New From the Start-Up Alley
What I learned from this year’s ABA TECHSHOW
By Mark I. Unger
On the flight from Austin, I'm already running into techie-peeps all around. LawPay is a major sponsor this year, and two out of the 10 reps are on the flight. I'm sitting with another vendor to my left and across the aisle a solo who escaped from big law and legal tech wonk, both going to their first American Bar Association TECHSHOW. Oh, how their world is about to change.
Change is the one thing that comes at these events. We’re currently experiencing more options than ever before for law practice management, e-discovery, client communication, document management, automation, artificial intelligence, and general legal tech. That is morphing these categories in new and different ways, adding not just layers of tech on top of one another but crossing into the functionality of other systems in an effort to gain market share.
In the case of the ABA TECHSHOW, change comes in the form of tracks and topics. Many of the traditional speaker-guard is back, as well as many new lawyer presenters, including as many vendor presenters that can get in and an infusion of law school types as TECHSHOW goes younger and law schools increasingly add practice management technology to their curricula in some way. This is highlighted by the addition of a technology component to the definition of competence in certain states’ rules, following the ABA’s telegraph back in 2012.1 There are now 36 states that have added some form of this technology language to their definition of competence, including Texas as of February 26, 2019. For a full list of the states having implemented this, see Robert Ambrogi’s ongoing tally found at lawsitesblog.com/tech-competence.
This “sea change” has also taken the form of many new startups, a number of which pitched in the Start-Up Alley competition leading off the TECHSHOW on February 27, which was hosted by Ambrogi and sponsored by Clio. Among these are several that have looked to integrate with practice management systems, further adding to the change and morphing of system on system to make law practice more automated, seamless, and hopefully more efficient. This is an example of how convergence and integration have continued to ramp up efforts to make legal practice more profitable at a time when there is even further disruption in the legal space.
Among the enterprises pitching are Your Firm App, a company started by small-firm family law attorney Chris Smith, of Oklahoma, that offers personalized apps for law firms and app-based portals for client communication and other functionality. While this app didn’t win the Start-Up Alley competition (as the winner was chosen by voting of the audience in attendance), it is now offering a ton of functionality including its client-facing solution. These include features such as mobile messaging, mobile bill pay (with integration with LawPay, Clio, and PracticePanther), calendaring, document sharing, and also document signing.
HelpSelf Legal (now called Documate) claims to automate document production, turning forms into ready-fileable documents, in the areas of family violence, debt collection, clear marijuana convictions (it’s listed), guardianship, and child support, with the addition of the ability to have “Instant Client-Facing Apps,” and publish intake interviews that populate necessary documents. It also touts the ability to provide flat-fee document services on your site and thus further promotes both this automation trend along with increased secure client communication. During the Start-Up Alley pitch, the emphasis was on the ability to help attorneys service those who may be the victims of family violence and are not only the least able to defend themselves but also the least able to afford legal representation. According to the founder, Documate was able to help attorneys file over 2,000 more applications in the California legal aid environment than the prior year.
OurChildInfo.com, originally created by another family law attorney, is a startup that claims to be unique (non-deletable messaging and tracking system for parents of children). The big current players in this market are OurFamilyWizard.com, which provides an app for both parents and functionality for attorneys to view/download records, etc., and AppClose. OurChildInfo claims uniqueness as it only charges one parent ($7.50/month) and the other parent is free, though AppClose offers a “freemium” model and makes money via a portion of payments received from one payer to another along the lines of “fintech”-type start-ups PayPal, Venmo, and others. They claim further uniqueness in that a parent can’t delete, backdate, or alter data and can print out a log file with date and time-stamped log file.
Chicago-based War Room, another interestingly named startup, has been around since 2012 and claims to be unique in that it is the first web-based deposition review software. While many have used the tested apps for iPad—TrialPad, TranscriptPad, and DocReview-Pad (*iPad users only)—this web-based depo review may appeal to some.
Start-Up Alley Pitch Results
The Biggest Upset: DocStyle is an excellent surprise, boasting the ability to take a PDF and convert to Word using an algorithm six years in development to maintain (re-create) the formatting of the original document and make it editable. This product was launched February 27 at this pitch contest and follows another offering of a metadata removal product that competes with others but seems user friendly. It allows for single or batch metadata removal and also has an Outlook plugin that will automatically strip the metadata and convert it to PDF for sending. It is somewhat customizable in that it has an ignore button but that button can also be turned off by administrators to prevent the human factor from creeping in.
The Winner: The pitch that garnered the most number of votes was JurisByte (another attorney startup), which is based on the premise of clients demanding text communication with attorneys. This product, definitely in its infancy, boasts the ability to create secure text messages using existing mobile devices and protecting the telephone numbers of attorneys (and ostensibly clients). It will also create a daily mail report showing all texts so that these communications can be stored for documentation purposes. JurisByte has no integrations but claims to have these coming. I know of one other product (zipwhip) that is sold as business text messaging for clients and has the ability to use landlines and also has many and multiple integrations such as Clio, Salesforce, Zoho, and others via Zapier. When asked about comparison and other functionality as compared to some of the practice management apps integrating with app solutions, the designers were definitely thinking of those integrations. The unique feature here seems to be the ability for an attorney to use existing cellphones to text clients, then get a report to be able to bill for those communications. As always, look for many changes and additions with this and all other solutions every six months. The more things change, the more they … well change. It’s a brave new world out here. TBJ
This article originally appeared on the State Bar of Texas Computer and Technology Section blog and has been edited and reprinted with permission.
MARK I. UNGER is a family lawyer, mediator, and consultant in San Antonio, primarily focused on family law. He is the founding member of the Unger Law Firm and is highly involved in the integration of technology and the law. Find Unger on Twitter @miunger or online at unger-law.com.