Welcome back to Beyond the Docket! This time we are back to interview Steven Weigler of EmergeCounsel. Steve is a business and trademark attorney who worked in a Fortune 50 tech company before starting his own firm. We talk about his background at a big tech company, the mission-driven company he founded to help at-risk youth, and his journey to starting and running his own firm.
Tell us a bit about your legal practice. What type of work do you focus on?
My practice is a combination of intellectual property protection and growth-business law. I have a particular passion for brand/trademark law in part because I see what an immediate value it brings to an enterprise.
You spent several years working as in-house counsel for a large tech company. How does the work compare to running your own firm? What, if anything, do you miss about working for a large corporation? What are you relieved to find different?
Well, I certainly miss staying at the Four Seasons:) In a large enterprise, you have a very specific role, and it was difficult and sometimes even perilous to step outside your role. You do what you are supposed to do and get paid well for it. In a private practice, it is much more holistic and creative. How am I going to bring value to the client without going broke? What resources can I bring to the table? What does the P&L look like?
You’re an entrepreneur who founded and ran a technology education mission-driven business. What was your inspiration for starting the organization? What impact do you think you had? What is your fondest memory of your time there?
Exiting a tech company that sold provided me an opportunity to chase a dream as I have a passion for helping at-risk youth, and thought I could build a company on that mission.
So using researchers, I built a predictive analytics company focused on forecasting risk factors so school districts could actually prioritize the needs of students. To do that, I needed to raise lots of money during the Great Recession. That was just the start: I learned venture, cap tables, corporate law, dilution, sales, marketing, brand, competitive analysis ,lease review, P&L, management, how a school board works, data privacy, data management, data analytics, statistical analysis, and a plethora of other things.
When I watch the HBO comedy Silicon Valley, I tear up because all of their misadventures are so real to me. However, what I was able to build helped a number of at risk students, and I certainly learned a lot. I was hardly a hero though; most people do not realize how passionate most educators are, and I am honored that most embraced my mission.
I am always around to reflect with anyone contemplating or active in a mission-driven business. It is really hard, and I am not sure I miss that part of my life. It was like an addiction: the highs were very high, the lows extremely low, and there is zero sense of control.
You’ve covered a lot of legal fields, ranging from policy research to criminal prosecution to in-house representation before starting your own business law firm. How do you think those experiences helped shape you as a person and as a professional? How do they influence the work you do at EmergeCounsel?
Maybe it is that I am getting older, but all these experiences have allowed me to relate to my clients, understand their needs and provide valuable holistic counsel.
I set constant empathy reminders that I have been my clients in a past career iteration. I remind myself to provide advice and work products that they can actually use, all while keeping the price as low as possible. I try to build a meaningful relationship that transcends a friendship. Finally, I am constantly studying as I need to be on the top of my legal game and adhering to my oath to do justice. Some of this becomes second nature, but it is always good for me to remember what makes my law practice meaningful and alive.
You’ve been managing your own firm for over 5 years now. How do you think your practice has changed over those years? Where do you see Emerge Counsel heading? What has been your proudest moment with the firm so far?
When I started EmergeCounsel, it was kind of out of necessity. I was under 50 and had put my all into my last company, which kind of went south at the end. So I wrote down what I was good at: tech, IP, trademark, operating agreements etc.
Over time, I have taken pleasure in looking at EmergeCounsel as a vehicle for law practice in the 21st Century. For example, every business needs to protect their brand. If they do it on the cheap or themselves, it is most times a disaster as their approach involves little strategy or legal acumen (many end up needing a lot of legal help to clean the mess up). If they work with a large, traditional law firm, to the extent that firm even wants them, the client is generally in shock by the bill. I see EmergeCounsel’s evolutionary mission is to provide the same level of counsel as a large law firm at a fraction of the price. We can do that by a) being first movers using technology platforms, like Alt Legal, which were not around a few years ago, and b) operationalizing a law practice (which most of the time results in our ability to provide a flat-fee structure). In summary, my team’s belief is everyone who works with IP/business counsel needs and deserves a good legal mind. They do not need to pay for overhead, over lawyering, and for senior partners’ pensions.
What is your law firm’s technology stack? Do you use Slack? Practice management software? Trademark management software?
I am a big believer in incorporating a ton of software into our legal practice. I like Clio because it seems to be an industry leader. I have approximately 400 trademarks under management and would not be able to do it without Alt Legal that plugs into Clio. We are testing three different infringement software products so we can offer the one that align with our practice goals. Practical Law/Westlaw, although not cheap, is a game changer as far as its ability to provide sophisticated documents and case law analysis.
At the same time, my team did not see much value in Slack. Instead we just Trello Board everything.
Finally, as I have a number of international clients, I upgraded my Uberconference so everyone can call in from their country of residence.
If you could create any legal practice-focused technology, what would it be and why?
Honestly, what I have found is that most attorneys are not particularly good at software integration. Accordingly, the industry needs to do a better job on either plug-and-play tools, or coaching in how to use interoperable software effectively.