Jennifer Hart is at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. this week participating in a rite of passage for any lawyer-turned-entrepreneur: riding the legal technology conference circuit.
Hart’s start-up booth at ILTACON is small and near the back of a cavernous exhibit hall, but she is eager to network and pitch her wares to legal technologists and others from the industry perusing the lines of vendors.
“I love it,” Hart said. “I’m surrounded by tech nerds.”
Hart started building a mobile app to collect and organize client documents just over a year ago while she still worked at a mid-sized law firm in Ohio. Now, Hart is the CEO of legal tech startup Connective Counsel, which was spun out of her law firm, Kohrman Jackson & Krantz.
Hart is among a growing crowd of lawyers who have left the practice of law to pursue their own legal technology businesses. Legal tech companies received a record level of investment last year, more than $1 billion. Those launched by former lawyers include Kira Systems, Doxly, and many others. Some law firms have had success selling software developed in-house to established tech companies, such as Chapman & Cutler, which sold a software product to NetDocuments last year.
Many of the industry’s connections are formed on the legal tech conference circuit, where the International Legal Technology Association’s annual ILTACON is largely considered the preeminent event. Other large events include the American Bar Association’s TechShow, ALM’s Legalweek, and more recently, the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium’s annual institute,
ILTACON is also place to unveil new products , as Hart’s Collective Counsel inherently understood. The company announced the beta launch of its product, ConnectIVITY, on Monday. It is looking for law firm partners to test the client-facing cell phone app that Hart says makes signing and storing documents simpler for law firms and companies.
“You have to meet clients where they are, and they’re here,” Hart said, raising her own mobile phone.
Networking and Storytelling
At a legal tech conference, lawyer-entrepreneurs get a chance to flex their sales muscle for their former colleagues whom, still working at law firms, are now the client.
Haley Altman, a former Ice Miller lawyer and ILTACON regular, can show off more than the skills she learned building the transaction management platform Doxly. The company she launched in 2016 announced it was sold last week to Litera Microsystems.
Altman has come a long way since the first legal tech conference she attended, at which she took part in the educational sessions, but didn’t have an exhibit.With so many conference options, she said young companies need to understand the audience of each stop on the legal tech conference circuit.
“We had moments where we sponsored conferences that weren’t the best ROI for us because we didn’t have an understanding of who would attend,” Altman said.
Networking and storytelling —two crucial components of the conference circuit— are also important in driving the law practice to become more efficient, said Liam Brown, founder and executive chair of Elevate Services. Lawyers who see opportunities to start businesses that help other lawyers work more efficiently need to hear success stories from people like Altman, he said.
That will create new career opportunities for lawyers.
“The next 20 years is when we are going to see these successes [because] these entrepreneurs will talk to each other,” Brown said. “These lawyers will move from firm to firm and they’ll be considering: What capabilities do you have to deliver services differently? Because my customers care about that.”
That gives Hart, the new entrepreneur, plenty of time to perfect her conference routine. She says she has been bitten by the serial entrepreneur bug, even though she didn’t anticipate she would ever start a business.
“I always thought I was very risk-averse. I haven’t been willing to take big chances,” Hart said. “Now I have like four different business ideas floating in my head.”