By: Vivian Ntiri, JD '17, Windsor Law
Brad Newman is the Practice Innovation Manager and a Staff Attorney at Cooley LLP in San Francisco, California. In his current role, he works with the firm’s lawyers to apply process and technology innovation in support of the firm’s delivery of its legal services. Prior to joining Cooley, he co-founded a legal technology start-up, and served as the Director of Legal Affairs at a non-profit start-up accelerator for companies founded by Stanford-affiliated entrepreneurs. Mr. Newman graduated from the University of Windsor Faculty of Law in 2007.
You are the Practice Innovation –Staff Attorney Manager at Cooley LLP (San Francisco, California). What would you say are some of the most unique features of your current position?
My day to day work involves identifying the needs, whether proactively or explicitly, of clients and attorneys at the firm. I manage our microsite for entrepreneurs called Cooley GO, which is a public website offering guidance for startups, as well as document assembly tools for people to create their own incorporation documents and other forms commonly needed by startups. I also manage Cooley’s process for collecting and analyzing private financing deal data. I re-engineered the process by which we collect and input the data, and work with the attorneys to ensure we are collecting the right data points, continually assessing new technologies that might help us collect and analyze that data in a more automated fashion. I work proactively to try and discover what value-add services we might be able to provide to them beyond the traditional legal services.
My role also involves managing a team that maintains our document automation system, which is based on the “Contract Express” platform offered by Thomson Reuters. This involves the creation of templates of legal documents by taking traditional templates of different kinds of legal documents, covering anything from Director and Officer Proxy Questionnaires to employee confidential information and invention assignment agreements, to LLC-to-Delaware C-Corporation conversion packages. A lot of my work is focused on the emerging companies group (startups) but I also cover general corporate practice areas, including public companies and mergers and acquisitions. I’ve taken those forms and coded them to use the language that the Contract Express platform recognizes so that the attorney can complete a simple web-based form, the information from which is then processed by the platform to produce perfectly formatted legal documents in a fraction of the time it would have taken them to do manually. One interesting example of how we deploy this technology is our Incorporation Package, whereby the attorney can email a link to the client which they use tofill out a simple web form that contains plenty of guidance customized in real-time based on the client’s answers. Once the client completes the form, the attorney is automatically notified by the platform, which prompts the attorney to view the client’s web form and complete the attorney-specific questions (i.e., questions we do not either expect or want clients to spend time considering) for incorporation. The platform then generates anywhere from 8 to 15 or more documents based on those answers. That whole process now takes about 30 to 60 minutes of attorney time, whereas previously the attorney would spend at least 2x – 5x that time depending on the number of founders and initial employees of the client.
I also am increasingly engaged in performing analytics on a variety of internal data. This includes learning SQL, PowerShell, Tableau and other technologies in order to run queries and present user-friendly visualizations based onour data sets. My primary goal is to make sure that we are gathering and classifying data properly as well as looking for insights in the data we might be able to leverage elsewhere. I also work closely with the Practice Engagement Specialist to discover practice-oriented technology solutions to help our attorneys work more efficiently and effectively.
What are some of the challenges you faced, and perhaps continue to face, in your current role?
The Practice Innovation Group at the firm consists of me and two automation specialists I have hired to help with document automation projects. The “war drums” for legal technology have been pounding with an increasing pace, and a lot of lawyers are recognizing that there are emerging technology tools that either may help their practice or clients may expect them to utilize in the future. This has resulted in much greater demand for “innovation” projects than we currently have the bandwidth to provide. It’s a good problem to have in a sense, but the “fear, uncertainty and doubt” produced by the increasing media coverage of legal technology has certainly brought my small team to the forefront of many discussions and project requests. As is common in many information services departments of large organizations, it is difficult to both transform old and establish new foundational systems, maintain those systems and at the same time develop new products and technologies. Accordingly, it is a challenging necessity to determine which practice group’s request should be prioritized over others. I will start with the basic premise that all “innovation” projects should have champions among the practice group’s leadership and its ultimate goals should be driven by a realistic assessment of how the project may affect the group’s the bottom-line and what the corresponding risks may be if we delay the project.
How did you manage to break through to the American legal market as a Canadian-trained lawyer? What were some of the challenges you faced along the way?
