When You Need To Build Out a System with Dorna Moini


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Building a new business or shifting to a new business model? How do you get started? How can you make the processes easier? How can technology help small law firm owners? In today’s episode Jim and Tyson are talking to Dorna, CEO and founder of Gavel.io, a no-code platform for building document automation and client facing legal products.

Prior to starting Gavel, Dorna was a litigator at Sidley Austin. There in her pro bono practice, she worked with legal aid organizations to build a web application for domestic violence survivors to complete and file their paperwork, which led to the idea for Gavel. And the rest they say – is history.

Listen in.

Episode Highlights:

01:48 Leaving the law firm life

05:10 Tech start up process is a lot like starting your own law firm

06:57 When you might need to build out a system

09:30 Use cases examples — including horse law?

11:40 What most lawyers don’t understand about what is coming …

13:20 The way we work is going to change

15:40 How can technology help small law firm owners disrupt?

18:07 How Dorna spends her days wearing all the different hats

Jim’s Hack: Using an app called Streaks that allows you to put in 24 different things that you want to keep track of daily. You can set up a timer for everything and have fun tracking your progress.

Dorna’s Tip: Have the motto (for your startup) of: think big, start small and iterate rapidly.

Tyson’s Tip: Jason Selk released a new app called Level Up Game Plan that works in your browser to help you learn and implement Jason’s 3 minute and 40 second, cognitive -science-based daily ritual to live a more purposeful life.

🎥 Watch the full video on YouTube here.https://youtu.be/MPwCkIDGTw0

Connect with Dorna:


Transcript: When You Need To Build Out a System with Dorna Moini

Speaker 1
Run your law firm the right way. This is the maximum lawyer podcast, podcast. Your hosts, Jim hacking and Tyson metrics. Let’s partner up and maximize your firm.

Jim Hacking
Welcome to the show. Welcome back to the maximum lawyer Podcast. I’m Jim hacking.

Tyson Mutrux
And I’m Tyson Meatrix. What’s going on Jimmy?

Jim Hacking
You sound very chill brother.

Tyson Mutrux
The last couple episodes you’ve been chilled, got me chill. You know, it’s a good example of the people that you surround yourself with. You kind of take on the same traits. So I’m glad but how you doing? You’re dressed up in a suit right now.

Jim Hacking
Well, I had to get dressed real fast for federal court. I thought I was attending a telephonic hearing and it turned out to be on camera. So I had to put on my YouTube goes,

Tyson Mutrux
you have your back of the door jacket on. So you don’t have the jacket on now, but you did so. Alright, so we’re gonna get started with our guest today. It’s Dorna muine. She is the CEO and founder of gavel gavel.io A No code platform for building document automation and client facing legal products. Prior to starting gabbled Donna was a litigator at Sidley Austin. There in her pro bono practice. She worked with legal aid organizations to build a web application for domestic violence survivors to complete and file their paperwork, which led to the idea for gavel dornod Welcome to the show.

Dorna Moini
Yes, thank you so much for having me, Tyson. And Jim, I love your podcast. So excited to be speaking with you both

Jim Hacking
Dorna you’re sitting there at Sidley in Austin, you’re living the good life, I assume you’re a big time lawyer. And there’s some thought that pops in your mind that things might be different, that you might do something differently. Walk us through that timeframe of your experience.

