Our latest GCRC Interview in our series about startups in the legal market. The interest in legal tech and innovation is huge at the moment as VCs look to seize the moment amid the shifting legal climate.
This interview is with Jawad Ansari from AssistMyCase.
To find out more about AssistMyCase, you can have a look at their website:
Just a quick starter to help familiarize our readers with what you’re doing – how would you describe what AssistMyCase does?
AssistMyCase™, Inc. is an enterprise SaaS Litigation analytics and collaboration platform that highlights trends and patterns through leading-edge data science. We mine and analyze multiple data sources in order to formulate highly unique and contextual insights, something we feel is missing in the market today. Our clients, armed with this specific level of information and intelligence, customized to their case, stand to improve their odds of success and to resolve their cases faster.
What kind of assistance do you give for these litigation cases?
From the multitude of court filed documents, we are able to extract and parse the entities (both people and corporations) and the events they participate in, and when, automatically. We call this our first level product or Universal Inventory. Without AssistMyCase, this would be done manually, in a slow manner, that is prone to error, let alone being presented in an analytical fashion. Take for instance you and I, having this interview, on such and such date – this would qualify as an event. Now if we were to meet or have, say, nine more interactions on specified dates, this might be of interest to a legal team, the fact that we’ve been in ten events. Keep in mind that in a complex litigation there can be hundreds of documents and so the entities may not all be well known. Perhaps there was a pairing with thirty shared events, or perhaps of greater interest, one pairing of just five, but spread across a wide time span. This information will be accessible through a highly intuitive and graphical web portal, with the data completely linked and thus “drillable”. We can also tell you exactly where in the document the event is in the text right down to the page number and often the clause number should one exist. As an added bonus, the document is linked to the event, so you can pull up the document with a single click as well. Should you have multiple cases you are working on, our dashboard can show you that cases have the most activity based on the number of new documents filed, as well as the number of new entities and events that appear in those new documents in order to help our clients stay abreast of developments.
So that is our first level product. For our second level product, we introduce information outside the legal case to start adding some color to the individuals: who else do they know professionally, socially or otherwise, and who do they know in common with other key individuals from the case – regardless of whether that shared connection is a participant in the case itself. Might that common person be of interest? To determine precisely this, we then bring in additional public and privately available data sources to look for trends: are they financially strained? Have they had other events with the law? And so forth. With a wealth of data sources we can begin to map interconnections between entities and look for patterns of behavior. Furthermore, we begin to further semantically parse the events of the case and look for patterns. For example, if the content of our ten interactions were around, say, bankruptcy, the AssistMyCase system would be able to flag that. Events will cluster around each other, visually, and across entities. Appropriately, we call this Universal Cross Mapping.
Overall, our goal is to present this information very visually, providing analysis, almost without the lawyer needing to do much more than login to their system to see what’s new. Again, we feel this is truly not available in the market today.
For what reason did you start AssistMyCase?
During my career as a venture capitalist and investment banker, I saw firsthand how small and medium companies struggled under pending litigation. It literally can be a company-breaker: could they get someone to represent them as they presented their case with information that they knew. I was working in the Gaming industry, and the technologies of gamification became readily apparent as a possible means to help and assist these individuals: the deep game-style behavioral pattern analysis and computational psychology that we use in the game industry could be applied to the world of litigation. What I saw in litigation is that at some level it can be boiled down to be one individual versus another. So given I am not a lawyer and don’t know legal codes, statutes nor code sections, but I do know psychological gamification – well, I saw this as a market opportunity. From the plaintiff’s perspective, most large legal firms don’t work on contingency, which is a non-starter for smaller firms with modest financial resources. Simply put, a smaller company simply cannot afford to defend itself. But if they can get Litigation Intelligence on their case before even meeting Plaintiff’s counsels showing prospective weaknesses, they can present their case with additional information and attract legal representation, perhaps on even more favorable terms. From the Defendant’s perspective, AssistMyCase can arm companies facing litigation against frivolous cases with Litigation Intelligence from the outset, and that evolves as the litigation proceeds, thus allowing them to nip frivolous cases in the bud, helping avert this type of litigation altogether, or at least help minimize it.
