phased out in flat fee services. So you would have the complaint through the end of discovery would be a certain flat fee, discovery through the pretrial motions, would be another flat fee, and that sort of demand side fee structure, I think leads law firms to start to want to innovate because they are incentivized by the right things now, they are incentivized by efficiency as opposed to just billable hours.
And I think it’s slow, it’s moving slowly within a lot larger law firms because those — the stuff that can be automated is often a loss leader and they might not be spending that much money on it anyway, but it is happening.
There’s a cool company called LegalMation, I don’t know if you’ve heard of that.
Daniel Linna: Oh yeah, yeah, they’ve been on this podcast as a matter of fact.
Dorna Moini: Oh they have? Okay. I have to go back and listen to their — to the podcast.
Daniel Linna: You haven’t listened to every episode. I’ve adorned.
Dorna Moini: Oh goodness. I was scrolling through a few days ago and I didn’t see them, but I will definitely make sure to do that right. Yeah, but they’re doing really cool things within large law firms I mean that complaint to answer to the initial discovery, they only have a few of the different legal areas I think out right now, but they’re very quickly expanding.
And that’s something that is also coming from a lot of the demand side, like I know they have clients like Wal-Mart who are telling law firms, “You need to use this tool otherwise we don’t want to work with you or we’re not going to pay your bill”.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, yeah. Well, let me put back on my law firm partner hat and I’ll pretend we’re back both. We’re both sophisticated litigators in big firms, oh did you — Dorna, did you see that LegalMation tool? I mean, yeah, maybe slip-and-falls you can use, LegalMation, but that’s not going to impact any of the work that we do. I mean our work is really pretty special and you can’t automate what we do. I mean how do you respond to people who have that kind of perspective? I mean, what was your experience, what kind of work do you — I mean what sort of opportunity —
Again, we have to see this as an opportunity. I think people see it so much as a threat. Where are the opportunities to use these tools even in sophisticated litigation?
Dorna Moini: Yeah. I mean I do think it’s true that not everything can be automated, like we are not just going to do away with lawyers completely. There are things like the complaint, discovery, setting up templates, a lot of that can be automated. But going to a deposition doing — and I know there are some companies sort of trying to do stuff with legal research as well, but we are really not there, like we still need humans to be doing legal research, applying facts to law. That is all sophisticated legal work that that I don’t think is going to be automated anytime soon.
But there are also lots of template-based work and this also goes back to kind of the standards thing, like at a large law firm particularly, you have tons of different templates that you are — not even templates, but like precedents that you have worked from and when you are drafting an MSJ, you will go, or at least, I don’t know, this is my experience, I will just talk from my personal experience, I go into the system and like look up MSJ, this particular statute and see if anyone had written something similar so I could at least like pull little pieces and not reinvent everything or even just like the standard for summary judgment motion.
But there are pieces of the process that can be broken off, which in legal aid and consumer facing legal services we call unbundling, but we haven’t really started to do in big law firms.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, yeah, and every associate and junior partner in the world is saying yeah, that’s pretty much the way I create work product too. I mean now to be fair, I think some firms have done a much better job at like creating — some are better than others at creating like knowledge management resources to kind of push this information. You also have to rely on the attorneys to take that invested time to kind of learn how to use those and contribute to those resources, so it’s really uneven.
I think something with LegalMation for example, another — that’s another example of people underestimate about the impact, because they just think oh well, that’s just an efficiency play and fine, you can be a little bit more efficient, but there is so many other areas. But it’s also a data play and you start putting a process in place, you are gathering data, you can make faster or early case assessments and things like that.
The depositions example is a good one. Ray Bailey at Novus Law did a study of just looking at in a litigation how many times documents get touched time and time and time again, like the initial intake, the review, preparing for a dep, preparing for a different dep, preparing for motions. And it’s like why don’t we have platforms to better manage all this massive information. We are doing so much in our Outlook inbox things like that.
Dorna Moini: Definitely.
Daniel Linna: Well, I want to talk also about law schools and the stuff that you are going to be doing at the University of Southern California, but before we do that we are going to take a quick break to hear a message from our sponsor and then we will be back to continue our interview with Dorna Moini, Founder and CEO of Documate.
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Daniel Linna: And we are back. Thank you for joining us. We are with Dorna Moini, Founder and CEO of Documate.