Dorna Moini
Definitely, I never actually planned on leaving the law firm life and going and starting a legal tech company. I always thought that I would go into the law firm, you know, continue. And I was always thinking about partner track. But I originally went to law school because I wanted to do human rights work. And so even at a law firm, I was doing a lot of pro bono work on the side. And one of the areas of law that I did a lot of pro bono work in at the time when I was at Sidley was domestic violence law. And so I was finding that you know, as a, as a law firm associate, you don’t have as as much time as you’d love to spend on some of your pro bono cases. And I was finding a lot of my time was being spent on the routine and process oriented parts of the case. And I was finding as much time to represent people in hearings, take on their appeals, you know, some of the pieces that technology really can’t handle. And so I really wanted to build an application like a legal app, something sort of like TurboTax, but for domestic violence survivors, so that they could get onto the platform, answer questions, be routed down different paths, and then generate the documents that they needed in their case, and then E file them and you know, potentially talk to an attorney about it afterwards. So I’m not a technical person by background, I’m not an engineer. And so what I did is I got together with a friend of mine, who was an engineer, and I said, Hey, do you want to help me build this tool that I want to build to enhance my practice. And so we did that we built it, we’ve launched it, we actually got a ton of users on the platform, both in the US consumers like consumers, who would just come onto the platform and use it sort of like you would TurboTax, but also within our firm, pro bono attorneys, and with the legal aid organizations that we partnered with. And we got a little bit of press for this domestic violence tool. And what happened was, we started getting all this inbound interest from other lawyers in other jurisdictions wanting to build similar tools. So for example, in the first day that this one article came out about us, there was someone in Malaysia who wanted to build a child support tool, someone in Arkansas wanted to build an eviction defense tool, someone in Canada wanted to build a divorce tool. And they all wanted us to help them build these platforms, because they also didn’t have the technical expertise. And so that was sort of the aha moment for what we started out as called a document. But now it’s called gavel, we rebranded recently, and we wanted to empower legal experts to be able to take their knowledge and turn it into legal products, like online legal software products. And so I always say this in like a sentence, you know, you asked me, What was it like, what was that transition like? And I always just say, oh, and then I started, I went to go do this full time, but it was definitely a very difficult decision. I mean, I’d been working for seven years, you get a steady paycheck at a law firm and I was deciding to go leave and then have my bank account go down every two weeks to pay an engineer instead of up every two weeks. So I figured if I didn’t take the risk, then that I’d never would and I could always go back to the law firm and knock on their door and ask them to Take me back.

Tyson Mutrux
You know, I’ve always wondered what it’s like to like, do a startup, right. And someone posted the other day about like Bayes when you start a law firm. Yeah, it’s a startup. But I actually really wouldn’t know. It’s like, like a tech startup like, what it’s like. So what is that process? Like? Do you take on money from angel investors, all that kind of like, really walk it? Like, tell me about that stuff? Cuz I’m really curious about that stuff.

Dorna Moini
Yeah, definitely. So I mean, I will agree with you that I think a lot of people underestimate how much starting a law firm is very much starting a startup as well. But what struck me first, when I started, this legal tech company, was just honestly how little I knew, and how many different functions there were to be filled. So the engineering piece is very clear. You know, I didn’t have any technical background, and I was now managing at first, you know, one engineer at first, and that was growing, but I was doing this in an area that I wasn’t an expert in. Whereas I think in a law firm, you know, everything that everyone who’s junior to, you knows. So that was something that managing people who have a different technical expertise or a different expertise, or have more knowledge in an area than you do, that was definitely a learning curve. And then I just was wearing lots of different hats, you know, like product marketing, sales, and learning all about that, in terms of, you know, you asked like investment, so I decided not to take investment at the in the very early days, but rather sort of just paid my one or two engineers at the very beginning to build out of my savings. Obviously, that’s always ends up being a personal decision as to how much ownership you want to give up versus going the venture route early on. But once we actually had traction, and we had customers and we had a product, that’s when we decided to take on some funding. So we took on some seed funding. And that was probably about a year after we started. And then we raised a little bit more from some investors last year to Dorna.

Jim Hacking
What’s like the typical case use? Like when do people come together? Like what would be the signs that a lawyer who has built out some systems might start thinking about working with gaveau?

