10 Minutes with Legal Tech Entrepreneur Alma Asay
If not now … The impulse to rethink her career hit sixth-year litigator Alma Asay just as she was about to embark on the Biglaw partnership track. Looking around, she realized she wanted to fix an issue that hits litigators who handle large-scale litigation. “I had the idea that there had to be a better way to work, and was fortunate enough to meet engineers who are not only talented enough to build the program but who also have the patience to sit with me and whiteboard things out.”
Today, the founder of Allegory Law, Inc. continues to build her business as she travels the globe, sharing insights on automating everyday legal tasks.
When do you wake up? At about 9 a.m or so. I’m not an early riser.
What’s the first thing you do after waking up? Check my email.
Where do you like to work? I bounce around a lot, so anywhere with a solid internet connection and a comfortable chair — and appropriate temperature. I hate being in overly air‑conditioned spaces.
What do you mean by “bouncing around?” I’m usually in a different city every week. I have meetings and speak at conferences. I was in a different city each week this fall for a different conference.
What’s your email strategy? I check it throughout the day and respond to the ones I can on the move. Otherwise, I’ll start emails and do my best to circle back to them in the evening.
What’s your best productivity habit? I use all the apps I can from my iPhone, so I can get stuff done when I’m bouncing around.
What’s your favorite productivity tool? Aside from my phone? We’re moving all our contact management to HubSpot, which I’m really getting into.
What do you let slide? When I travel, eating healthy and sleep sometimes fall by the wayside.
What’s your nightly routine? It depends on where I am. If I’m at a conference, I spend evenings chatting with people. Afterward, I get back, brush my teeth and go to bed. If I stay with friends or family, I try to have dinner with them, put down my MacBook Air and spend time with them. If I’m on my own, I’ll catch up on the handful of television shows I watch. (Right now, I’m watching “Walking Dead,” “Survivor” and “Shark Tank.”)
Best advice you’ve ever received? Early on, someone told me the difference between product and process. You can show your product to a bunch of people, and they can be excited about it. But you can be misled into thinking that’s a success.
Somebody can love your product, but that doesn’t mean you can get it in front of them.
Digging Deeper into Allegory Law
Tell us about your decision to leave the partnership track and start a technology company. I loved practicing law. I loved our team and the work I was doing. But I had raced from high school to college to law firm. I was 29 years old, looking at partnership. Walking down the hall one day, I realized I could just keep going — which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing — but if I was ever going to try something else, it should be then.
Originally, I was going to travel and do volunteer work for a while. Then I had an idea for a litigation product, I mentioned it to some engineers, and it spiraled from there.
What business problem are you solving? With the rise of e-discovery, it became obvious that you need to use technology to triage down terabytes of information to the documents that are relevant. But as the amount of information at the top grew over time, the amount that trickled down was also becoming unmanageable. And you need to know those documents inside and out:
- How is it used throughout the case?
- Have witnesses testified about that particular document?
- How does it affect other evidence in the case?
It felt like we were hitting a tipping point where we couldn’t manually track all the pieces in a case. We were using Excel, but it wasn’t built for that. (As one small example, only so many characters can fit into a cell!)
How do you sit in a deposition, meet with clients, or go to court and have all answers to questions that you don’t even know will come up at your fingertips? You need to be able to find things with 10 seconds’ notice.
That is the challenge I felt we needed to solve.
When I looked at the market, nobody was going after this. Litigation seemed like an afterthought of the e-discovery process. But there’s so much that happens in litigation before, during and after e-discovery that is the traditional practice of litigation, such as filing and responding to a complaint, motions and investigations.
Allegory intersects with the e-discovery process, but Allegory is not an e‑discovery tool.
Do any of your previous employers use your product? It’s funny because people just assume they would and that was the hardest place to sell. It still is the hardest place for me to sell to since these people are also my friends. However, they’re not the kind of friends who would use a product that isn’t useful. It seemed they were almost extra-wary; they wanted to make sure they weren’t buying something just because it was me.
Is your product just for law, or for professionals outside the law too? A Hollywood producer saw it and thought it would be helpful for screenplays. You have so many people collaborating, pulling in different references, and connecting all the pieces as they build a story for their screenplay.
Our focus right now is on litigation since that’s my background. Also, I don’t want to fall into the trap of tackling too many things at once. Down the line, with the right resources, new people could change the lingo and target other industries. But the underlying technology would stay the same.
How has your background helped you develop your technology? (Laughs) I’m our own worst customer! Even with new software tools, I’m the last one to sign in and spend the time to figure it out. I’m the typical lawyer. It takes me time to accept that it’s better to spend two minutes now learning a tool that will save me 20 minutes later than to continue doing things the long way.
It’s great that I don’t have a tech background, though. For example, when the engineers said they would have lawyers “create a ZIP file.” I said: “Guys, I don’t know how to create a ZIP file!” They said it was easy, that they would show me, but I said: “You don’t understand: If I don’t know how to create a ZIP file, other lawyers won’t know how to create a ZIP file either.” Now, a lawyer can either create a ZIP file or just drag and drop all the documents, which works well.
What have you had to change based on customer feedback? Clients have been focusing on how they can automate and put all their information into Allegory over some of the bells and whistles to use with the information once it’s in the system.
What is your best tip for starting a legal tech company? Know what you’re getting yourself into. When I started, I didn’t think much about sales; I just thought we’d publish the software and let people buy it.
There’s so much more that goes into building a legal tech company. The sales side is as important as the product side. You can have the best product in the world, but if you don’t get it in front of the right people, and figure out the process to get sign-off, then it won’t be used.
I didn’t have any mentors in this space for a long time. I was just figuring things out along the way, often the hard way. You need to talk to people who have done it. It’s easy for people in this space to get deflated if they talk to the wrong people.
Luigi Benetton is a journalist and freelance business writer and technical writer based in Toronto. He blogs about technology and the auto industry at Technozen. Follow him on Twitter @.
Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com, photo courtesy of Alma Asay
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