Dorna, we mentioned that you are going to be teaching a class at the University of Southern California Law School starting here just next month actually and wanted to kind of ask you, you practiced in big law for six years, now you have been a legal tech entrepreneur for two years, based on what you are seeing in the marketplace, you have a lot of experience in legal aid as well, you have seen a lot of components of the legal industry, the legal ecosystem, what do you think law schools need to do to update their curricula?
Dorna Moini: Yeah. So in terms of what we are sort of going to be doing in my class next semester, and I have learned a lot from you Dan, from all the teachings that you have given me from what you have taught in legal tech courses, but I think we really need to teach our like legal minds to think outside of the box. There is so much of the law that is black letter law, you learn the rule and you apply the rule, but in any area, whether you are going to go work for a law firm or you are going to go start a legal technology company or do any of the multiple different things that you can do with a legal degree, I think it’s important to do things — think how you can do things differently and unconventionally.
Like if you want a job at a certain company, don’t just send your résumé over, send an email to the partner that you want to work with and even maybe go visit their office and be a little bit stalkerish to get their attention, because that’s how you get really exceptional opportunities. And the same thing applies when you are working on your own legal technology company, you have to do things that are outside of the box.
Daniel Linna: Well, I think sometimes when we talk about technology the assumption is, especially at law schools like Michigan, Northwestern, USC, people think oh, well, you don’t want to learn about this because you are going to take this alternative path, and can we — first of all, let’s talk about this as kind of a couple of tracks, right? There is alternative paths, I really actually like to talk about — what we are talking on this is like a non-traditional path, because it really requires your legal understanding, even to be a legal tech entrepreneur, if you are going to be a legal engineer or a project manager in a law firm even, but what about just this traditional path.
You are going back to Sidley or Kirkland or a big firm and you want to become partner there, what kind of things by working on innovation and legal tech projects, whether it’s as an entrepreneur or in the law school, what are the kind of skills that you think you would develop that would help you be more successful to be on that path to become a partner in a big law firm?
Dorna Moini: So if I am being really honest about this, it’s actually not necessarily the technology that I learned about that would be — if I was going to go back to Sidley that would have been super beneficial to me. It’s actually all the learnings that I have gained from being at a startup, in the startup culture, running a business.
So for example, marketing, business, sales, hiring, these are all things that we do very differently in the startup world than law firms. Like at a law firm there is kind of starting with hiring, like you look at someone’s résumé, if they meet all your qualifications, GPA and their school is good and they are in the right student organizations, they are on law review, then they come in for an in-person interview.
The in-person interview in my experience is basically just making sure that you like the person and you would want to go grab a beer with them. It’s not much more than that, whereas like I have started reading a bunch of books on hiring and we do quite an extensive hiring process when we bring people on to Documate. We do several rounds of interviews, we go through their entire background and talk about the goals that they had at every single different job and how they feel like they accomplish those goals. We talk to several references and make sure that the goals that they state that they were like going after are actually the goals that the managers were also looking for. So there is a lot that we do differently I think in the startup world versus the law firm world that has the sort of ingrained systems.
Similarly like in marketing and sales, those are things that you could do differently if you are going to be a partner today than — and really build up your business. You can obviously — relationships are key and that’s something you should definitely focus on, but there are innovative ways to bring in a tool that you are using technology-wise to make your law firm have a brand that it otherwise wouldn’t and your practice really be known for that brand.
Daniel Linna: Yeah. So it sounds like a lot of like business skills, just like thinking in lean startup sort of way or thinking about — like even using a Lean Canvas or a Business Model Canvas, like really making sure you understand what’s the problem, like how do I need to pitch myself as a solution to the problem that my customers have.
Dorna Moini: Yeah, exactly, exactly. Have you read The Lean Startup book?
Daniel Linna: Oh yeah, yeah.
Dorna Moini: Maybe I should make that as part of our curriculum for next semester.
Daniel Linna: Yeah. Well, I find the Lean Canvas to be really helpful, even to think about careers, because students are frequently just thinking about oh, great, I got an offer, I am going to this big law firm, things are set, and I think the Lean Startup — or excuse me, the lean startup principles, but the Lean Canvas I find is really helpful to really think about, well, what’s the problem in the world that I solve and why is someone going to call me, right, what’s my unique value proposition, why are they going to hire me? If I am at the big firm, why are they going to pay me 600, 800, $1,000 an hour to solve their problem, and usually we think it’s just because of all this legal knowledge in our head, but it turns out lots of people have that legal knowledge in their head, that’s not enough.