Dorna Moini
Yeah, so I would actually put them into three different buckets. One is internal use. So and this is probably most attorneys could use gavel for internal use. So you have process or document automate, basically, document automation, you have documents or process that you want to automate. And you need a tool that is both easy to use. And that you can set up yourself if you want to, and that is robust, and gives you the full functionality of adding all kinds of logic into your documents. So that’s the way that usually people get in the door. And it really applies to so many areas of law. But I would say the ones that we see most frequently our state planning, family, real estate, anything corporate, anything really transactional. So we see a lot of people coming in and not even making a client facing yet. That’s the first way. Second is you want to use it in some form of client facing way. So maybe you are doing client intake through the platform, but then you’re still generating the work product on your end by and not not showing the client that that’s the full work stream. So you send out a link to a gobble workflow, for example, clients fill out their information, data comes back to you, you press the button, your initial version of your documents are generated. And then the third bucket, which is what we are most excited about, and we really think is the future of legal services is taking your expertise and turning it into something that you can actually provide to members of the public and scale out your own practice. And that’s where we see a lot of attorneys on our platform, generating much more revenue than they would have been able to if they were operating on the billable hour model because they’re able to build something which takes a lot of upfront work and a lot of their expertise and building that all out into the system. But then they can charge in different ways. They can charge a flat fee, subscription fees, pay per use fees, and that allows their practice to scale a lot faster than needing to be there for every single billable hour. And I can give you some examples of that. If you’re curious on, you know, what are some people actually doing out in the field?

Tyson Mutrux
I would actually I would love to hear that. I’m on your website. Your website is beautiful. By the way. It’s a really cool website. And like there was like I went on to a new page and there’s like, like streamers and stuff or whatever that was it was really cool. Oh,

Dorna Moini
that’s because of the rebrand. So we just recently rebranded to gavel and so we are throwing out confetti to celebrate that rebrand.

Tyson Mutrux
Very cool. Let’s hear some of those use cases, though. I am curious about that.

Dorna Moini
Yeah. So in terms of that third bucket, you know, the legal products, which is taking your legal services and turning it into an online legal legal service. It’s been estimated that in the next 10 years, about 90% of legal services are going to be delivered online in some way. And so we see gavel is really being the infrastructure for enabling lawyers to interact with their clients in that business model. And a few it can be it really runs the gamut. meant in terms of who your customer could be. So we have consumer use cases, we have small and medium sized businesses as the end user, meaning the lawyers serving small, medium sized businesses, and we have lawyers who are serving enterprise customers. So in that first bucket, maybe there are a few that some people might be familiar with a company called landlord legal a company called Hello, divorce, another one that I love called horse law. And they basically have built TurboTax. But for those particular areas of law on gamble, so landlord legal is a tool for landlords who have residential property agreements that they need to provide. And they provide on a subscription basis, hello, divorce as a divorce platform that they provide through the technology piece on the back end, through gavel. And then there is horse law, which is actually, I always find it cool when you have these areas of law that I never even knew existed, but they facilitate buying and selling horses. And so they have a platform that they’ve built for that purpose as well. And then in SMB, and enterprise, we have a customer, just tech who is creating data breach reporting tools for SMB, and they’ve created an automated tool to serve their customers. And then we have another customer, LCN, legal who is doing transfer pricing, also another area of law that I’d never heard of, until interacting with them, but they serve large corporations, big law firms and accounting firms. So really limitless what you can build.

Jim Hacking
We’re lucky in maximum lawyer that a lot of our members are forward looking, I don’t think enough of us are forward looking enough. But I would love to hear, what do you think Dorna. Most lawyers don’t understand about what’s coming. I think

Dorna Moini
that a lot of lawyers, especially, I think this happens more at larger firms, they are stuck with something that is working right now. And they don’t think as much about how rapidly the consumer expectations are developing. And so one of those is how much human to human interaction live human to human interaction people need. So I think people, a lot of the lawyers I speak with, they want to keep that personal touch with their customers. And they’re trying to figure out a way to do that. And it doesn’t always necessarily have to be that you have them come into your office, and you provide them that kind of full service. But a lot of times they want to have an online tool, but they want to be they want to feel empowered. So they want to actually feel like they’re part of the process. So they don’t necessarily want you to do everything for them. But they actually want you to facilitate their learning about what the legal process is, so that they feel like they’re educated. But you’ve also helped them out with that. And I think a lot of that can be done through online platforms and making legal services more digitally convenient, as opposed to always needing that to be in person