I’m not quite sure what the situation is in America, but in the UK there’s an article today saying how there’s this massive discrepancy between predictive costs for litigation and the actual costs that a law firm might charge for litigation. Is that the same in the USA and how much can AssistMyCase help towards denigrating that discrepancy?
I can’t comment on an industry’s ability to predict legal costs either domestically nor overseas, but what your questions brings to the fore is really that legal costs are quite significant. One data point I go to quite often is in the U.S. the Wall Street Journal’s April 7th 2013 edition indicated that the amount that was paid to litigators in the U.S. for just the legal costs the prior year was over $200 billion – not including settlements. That’s an eye-popping number. The WSJ report also suggests that for larger cases, for essentially larger companies, the settlement cost is an additional four times that amount. I’ve also seen research that indicates 1/3rd of the Fortune 500’s profits are consumed by litigation, and that one-half to two-thirds or more of litigation costs are consumed by discovery costs. I think this is a key area we can help: if AssistMyCase can shed light on the case from the outset, a firm can then focus on certain areas of discovery, and thus, to say the least, keep those costs down. Clearly we feel AssistMyCase’s value is intrinsic and not limited to just this area, but this is the way in which we could possibly help in aiding in the prediction of legal costs.
I guess my next question is how did your own legal experience motivate you towards to starting AssistMyCase? What led you to make this change in career path?
Well again, my experience in the venture capital / Investment Banking and the Gaming industry as mentioned before, coupled with the idea that the litigation market is very sizable, and add into that the fact that the legal market is relatively underpenetrated with state-of-the-art technology. Add it all up and you get a very solid business opportunity for something like AssistMyCase.
Is it this combination of analytics and gamification that helps you guys to distinguish yourselves from other start-ups in analytics or litigation?
It is that and more. All the other companies – and there are lot of good companies that you write about – all these companies are looking at things purely from a legal perspective: they are making it easier for the lawyers to search information: other cases, other lawyers, on judges and verdicts – all good, necessary information. What we are bringing to the table is a combination of litigation and the precepts of “The Art of War.” Because litigation is a war and is no longer confined to the four walls of the courtroom. It is all around us and is no longer all about the code section, the statutes and case laws. It is basically all the information in real time that you can utilize to harness your legal objectives. AssistMyCase provides enhanced comprehension of the case including the opposing side as well as all the key entities. We do this with the latest in data science fueled by natural language processing. You can say there are data providers, some analysis providers, but we provide analysis and intelligence that’s customized to the case at hand, with yes, gamification techniques.
To go on a little bit further, I will also say the beauty of our approach is we don’t need anything beyond the case number. Other systems require a lot of decisions on how and where to search, whereas we pull up all the pertinent information to your fingertips in our portal.
Our algorithms extract the information from the dockets and subsequently from the social and non-social online multitudes of sources. We then lay them out to give the lawyers the ability to highlight the hot zones where to focus their discovery efforts. We call this guiding the arc of discovery. Litigators may want to actually word or write some of the interrogatories based on what we provide in our intelligence. It’s kind of helping them to ask the right questions: we’re helping them find weaknesses and uncertainties that they can use to achieve to undermine the opposing side’s case, if not the opposing side directly, with the goal of achieving a favorable settlement or a dismissal at a much earlier point in the process – ideally even before it even gets to discovery.
I like the analogy of war and buying into gamification, it sounds a lot like how a sports coach would use data when he makes decisions of his NFL or soccer team. Similar to that?
Absolutely. In the U.S., for an international war, the CIA provides live-time intelligence reports to the armed forces as to where to strike. AssistMyCase is analogously filling that intelligence role but for corporate legal war; i.e. in civil or commercial litigation, by providing that intelligence in as real–time as possible to the litigators.
I guess with analytics it moves on to the next phase of legal and technology which is automation. What impact do you think automation will have on the legal market for investors and for the market?
The way that I look at the legal market, a lot of the automation that has been done to-date has been in the electronic discovery space, which has definitely helped with the legal discovery process, but it still represents a huge swath of cost. So while it is important, there are pockets where you least expect it is not adopted.