Dorna Moini: Yeah, as lawyers we are commodities and so we need to learn how to market ourselves in the right way too.
Daniel Linna: Yeah and how to add those other skills, right, so that we actually do have a unique value proposition that we can market.
Why don’t you tell us a little bit specifically about, so what class are you teaching and is it going to be more of a hands-on class, tell us more about it?
Dorna Moini: Yeah. So it’s going to be called the Legal Innovations Lab and it’s going to be very hands-on. So it’s meeting once per week but it’s a three hour class and I have kind of split it up into several different categories. So we will talk about — some of the areas we are talking about are product, we will have a day where we will talk about user-centered design and how you build a product and a product roadmap.
We will talk about unauthorized practice of law issues since that’s a hot topic in the law right now. I am actually having the — the GC of LegalZoom will be coming to speak to the class that day.
Daniel Linna: That guy is a character?
Dorna Moini: Yes, definitely. We are excited.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, Chas is — I mean Chas came and spoke at Michigan State.
Dorna Moini: Oh really?
Daniel Linna: Yeah, it was great. He was great. It was great. Yeah, he is a great person.
Dorna Moini: He actually went to USC Law School too.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, yeah, yeah, he reminds people of that frequently.
Dorna Moini: Trojan Pride, right?
Daniel Linna: Yes, yes, yes.
Dorna Moini: We will be talking about automation, about data analytics, and then I also want to do — the last — the final project will be basically them showcasing a project that they have built over the course of the semester, and so the week before that final project I want to do something on fundraising and I will be having someone come in who kind of knows a lot about that.
And what I think that teaches people is not necessarily like raising money, but presentation skills, which whether you are fundraising from a venture capital firm or whether you are pitching to a client because you want to win the case, those skills are very similar.
So I think that it will be a class that’s useful for someone who wants to go into legal technology, but also someone who just wants to take the traditional legal path and wants to gain these skills along the path.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, that sounds great. And I think that last point you made too about the general applicability of learning from pitches and I think that’s another example of — I really think it’s important to make the point that when we are working in these legal tech projects, you have to learn — you have to know the law cold. If you are talking about document automation or creating something in domestic violence space, you really need to know the law.
So in these courses when students are building these tools, they learn a lot about the law, it requires a deep dive into the law, but just then the general applicability of these concepts. When you are arguing a motion in front of a judge, I mean it’s a similar approach, right, what does the judge care about, how do you get the judge’s attention, how do you tee it up for a decision that it makes it easy for the judge to rule in your favor. I mean these are generally applicable principles, so learning about pitching can absolutely help, not just in pitching to get clients, but getting judges to rule in your favor or helping win a negotiation point, things like that.
Dorna Moini: Yeah, definitely. You need to be so practiced and rehearsed in your responses that you know every question that could potentially come your way and every answer you would give.
There is actually a — I don’t know if Y Combinator created the site, but there is this website where you can go on and get questions that Y Combinator interviewers would give you and you basically just click the button and it gives you a minute to answer every single question, and if you can’t answer that question in a minute, then it tells you, you failed, big red screen comes up and it just keeps going. So having something like that for law might be fun, where you are quizzing people on their motion before they go before the judge.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, I think that’s great to think about a tool to help train like that and I think hopefully we will see more and more of those tools, like to help in the workflow and to help you prepare for an oral argument, for example.
I frequently hear people say, they will see someone argue a motion, oh, she is brilliant, she is brilliant, like we always attribute everything to the intellectual capacity and it’s probably that maybe that person is brilliant, but that person was prepared. We undervalue like how much about discipline preparation really goes to being successful in law practice.
Dorna Moini: So true, and honestly that’s what I think being at a big law firm taught me most and that’s why whenever people are like oh, should I go into legal technology or start a startup right after law school, my advice is typically no, because I think you need — unless you have done something, you have worked before and you have worked at a high stress situation, in a high stress workplace in the past, because I think what big law firms teach you most is being prepared, being on time, being responsive, some of those like very basic skills that really are like 90%, they are saying like 90% of the job is like showing up or something like that.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, right, right, right. Yeah, yeah. Well, so we are getting pretty close to the end of our time here. I did want to ask you about something else. You are in LA area, of course we are seeing a few states; California, Utah, Arizona, here in Illinois there is a task force in Chicago looking at the re-regulation of lawyers, kind of loosening up regulations. One of those would be eliminating Rule 5.4 potentially, so that would allow lawyers to work more closely with technologists. It would also allow technologists to deliver services.