Tyson Mutrux
I think you’ve made a really good point there. Ryan McCain is a buddy of ours, he had a LinkedIn post not too long ago, and he talked about how Amazon has changed things and how we’ve been conditioned for the last two decades now more than that. So like things like come in two days. So people want things right away. And so the change in the mindset over the last two decades plus has been quite stark. So I do want to talk about more about the future of law. Like there is a lot of fear. I think when it comes to like estate planning attorneys and a lot of document driven law firms like that they may get replaced. And I don’t necessarily believe that that’s true. But I do think that the way we work is going to change drastically over the next five years drastically. Absolutely drastically. But I just wonder what your thoughts are if you can expand a little bit more on what you were talking about?

Dorna Moini
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think a lot of people think of these changes and the introduction of automation and technology as being a threat. But I would really challenge them to think about it as more of an opportunity. There is I think that stat is that 92% of Americans don’t have access to legal services that they critically need. That’s the you know, what we call the access to justice gap, there is actually a lot of opportunity in that access to justice gap for attorneys who are generating revenue and building profit, creating firms, not just legal aid organizations. And I think that comes from changing our business model. In the same way that you know, Amazon came on and is providing all sorts of products online at a lower cost than you may have been able to provide them before, but they’re generating so much revenue on scale. Attorneys can do the same instead of thinking about the billable hour as the be all end all for how you bill. If you think about these other models of pricing, you can use automation to your advantage and actually scale out your practice much more. So I think there’s a lot of fear, but there’s a lot of opportunity that people aren’t thinking about when they strike that fear

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Jim Hacking
You’re listening to the maximum lawyer podcast. Our guest today is Donna Marini. She’s the CEO and founder of what was document which is now gavel, let’s flip that on its head. How can technology help small law firm owners compete with the big plotting firms that you came from? Like how is life right now for big law? And how are we as lawyers who ever own shops able to disrupt?

Dorna Moini
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think it comes down to scale. Again, like when I was at a big firm, I worked for there for about seven years, when I first came in, I remember, we could put anything on a bill and clients would pay for it, that has changed drastically, clients are pushing back, they want more work done for less money, pricing is becoming a lot more transparent, except for maybe bet the company litigation or like a really huge transaction. It’s less about the brand of the firm, who you’re hiring, and more about actually doing your due diligence on what the quality of service you’re going to get is. And so I know that a lot of people I speak with at least in the business community, they are wanting to find firms who are operating in an efficient way who are using technology in their practice, and who are going to provide them a long term scalable solution. And so I think that provides a huge opportunity for smaller firms to compete with the bigger firms.

Tyson Mutrux
Do you think that any of these specific legal industries will be completely disrupted? Like, for example, when it comes to case law research, like our companies like Westlaw and Lexus, are they in real trouble? Because I mean, to me, I feel like those are the companies that may get cannibalized?

Dorna Moini
Yeah, definitely, I don’t know as much about the legal research space. But from what I’ve seen, it does seem like there are a lot of tools that are coming out. And that’s the one space where it seems like aI maybe has the most potential, I’m not one of those people who’s like, Oh, my God, AI is going to take over all of the legal of the legal world. And I’m I’m pretty skeptical person in general. But I would say that legal research feels like it’s one of those places where there are some tools that are actually making an impact and are helping Lawyers operate a lot more efficiently. And so some of those tech companies I think are going to be put a, you know, maybe not put out of business, but at least had their market share reduced or are going to need to think differently about their business models. And but I again, I feel like the on the attorney side, it just provides another opportunity to build differently to serve more clients to practice at the top of your license.

Jim Hacking
How do you spend your days? How do you prioritize? How do you balance all the things that you got going on during?

