Welcome to our new series, Beyond the Docket. After thousands of conversations with IP lawyers, we decided it was time to share some of their most interesting stories and perspectives.
This week's interview is with Jon Tobin. Jon runs his law firm like a startup by quickly iterating and gathering feedback; he uses the newest technology and a unique subscription billing model to bring the best possible service to his clients.
1. Tell us about your legal practice. (How long have you had your own practice? What type of work do you focus on?)
I began my practice in 2013. I worked solo for a couple of years and then in late 2015/early 2016 joined with a partner. We work 100% with clients in arts, technology, and media doing transactional matters. Lots of contract drafting, entity formation, trademark registration and anything else that might come up.
2. Tell us about your team.
Right now, it is myself and my partner, along with a legal assistant. In addition, we have a network of contract attorneys who help us with overflow and specialized matters.
3. What is your law firm technology stack? Do you use Slack? Practice management software? Docketing software?
We use a whole bunch of law firm technology, including Slack, Clio, and Alt Legal. We use Slack for centralized chats but also for notifications of different events that happen in our firm (payments received, engagement letters sent, etc).
I am pretty active when it comes to automation, so we have developed in-house solutions to pretty much all of the administrative process that would otherwise take a lot of time. We have made it so that clients can easily find us online, learn more about us and then book time to speak with us - all without having to jump through a bunch of hoops.
4. You recently said that “Going to a lawyer and asking for a 'template' is like going to a doctor and asking for a scalpel.” What do you see as the future for cost-effective legal solutions?
I think for a vast portion of the market, the future will come from knowing how and when to use DIY solutions versus engaging an attorney. I think that people will learn more and more the value that attorneys provide - and that documents are about 10-20% of that value. The main value is in strategic advice and uncovering the legal issues that you don’t know about yet.
I also think that soon we will progress past the point where people see legal technology in simplistic terms of “lawyers vs. technology” and move towards seeing technology and lawyers as complementary. I think that is the sweet spot, and it’s something that good legal technology companies understand.
There will never be a substitute for legal advice from an actual human being that understands not only the legal dimensions of a client’s business, but also the emotional and social aspects. The goal should always be to make lawyers’ lives easier so that they can focus on giving good guidance cost-effectively.
5. We are also sick of hearing the stereotype that lawyers hate technology; what do you think lawyers should do differently to eliminate this negative stereotype? What do you think legal tech companies should do differently?
I honestly don’t know what lawyers should do to eliminate the negative stereotype. I think that when I hear a legal tech company talk like that, it just shows that they do not know their market well enough or that they are going for the wrong customers. There are enough tech-savvy lawyers out there to support any good legal tech startup - legal tech companies should tweak their marketing and focus on those lawyers.
But it is funny how the whole “lawyers are tech-averse” or “lawyers suck at business” has become this unquestioned meme that floats around the legal tech pundit-sphere (is that even a word?).
6. You have created billing models that include subscription legal services. How did you come up with your idea? How has the model evolved? You’ve mentioned in the past that you want to turn this model into a service that helps other attorneys; how have you been going about doing that?
I wanted a way for my clients to be able to contact me on small matters without having to worry about being billed for each interaction. I wanted a way for people to feel free to ask the quick questions that can have a big impact down the road.
I iterate on it by seeing how much value I can add and by getting feedback from customers and learning about how current customers use the system.
So far, we have taken the original subscription platform that we built and have been re-engineering it from the ground up using the lessons learned from running the subscription program. The idea is that an attorney wanting to offer a subscription program can join and quickly set up a subscription program of their own, setting their own price point and offering.
7. What is your biggest tech pain point right now? If you could have a tech company solve any problem at your practice, what would you have them build?
I would say integration. Since our firm is pretty aggressive in our use of technology, it can be difficult to make sure information is synced properly between applications. I like that some of the tools we use can integrate into a practice management solution like Clio, but others are not there yet, or the integration is wonky or fussy.
8. You said that your own law practice is a start-up masquerading as a law firm; how does that influence how you practice law?
Since I come from a startup background, I approach our practice from that mindset. In concrete terms that means trying new things to see if they work and quickly iterating and gathering feedback.
From the beginning, I wanted to apply things that are common in the startup world: creating minimum viable products, tracking the right metrics and looking for ways to automate common processes.
9. What’s the most unique trademark you have registered?
All of the trademarks that we have registered are unique.
10. If you could create any legal-focused AI technology, what would it be and why?
A tool that analyzes Office Actions sent by the USPTO and then suggests cases or arguments that would work for a particular examiner or matter. Since all Office Actions are public record, the training dataset is easily available to anyone who wants to do it. And since many of the Office Actions are done by cut-and-paste, it is pretty easy to work with the data.