Now, you are a lawyer and you are Barred so you could create a tool and sell it as a lawyer, but even think about I mean the opportunity, like the domestic violence platform you created before, I mean if we change the rules, it will create space for technologists to come in, create solutions, deliver legal services. I mean what are your thoughts on that? I mean this seems like we are going to eventually get there, it’s just a matter of what the timing is going to be. I mean what are your thoughts on it? Is this a good thing? How should lawyers be thinking about how it’s going to impact the marketplace?
Dorna Moini: Yeah. I think this is kind of a polarizing topic right now amongst lawyers. I personally think it’s a great idea. I mean in every single other field, other than the law, even in medicine, which is — probably you could do more damage than in the law. We have nurses and we have other professionals who are able to assist with services. We have medical devices and medical technology that helps.
And I think the market will eventually find the ones that are doing well and people will gravitate towards those services and there is less harm in tools that could be put out there that don’t necessarily work because the market will kind of push them out.
In California, The Task Force on Access Through — I think it’s called Access Through Innovation of Legal Services, they have kind of put the idea of access to legal services at the forefront, which is that this isn’t just about people trying to make money on legal technology, but really it’s about giving access to the people who need it the most and who don’t necessarily have — aren’t able to pay the average lawyer’s fee of $350 an hour.
I think right now the way that we talk about this in the legal field is incredibly polarizing, kind of like our political discussion has gotten in the US. It’s like you are either on the side of moving towards technology or you are on the side of you are completely against technology and you think nothing can be automated and we sort of need to find a middle ground and a better conversation around this.
Daniel Linna: Well, how do we do that? I mean you are one of the leaders in this space. You are teaching law students. You were just recognized as a Legal Rebel. I mean how do we really — we talk a lot about human centered design and we are just talking about how to solve problems and understand — have empathy for people and where they are coming from. How do people like you and other people who are leading in this space try to help get people on board with, these are changes we need to move the profession forward, how do we do that?
Dorna Moini: I think that and this is something we had talked about before I think about we can — I can guess and my assumption and thoughts are that the more legal services we — the more automated legal services and legal tech tools we have in the market, the more work that it actually brings for lawyers because of the fact that you are opening up the market. But we don’t really have any concrete evidence of this and so maybe we can find some economists to help us out to actually give people the footnote and the site to the fact that this is true and the actual data and analysis behind it, because it seems like it should be obvious, but maybe if we have more concrete data that would lead people to believe it.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So there is so much need for more empirical work on this. We have a hypotheses, we tend to kind of like just be in this polarized state about our view of what we think the world ought to be, how do we collect data, how do we engage other professionals to help study the future of the market.
I think the other thing is too is just getting back to our values and thinking about well, this is the right thing to do. We are supposed to serve people, we are supposed to make sure they have access to law, legal services, justice, and this certainly seems the right thing to do in that vein as part of it.
But understanding where people are coming for. I think we are too quick to call people Luddites or say that they are monopolists and protectionists, but really kind of understanding the situation people find themselves in and how do we actually — I don’t know, I mean I think there is a lot of work still to be done in this space to kind of get the whole profession rowing in the same direction.
Dorna Moini: Yeah, it’s almost like we should have a legal Hippocratic oath or something where we all think about why did you actually become a lawyer and what are lawyers really intended to do.
Daniel Linna: Yeah. Well, I think it’s there in a way, it’s the preamble to the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility, but unfortunately those really aren’t binding on us and then are we going to live up to those principles.
Well Dorna, thank you for joining us. I am really excited to hear more about your class at USC. Can you just let our listeners know how to follow your work and get in contact with you on social media platforms and otherwise?
Dorna Moini: Yeah, definitely. So anyone can email me a hello at documate.org. You can find us on Twitter at @DocumateLaw. We are basically on every social media platform, you can find us on LinkedIn, on Facebook, we are at Documate on all of those as well.
Daniel Linna: Well, thank you so much Dorna for joining us. Thank you for all the work that you are doing in this space.
Dorna Moini: Thank you so much for having me Dan.
Daniel Linna: This has been another edition of Law Technology Now on the Legal Talk Network. Please take a minute to subscribe and rate us in Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. You can find me on Twitter @DanLinna. Please follow me, re-tweet links to this episode and join us in the legal innovation and technology discussion online.
And also, join us next time for another edition of Law Technology Now. I am Dan Linna, signing off.
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