I like the word “automated” as AssistMyCase is striving to provide an automated analysis and intelligence requiring only a case number. Our intelligence starts from when a case is filed and gets updated and augmented and iterated on until the case gets disposed of / is closed. Legal cases can easily take three years, and cover tens of thousands of document pages, so automation is paramount – yet with the exception of e-discovery is strangely missing. Investors should be attracted to this type of dynamic, automated information as it spans the lifetime of a case. You can say ultimately we would envision AssistMyCase to be as relevant and pertinent to litigation defense as Google is to search.
Investors are also attracted to subscription models, software-as-a-service businesses, and AssistMyCase is happy to comply. For corporations and legal firms, they should be able to see the return on investment, ROI, pretty clearly.
For the market, what we haven’t even touched upon are the difficult-to-quantify soft costs of protracted (or any) litigation really: executive distraction, product delays, potential loss of market share, loss of trade secrets, etc. In a very notable case of two notable technology companies engaged in a public litigation, one of them is in the hot seat for procuring trade secrets in their discovery process. The executives are named defendants and thus it is only obvious that their focus on their own business can only become diminished. Not to mention a lot of the company resources are being spent on discovery and complying with the litigation process directly.
The legal market at the moment seems to be undergoing a lot of change. A lot of it is due to the big debate about billing, and debates about legal project management as well, and the recession as well has impacted legal as it has impacted everything. Larry Bridgesmith from ERM Solutions recently told us that this kind of period of uncertainty is a great opportunity for innovation. What do you think of the general context of the legal market at the moment and how much do you agree with him?
I think he is completely accurate – it is time for innovation in the legal market. AssistMyCase is based in the Silicon Valley/Bay Area and we’re certainly surrounded by innovation in all other industries, so it only makes sense for Legal to do so as well.
What is really unique about what he is talking about is the different aspects of innovation that exist. People don’t even see or notice it firsthand. It’s not only innovation in helping the litigators do what they do on a daily basis, but it’s how, for example, we can assist the litigators achieve their litigation objectives in a manner that actually increases their revenues and also reduces the cost to their clients. So innovation is not only helping the litigators win, it is also in making the litigators more efficient so they charge less.
If the client is going to be saving money and the litigators will be saving money, where does the money go?
I wouldn’t look at it as a net zero sum gain like that. If clients save money through more efficient legal processes by their counsel, the legal counsel frees up their staff to do more meaningful work. They can resolve cases quicker, more successfully, and bring in more work as their teams aren’t tied up on fewer cases. Any improvement in success rate helps bring in new clients, and so forth. So I’d look at it as expanding the pie. It’s like the phrase pertaining to innovation, “you’d better eat your own lunch, lest somebody else will.” And that’s true here, as well. If you are a legal firm with a penchant for dragging cases out, then the next case or worse, the next client, is going to go with the law firm that can show it is both highly effective and innovative.
But I’ll give you an even more concrete example: a patent troll sends a demand letter asking for $1m or £500,000 for patent infringement to a company. The amount is far less than what the patent is actually worth, and it is also less than what the forecasted cost of defending oneself would be. So what happens? The corporations simply pay the trolls off rather than defend the frivolous accusations. But that $1m goes directly to the opposing side. The litigator or the litigation firm representing the company only gets small revenues from maybe drafting the settlement agreement and making a few phone calls – and that’s about it. However, if you allow them to efficiently launch an aggressive litigation defense then they would be able to generate an appropriate amount of legal fees that would be less than the suit. Martha Stewart was successful in challenging a patent troll. It is just that most objects of frivolous lawsuits do not want to engage in aggressive litigation as they don’t believe they can cost-effectively defend themselves.
There’s obviously loads of companies trying to get investment at the moment in the legal industry, what advice would you have for start-ups trying to succeed where you guys have so far succeeded?
My point of view is the core value that we focus on it is thinking outside the box. A lot of companies that I have seen actually are trying to follow a very traditional path of providing some sort of automation to the legal industry. My suggestion would be, or advice would be, is to think outside the box and don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo.