Jim Chinh Nguyen’s fledgling company, which provides on-demand English teachers to Vietnamese students, got out of stealth mode, had recently attracted investors and had to seriously examine its legal structure.
So a few months ago the founder of Schoolbird reached out to Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, the law firm he started a startup with in 2008. Back then, he sat down with partners and paralegals and tried to answer questions that he was. were not entirely relevant. This time the law firm emailed him a link that led to a questionnaire that was to serve as the basis for his legal documents.
“Everything is now done in the cloud. The idea of uploading all of my relevant information without speaking to anyone to do legal work has been a huge time saver for me, ”said Nguyen in an interview.
Wilson Sonsini launches a digital transformation strategy for his startup practice with an ambitious goal: Any work that is to be automated will be automated. The strategy is largely being implemented through the Neuron digital service platform, which Nguyen interacts with and which the company unveiled this week.
Wilson Sonsini has one of the oldest and most active law firms serving startup companies in Silicon Valley and has helped companies like Apple Inc., Google, and Lyft Inc. go public. The company had sales of more than $ 1.1 billion in 2020 and its average partner had more than $ 3 million in profits, according to AmLaw data.
Wilson Sonsini said it took Neuron over two years to develop and automate many of startups’ legal requirements, including formation, capitalization management, business maintenance, and financing. These are done in a “fraction” of the time the traditional method takes, the company said.
The tool will also be the place where clients interact with Wilson Sonsini’s lawyers, enabling them to digitally request and receive more in-depth advice in addition to the automation capabilities. For example, Nguyen noted questions for the firm’s lawyers in the questionnaire he filled out. The replies were sent back within a day or two, he said.
Wilson Sonsini also provides technology-focused customer service through its subsidiary SixFifty, which company leaders believe sell automated legal products that are unlikely to require additional legal advice. So far, SixFifty has sold automated products related to data protection laws and labor law guidelines. The company has also invested millions in a contract management platform, Lexion.
“With our project portfolio, we are gathering experience, relationships and know-how to tackle this problem of changing our core business,” said David Wang, the company’s chief innovation officer, in an interview. “And it will work together so we can deliver something that lives up to Neuron’s promise: that automation delivers everything that should be automated and nothing that should not be automated.”
Automated questionnaires have long been an integral part of technology-oriented legal providers such as LegalZoom, which processed 378,000 business start-ups in 2020. Most of the company’s work is automated, although it sells some subscriptions to subsequent legal services.
It is unlikely that Wilson Sonsini’s clientele – typically startups that have or will get venture investments – would find LegalZoom as a suitable option, Wang said.
“We’re not trying to incorporate bowling alleys,” he said, noting that most of the firm’s clients need personal advice from their lawyers. “Our customers demand and expect this service, but at the same time should use the advantages of digital automation.”
Raj Judge of Wilson Sonsini, co-chair of the Emerging Companies Practice, said Neuron is far from a tool for filling out questionnaires. It is a new way for attorneys in the firm’s Emerging Companies Practice (ECP) to interact with clients. The company will also track Neuron digital data to learn more about its own services and improve them over time.
According to Richter, the company plans to announce additional features for Neuron this year.
“This is really part of a broader strategy by the firm, and particularly the ECP, to really disrupt the startup legal industry,” said Judge.
As for Nguyen, he said he could already envision more ways to work with Wilson Sonsini through the Neuron Portal. For example, it could help him understand the company’s equity structure under hypothetical future investments. But, perhaps in a nutshell, he said it was a much more convenient and efficient way to interact with lawyers than he was used to.
“It’s kind of built into my idea when you think about working with lawyers, ‘Oh my god, it’s about $ 900 an hour – we don’t want to go there,” said Nguyen. “But I was pleasantly surprised.”