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The Pulse of New Legal Technology on Full Display at Northwestern School of Law

Noel Peel

Written by

Noel Peel


September 20, 2018


By Josh Taylor

On June 15, 2018, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law hosted one of several worldwide IE Legaltech Venture Days. The event, hosted by schools around the world, is intended as a “cutting-edge, highly competitive program . . . to identify and support start-ups that have the ability to have a positive impact on major challenges faced by legal operators—whether private or public—as well as legal systems, so as to improve their operations thereby furthering the cause of justice.”

The event is a brainchild of IE, a global university based in Spain with top-ranked business and law schools in several countries. IE’s goals revolve around entrepreneurship, innovation, and diversity, all of which were strongly on display during Legaltech Venture Day.

The Chicago iteration of IE Legaltech Venture Day began with a panel discussion on “access” and legal technology. Today, panels around legal tech aren’t just sharing news about legal practice management software or debating what the best legal time tracking software; topics and questions centered around both access to justice for technology users and access to funding for technology developers. The panel included Michael Bloom, CEO & Founder of Praktio contract software and Director of Transactional Lab & Clinic at Univ. of Michigan Law School, Nicole Bradick, CEO & Founder of Theory and Principle, Calvin Oosse, Managing Director of Business IT Solutions at Sidley Austin, and Ernest Sanchez, Managing Partner at Nekko Capital. The discussion was moderated by Esther Barron, Director of the Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurship Law Center at Northwestern. In discussing both access to justice and access to capital, the group provided hearty anecdotes and lessons about the direction and challenges of legal technology.

The main event consisted of pitches from six legal technology start-up companies, all of which shared unique visions for using legal technology to make lawyers more efficient and justice and knowledge more easily accessible. Bite Size Legal kicked things off with a presentation of its mobile access Ai chatbot for civil legal issues. Like many apps for lawyers, its goal is to provide simple digestible answers and instant actionable solutions for civil legal problems such as landlord/tenant issues. Determinator went next, showing off its patent term calculation software. Its representatives outlined the time-consuming and often inaccurate processes of determining patent expiration dates and showed how their calculator solved this issue.

Third was Doxly, an end-to-end transaction workflow management platform. It looked to be one of the most advanced participants in the competition with many partners and integrations. It can create closing books for deals in seconds and has a secure portal for clients to access deal materials.

Esquify showed off a tremendous software that works for document reviews in conjunction with document review software to gather and analyze data from individual reviewers. Its main goal is to make large document reviews more efficient with data on the review workforce, compared to legal document software like Smokeball that gives you the forms and automation to create those documents in seconds.

Haka was easily the most humanitarian focused software. It was a bail management and bond repayment network that incentivized good behavior when an individual is out on bail with monetary rewards in an online community setting. Last but certainly not least, Paladin described its pro bono management system for lawyers.

The entire suite of start-ups was complimentary and exciting. Seeing this sample of what lawyers and developers are collaborating on left the room feeling hopeful and impressed. In the end, the winning team was Esquify, followed closely (by one vote) by Paladin. Esquify already boasts and laundry list of high-end clients and claimed to provide a 25-40% reduction in costs of document reviews, one of the most painful parts of law firm budgets.

By winning in Chicago, Esquify earned a place along with two other winners from different areas of the world to the finals in Madrid, Spain. There, its delegation will present to investors, government officials, business pioneers, and key industry representatives. Should it be the top startup in Madrid, it will join a residency program with IE and global law firm Ontier to continue streamlining its product. It will also be invited to pitch on stage at South Summit 2018, a start-up competition hosting more than 650 investors, 3000 start-ups and 12,000 attendees.

It was a great privilege for Smokeball representatives to attend Chicago’s Legaltech Venture Day and network with other legal industry innovators. Like many of these start-ups, Smokeball tries to achieve goals around what type and how much work lawyers can take on. Making the legal profession more efficient was the theme of the day; if that occurs, lawyers can embark on projects that they might not have in the past due to technological and temporal constraints.

Indeed, Bill Henderson, law professor at Indiana University, closed the program by speaking about the legal market as an “extreme” market to sell into. Lawyers are slow to adopt technology. The market is traditional, collective, and conservative, making notions of change difficult to take hold, especially when concerning technology.

Overall, Legaltech Venture Day Chicago displayed that legal technology like law firm billing software and law office calendaring software is alive, innovative and thriving very well despite the extreme market it must permeate. There is an appetite to fund projects, even if they are concerned about access to justice over profit. There is also a great community supporting the minds that set out to innovate in this space. Thinking ahead hopefully to the possibility that all six pitching start-ups will one day be successful, one can picture a much more accessible and organized legal industry landscape.

To find out more about Smokeball legal practice management software and how our tools make lawyers and their staff more efficient, productive, and organized, schedule your quick demo today.

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