Photo by David Ramos/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photo by David Ramos/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Perspective: Legal Tech Startup Spotlight — Alt Legal

Editor’s Note: The author of this post is a New York attorney who works at a law practice management software company. 

By Nicole Black, Attorney and Legal Technology Evangelist, MyCase

The legal technology space is crowded. It’s an incredibly competitive market with a fickle user base and as a result it can be difficult for legal technology startups to gain traction — or funding. Many companies launch with much fanfare and then fall off the radar and disappear within a year, while others are nearly unrecognizable two years after their launch. Those companies that are still around one year after their launch are forced to evolve quickly and pivot on a dime, changing their name, focus, or even the foundation of their platform from one year to the next in order to make headway and succeed.

Alt Legal (www.altlegal.com) is one such company. Founded in 2013 as “Plainlegal” by attorney and CEO Nehal Madhani, this software-as-a-service company’s goal was to streamline the management of IP filings and does this by assisting companies and attorneys with the creation and docketing of intellectual property filings, by identifying, tracking, and managing IP filings.

Last year, Plainlegal was rebranded as “Alt Legal”— part of the company’s evolutionary response to the demands of the ever-changing legal technology market. Madhani explained the reason for the new name: “Because our company ha(d) grown and evolved significantly, we needed to rebrand … Alt Legal… reflects our commitment to pioneering an alternative way for intellectual property professionals to practice IP law.”

Standing still is never an option for legal technology startups and responsiveness to customer expectations is vital to survival, something that Madhani understands well. That’s why Alt Legal continues to add new features to its offering. “We recently released a new version of our US trademark docketing software. We developed it using a review of over 8,000,000 trademarks and an analysis of every change that happens through a trademark’s life cycle. Soon we plan to  apply the same technical process to automate international IP filings as well,” he says. “Beyond this, we are developing more collaboration features and creating new research and data tools for IP professionals.”

From its launch in 2013 to the present day, Madhani has learned a number of lessons along the way. First and foremost: the importance of focus. He explains: “As a small company, you can only do a finite number of things well. When we first started, we wanted to quickly expand to support all types of IP matters across jurisdictions, but we had more success in initially focusing and improving our initial offerings.”

For those considering founding a legal technology startup despite the already crowded marketplace, he offers this advice: understand that lawyers have greater expectations and needs compared to the general public. “There’s a startup concept known as MVP (minimum viable product), which is the concept that the product that has just enough functionality to release and keep iterating. In the legal industry, this has a higher threshold.”

He continues, “Beyond security and confidentiality, lawyers adopting legal technology are trusting you with their client’s confidential data. They’re also responsible for any malpractice if something goes wrong, so lawyers expect (and often need) a higher level of quality from the software. My advice is start with a discrete problem or task that you can solve, so you can provide the quality lawyers need to adopt.”

In other words, before you launch that legal technology startup, you must know the market, its needs, and to have a laser-sharp focus. If you fail to heed this advice, your new startup’s existence will be fleeting and will be undoubtedly be one of the many that was here today, gone tomorrow.

The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of Big Law Business or its owners. 

For more legal resources, visit Bloomberg Law.

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