Upping the Game in Large Law Firm Online Legal Services
In December 2016, Goodwin announced an expansion of its Founders Workbench online legal service for emerging companies via a partnership with Shoobx. I follow large law firm online legal services carefully, so wanted to learn more about this move. This year, I spoke with Goodwin partners Mark Bettencourt and Gregg Katz and Shoobx executives Jason Furtado, CEO and Matt Rowe, GC.
In this post, I describe the software first and then the Shoobx and Goodwin value propositions. I close with thoughts this service triggers about online legal services more generally.
The Software: What Founders Workbench & Shoobx Does
Founders Workbench has long offered emerging companies legal explanatory resources and documents. Shoobx extends the service with a platform that streamlines early stage company corporate management with tools for the board, investors, lawyers, and management. Its goal is to replace and improve a do-it-yourself approach of disparate tools (or manual effort) with an integrated system powered by workflows for functions such as document automation, e-signatures, capital table management, and online data rooms.
For example, Jason and Matt walked me through an incorporation workflow, which includes a name check in Delaware records plus a WhoIs look-up for domain availability, easy entry of the initial board members, generation of the documents, an e-signing service, and the automatic submission of the incorporation documents to Delaware. The user can continue on to issue and define initial equity, assign founders’ IP, appoint corporate officers, and solicit all the necessary board approvals. The results show on a dashboard and offer the user additional steps to take:
For a second example, I asked how the system would handle a new equity grant. As expected, there was a simple screen a corporate manager could complete, including a step which includes counsel’s review:
I write this post not to review the product but to help understand the online legal services. That said, the user interface and user experience (UI/UX) of Shoobx seems very elegant and the features well-conceived.
Goodwin's Value Proposition: Improving Client Value
Mark emphasized client value in explaining why Goodwin partnered with Shoobx. He said, "Clients now demand more control over how they interact with and get value from law firms. Our clients want us and other law firms to focus on value-added activities." Consequently, Goodwin is being selective about the share of start-up wallet it goes after. Instead of charging Big Law rates for work others can do at lower rates, the firm now offers such services through Shoobx.
With that explanation, I could not resist asking about one of my favorite memes, #DoLessLaw (see also Do Less Law blog posts). Mark sees merit in doing less - in the sense of off-loading lower value tasks - so that he and his colleagues could do more high value law.
Shoobx's Value Proposition: Automating the Start-up Operating System
I was intrigued by Jason's and Matt's explanation of how they see the market for this type of service. They do not seek to disrupt law firms; rather, they want to work with them. The opportunity is a more integrated offering to start-ups than is currently available, including access to top law firms. As Matt put it, "we want to create a corporate operating system that unites all the necessary pieces". I asked just how far that goes. They answered that Shoobx helps companies go all the way to the point of being able to go public.
Shoobx initially focused on the entrepreneur. Early experience changed that. The company saw that many start-ups did not understand the legal issues. And "incubators and accelerators are not as knowledgeable as you would think." Perhaps most importantly, they learned that "without law firms on board, VCs would not engage." They needed the whole ecosystem to work together. Hence seeking out Goodwin. Goodwin is currently one of two top global law firms to partner with Shoobx, and the company is actively developing partnerships with several other law firms.
Reflections on What This Means for Online Legal Services
Seeing Founders Workbench extended with the Shoobx partnership prompts some thoughts about the online legal services landscape.
First, it is not surprising to see innovation from an emerging company practice. I recently had a chance to look at numerous large law firm online legal services. Offerings are most robust in competitive practices, specifically labor + employment and emerging companies. Both these practices serve particularly price sensitive clients. Price sensitivity in most markets drives innovation and enhanced product and service offerings. My open question here is whether, as more and more large firm practices become price sensitive, will we see a new wave of online legal services?
Second, I was intrigued to see a law firm partner with a software company. To be sure, many law firm online services are driven by products such as Neota Logic, HighQ, or Contract Express. But these generally appear to be straight licensing deals. Here, Goodwin and Shoobx have a partnership. In my view, that is a good sign for the future and an example other firms should consider emulating.
And third, seeing this reminds me that AI is not the only game in town. I worry that all the media coverage of artificial intelligence causes law firm management share of mind for other practice technology to shrink. Founders Workbench with Shoobx, designed to address a specific existing market friction is a good reminder that legal tech offers plenty of useful solutions and value - and not all depend on AI.