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A Beginner’s Guide to Joining a Legal Tech Start-Up

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One of the more random things I’ve been getting asked by people is for advice on how, like me, they can transition from lawyer to working in a legal tech start-up.

In my case, I’m a childhood friend of our CEO and founder, and I was basically in the right place at the right time with the right qualifications and experience (i.e. I’m a lawyer from New Plymouth (where Automio is based) and our target market is lawyers). So perhaps not an easy formula to follow!

Despite that, as I’m heading towards 6 months with Automio, I’m starting to get a bit of an idea of how you can prepare yourself and make it happen.

Here are my top 10 tips:

  1. Quit your job:  Tech start-ups are no place for timorous souls. You can’t half do it. Our CEO and founder exemplifies this – she’s just sold her law firm and she’s all-in. Automio is also now 100% what I do for a job – and I tell you, nothing gets you up in the morning like the nagging possibility that unless you nail this, you won’t be able to pay your mortgage. To help you on your way with Tip #1, we’ve used Automio to create QuitBot, an automated resignation letter 🙂 You can use QuitBot for free by clicking here. If you’re really serious about committing to #startuplyf, you’ll choose the “burning bridges” option 😉 – let us know how it goes!
  2. Find something you believe in:  You’ll never be able to commit and successfully sell your product (whatever it is) unless you believe in it. I’m fortunate enough to have stumbled into a tech start-up that directly addresses one of the most radical changes facing my own profession. Our product also happens to be fun to use – I created QuitBot last Sunday, and it didn’t feel like homework. In case you’re wondering if I’m some kind of software coding or programming genius, I’m not. I don’t know the first thing about coding software. You can easily automate documents and create bots with Automio without any coding or programming skills.
  3. Learn the language:  Like any industry, tech has its own particular (peculiar) words and acronyms, many I’d never heard before. You need to learn this language. You can save face by keeping Google nearby, but you should really just say if you have no idea what people are talking about. I do it all the time and my teammates don’t seem to think I’m overly dim. You shouldn’t assimilate completely – there’s a lot about #startuplyf and Techland that is fairly LOLs. But you can’t LOL until you understand what’s going on, so upskill. Listen, read blogs and books, do webinars, meet industry people, and pay attention.
  4. Burn your suits: Well, maybe not all of them – keep one for weddings and funerals and really serious meetings. But allow yourself the freedom to do things a different way. Dress like you want to, do stuff that helps you be creative, in other words, get rid of the things from your previous work life that hold back your personality and creativity.
  5. The devs in the detail:  It turns out I had and have a lot to learn about software development – but learning is good (who wants to die dumb, right?). You have to work as a team, and to do that, the business side has to be sympathetic to the needs of the development side, and vice versa. Tech requires a different mindset from being a lawyer, where the structure of a firm is designed specifically to support whatever the lawyers need.
  6. Say goodbye to corporate luxuries (including things you didn’t know were luxuries):  I’ve always worked in large corporate law firms, with the baubles that come with it. The novelty of baubles wears off over time, but here’s a few changes I’ve noticed since we stopped being a law firm:
    • My coffee mug no longer cleans itself (mum, I know it never actually did, but you know what I mean).
    • The toilet paper no longer magically replenishes (always, always check before you sit down).
    • While I’m now allowed to eat the leftover “client” biscuits, the stockpile dwindles.
  7. Embrace the ups and downs:  Being in a start-up can be an emotional rollercoaster ride. One minute you’ve closed a funding round, the next radio silence from a potential sale you thought you’d closed. Be prepared to change tact, humour tyre kickers and be disappointed. It’s all part of the fun and one of the best ways to learn.
  8. Become a Jack (or Jill) of all trades:  You’re likely to be a small team, so get used to doing stuff that used to be somebody else’s job. Of course, it’s actually one of the best parts about being in a start-up. I’ve done media interviews, I’m travelling all over the country, I’ve interviewed staff, I’ve blogged, I’ve help with capital raising and company strategy – all stuff I’d never done in 8+ years of lawyering.
  9. Learn to LOL at trolls and no’s: People can be tough, especially when you’re trying to sell them something. I do a fair bit of cold calling, and you get some pretty gnarly responses. So be prepared to kiss a lot of frogs before one of them turns into a sale or an investor. Don’t take it personally and learn to use rejection as a driver to succeed.
  10. Get yourself a guru: Every start-up needs an Ian. Ian Frame is our chairman, an investor and our mentor. He’s the wise owl, the guy who’s been there before, the man who has an uncanny ability to make everything seem achievable, just by talking through it.

If you’ve made the transition already you will have your own tips – we’d love you to share them with us through our social media (links below).

Until next time


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