Dorna Moini
Yeah, that’s a good question. I wear so many hats right now, within my business. And so a lot of my time is spent as our team is growing, a lot of my time is spent with my team, and really just managing the different functional leaders in our, in our organization to help us grow, we are doing a lot on the product side we are we’re basically basically release new features, at least every two weeks, sometimes much more, we’re moving towards even more. And so a lot of my time is spent talking to customers planning out product, and then putting that into action with our engineering team. And really understanding what the landscape is that lawyers want to see inside of our platform.

Tyson Mutrux
That’s awesome. I love that. All right. So we are approaching our time on this. So I do want to begin to wrap things up before I do want to remind everyone to join us in the big Facebook group. It’s free to join there are over 6000 Law Firm owners join us there just a lot of great information being shared every day. If you want a more high level conversation, join us in the guild go to max law guild.com That’s Max law. guild.com. And while you’re listening to our tips and our hacks of the week, please give us a five star review helps us spread love. Jimmy, what’s your hack of the week

Jim Hacking
when you and I were doing 75 hard, it came with a great app and I thought the app was great at keeping track and for accountability purposes. And when I finished 75 hard I sort of missed that but I found an app called streaks that allows you to put in 24 different things that you want to keep track of and you can keep track if there’s something you want to do daily something you want to do every day of the week. Something you want to do once a week you can set up the timer for it and everything and the app gives you that little red.at the start of each day of how many things you have to do that day and as you do them that number goes down and then you know does little dancey you know little light UPS when you finish one section or all your stuff so it’s called streaks it’s on the iPhone. I don’t know if it’s on Android, but I really I have enjoyed using it every day.

Tyson Mutrux
You do like that app, you talked about that quite a bit. So very cool. I have not looked at it, it seems like it’s very gamified, which is good. So that’s very cool. Hi, Donna, we warned you that we’re going to ask for a tip or a hack of the week for everyone. And so what is your tip or hack of the week?

Dorna Moini
Yes. So mine is sort of more of a statement or a motto, and it relates to legal product zation. So I think a lot of times when people are thinking about building, either a new business, or a new business model or a legal product, toughest part is how do I get started. And so I would say think big, start small and iterate rapidly. And that applies also to the startup world. So think big, have a really big vision for what you want to build and think several, many, many years out as to what you want it to become. But when you start out, start with something small. So start with one audience, one jurisdiction one very specific area of law if it’s if it’s illegal products, and really master and perfect that so you can get feedback. And then finally, iterate rapidly. Because once you get that feedback, you will make modifications and changes to make it fit and become successful. And that will help you to your vision of making it this much larger scale project.

Tyson Mutrux
I love it. That’s really good stuff. For my tip of the week. I’m gonna since I changed mine, because Jim gave one that’s similar to 75 hearts, so I figured I would at least give people an option. And because that’s because of our buddy Jason Selke. I feel like we’ve like Jason selfies, like, become like the new Ryan McCain, even though we mentioned Ryan McCain on the episode again today. But he’s become like Ryan McCain mentioned quite a bit, but he does have a new app called level up out and I don’t I actually don’t know if this is out to the public, I think you may have to actually contact his office to get this. I’m not 100% Sure. But I know I got an email about it. And it’s called level up. It’s very similar to what suddenly five heart is it’s very similar to what Jim is talking about. And actually I found the websites Level Up game plan.com, level up game plan.com. And it’s very similar II can be used on an iPhone or an Android, I do know that it’s done through the website, very similar to the way file by NAS where it’s not necessarily an app, it’s done through the browser. So level up if you want some sort of app to help you stay motivated and keep you focused. Those are a couple of apps for you. Dorna thank you so much for coming on. Really appreciate it. It’s different having someone that’s not a law firm owner coming out, but it’s really cool. Seeing what you’re doing. The websites really needs. It looks like the stuff that you’re doing is awesome. So I recommend that people check it out. Go to gavel.io. But Donna, thank you so much.

Dorna Moini
Thank you so much for having me. Great being here. All right, guys.

Tyson Mutrux
See you don’t know have a great day.

The post When You Need To Build Out a System with Dorna Moini appeared first on Maximum Lawyer.

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