I was fortunate to be accepted to the Stanford LLM program for Law, Science and Technology. Doing my Masters at Stanford opened a ton of doors for me down the road. An LLM in the US does not necessarily make you more marketable or valuable, either in the Canadian or US markets, if you intend to rely on it as a bona fide for entering private practice. I, however, was determined to use my time at Stanford to try and integrate into the Silicon Valley ecosystem; accordingly,I used much of my time to attend conferences and meet as many Silicon Valley players as I could. I always had a very keen interest in technology and I started to get deeply involved in the start-up community both on and off-campus. As a result, I co-founded a startup called LawGives (now Legal.io). I left that startup several months later to take up a position with StartX (a startup accelerator for Stanford-affiliated entrepreneurs), an organization I began volunteering with by virtue of my Stanford Law School affiliation. In this role, I assisted companies with legal issue-spotting and determining what legal help they may need (i.e., helping them identify what they don’t know they don’t know), as well as setting up meetings for them with lawyers from a few elite Silicon Valley law firms, including Cooley, that specialize in assisting startups. I worked on a full-time basis and became Director of Legal Operations and assisted in a number of ways beyond legal, including interviewing applicants, operational support and corporate strategy.
After a couple of years at StartX I joined a startup called eShares, where I was Operations Manager. My law-related work was limited in this position. After passing the California bar, I decided to move on from eShares and briefly started my own corporate practice in affiliation with an immigration attorney to provide both corporate and immigration services to startups. A short while after our practice launch, I reconnected with the partner at Cooley who was StartX’s external general counsel, and we discussed my plans to leverage technology to scale the efficiency, effectiveness and scope of my practice. After further discussion and meetings, the firm made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I was made a staff attorney in the emerging companies group and the Head of Legal Process and Innovation. After two years, I moved into the Knowledge Management group where I continued my work, but with a firm-wide focus.
I wouldn’t say I broke into the American legal market because I never sought to practice law, whether in-house or in private practice. I do think it’s very challenging for a Canadian lawyer to break into the market if they want to be a practicing attorney because there is no shortage of highly qualified law students and lawyers, and even if you do have the experience in Canada, that is your experience in Canadian law, not American law. Foreign lawyers qualified in larger emerging foreign markets who are also fluent in multiple languages have the best shot at breaking into the American legal market. That said, at least – and especially – in Silicon Valley, committing time and effort to networking can lead to opportunities for which you wouldn’t otherwise had been considered based on your resume alone.
What inspired you to co-found your start-up company LawGives?
It’s hard not to want to start a company when you are surrounded by the strong startup community at Stanford. I met two other Masters’ degree students and we would sit in our dorm rooms and brainstorm ways to leverage technology in application to the law. So we eventually started a company which originally set out to match clients and attorneys, law students with attorneys for mentorship, and pro bono clients with attorneys and law students. It was a platform to mesh members of the legal community with the public.
What did you find most challenging about your transition from founding a start-up to becoming the Director of Legal Affairs at StartX? How did you overcome those challenges?
The biggest challenge was the notional difference between building something of my own and helping other people build what they want to build. I had a boss (the CEO) at StartX and that was a little different than my previous experiences making consensus-based decisions with my co-founders at Legal.io or reporting to law firm partners at Ogilvy Renault or corporate senior or general counsel during my time in Royal Bank of Canada’s legal department. At StartX I had more advisory and operational roles, which can be both frustrating and relieving at the same time. Ultimately it was a great experience and I wouldn’t change the decision I made to move there.
Are there any major changes or shifts in legal technology that you feel are most significant to the legal profession?
I would say that every law student who anticipates practicing should have some level of familiarity with how technology works, and that goes beyond just learning about Microsoft Word. I think a lot of law students today are of the generation where computer use is almost first-nature. But it would be great for law students and lawyers to get some insight into the technology product development process, from idea through deployment. Having a bit of knowledge about how many technologies they are going to use actually work would benefit them. Examples include how machine learning works, how data systems/databases are structured and the basics of smart contracts and blockchain technology. A related debate has been very active recently in legal technology circles about whether lawyers should learn how to code. I don’t think it is necessary for lawyers to “know how to code”; however, I do think that there are areas of technology with which a lawyer (especially the “lawyer of tomorrow”) should be familiar to be an effective lawyer regardless of practice area. For example, I think especially corporate lawyers should understand basic coding concepts – lawyers and law students may be surprised to see how similar coding is to constructing a contract (which are increasingly overlapping concepts thanks to smart contracts). I think we will see more collaborative technologies implemented in law firms that will be used both internally among colleagues as well as with clients and counterparties. Law schools should be encouraging, if not mandating, students to use tools like Slack and Google Docs for collaboration. While these exact tools may not be deployed at law firms, some variation of them likely will be.
What advice would you give to law students who wish to become entrepreneurs?
If you want to be in legal tech, whether as an entrepreneur or in a role like mine at a law firm, do yourself a favor and practice law for at least a year or two first. It is a great opportunity for you to pay back student loans (and/or save some seed money) and, importantly, gain insight into the needs or limitations of your future customers. It’s much harder to start a company as soon as you leave law school and then, after realizing that you SHOULD have gained legal experience, to get the support to enter practice. In almost every scenario, you will be more valuable if you have some experience in legal practice. That said, never assume that your experience practicing law is or will be the same as your future customers; instead, use that experience as a springboard for general empathy and issue spotting.