For some legal technology companies, the true spark and support for innovation lies with one’s spouses and children.
From fostering a culture of collaboration in-house to creating dedicated spaces for brainstorming at firm offices, many in today’s legal industry are constantly on the lookout for innovative ideas and thinking. But for those legal technology startups at the forefront of this movement, the creation and development of these new ideas sometimes happens more at home than in the office.
Legaltech News examined three legal technology companies that show the innovation and support behind new legal technology platforms and services is oftentimes a family affair, spurred by the help of spouses and children. While ideas always thrive and develop in an environment of collaboration, in legal, it can help if those collaborators are related.
The Spark of Spousal Support
With legal technology innovation, the term “no person is an island” can take on added meaning. After all, if it weren’t for spouses, some legal tech ideas would never find their way ashore.
Take, for example, the tale of the software company Tell Tali. A nascent developer of a voice-enabled time management application operated on Amazon Echo smart speakers, the company traces its origins back to the daily struggles of Kimberlee Petrie Volm, wife of founder Matt Petrie Volm.
As a civil litigator at a midsized firm in Portland, Oregon, Kimberlee Petrie Volm had to keep track of every six minute-increment of her workday. Her husband recalled, “She used pen and paper to do it, so she used Post-it notes, or a legal tab, or just scratch paper—basically anything she had in front of her.”
The manual paper method of time management presented Kimberlee Petrie Volm with a fair share of challenges, not the least being lost time and salary.
Then, at the end of 2016, the Volm family bought their first Amazon Echo, and Matt Petrie Volm happened upon an opportunity. “One day, [my wife] was home doing her Post-it notes and getting her time in, and I was in the kitchen using this Amazon voice-driven device to set timers. And I turned to her and said, ‘Hey, what if you were able to use the Amazon device to track your time throughout the day?’”
Kimberlee Petrie Volm loved the idea, and after her husband got the concept off the ground by partnering with software developers and investors, she introduced him around to her friends in the legal industry and colleagues at her firm.
Having an opening to the law firm world proved vital for Tell Tali, which is currently in private beta being tested at dozens of law firms, with a public release date tentatively scheduled for the end of 2017.
Like Matt Petrie Volm, Mark Smolik, general counsel and chief compliance officer of DHL’s supply chain operations in the Americas, also credits the idea for his vendor performance assessment startup Qualmet entirely to his wife, Linda Smolik.
“Well, candidly, it was my wife’s idea, and the idea goes back to 10 years ago when it all started with a broken windshield,” Mark Smolik said.
Back then, Mark Smolik was the head of legal and HR at Safelite AutoGlass, a company that repairs and installs car windshields. When Linda Smolik needed her car windshield fixed at home, he sent one of the company’s best technicians over. Mark Smolik knew who the best in the company was, but as Linda Smolik soon pointed out, many of his company’s customers did not.
She advised her husband to create a customer rating system so each client could have confidence in whichever technicians came to their aid. Within little time, Mark Smolik spearheaded such a rating project at Safelite. He left the company to lead the legal department at DHL before the project could fully take off, but Linda Smolik saw another opportunity for her husband in his new role.
“When I joined DHL and I inherited over 300 law firms, we were trying to narrow down the use of the firms. So my wife said, ‘Well, why don’t you leverage the idea we came up with evaluating your technicians and do it not only with your law firms, but anybody that you hire, and people in your own department?”
Once launched, DHL’s new evaluation effort “led to significant cost savings at the company,” Mark Smolik said. “But it also led to a lot of discussion with other GCs who said, ‘Boy, I would love to roll out the same concept.’”
The idea to spin off his evaluation project into a stand-alone vendor evaluation startup was soon hatched by Linda Smolik, her husband and their two sons, one of whom had recently graduated law school while the other worked as an engineer.
Investing a “pretty significant amount of family savings,” Mark Smolik said, he and his wife launched and became majority owners of Qualmet, whose strategy and development is, for the most part, still steered by the Smolik family.
While his wife advises him on the company’s overall direction, Mark Smolik noted his two sons are “most instrumental in providing input into the design of the technology or how to develop the app or what the younger generation are thinking when they’re deciding [what vendors] to use for certain tasks.”
Millennials Are Good for Something, After All
The millennial children of legal tech founders are a valuable asset for their parent’s legal technology startups not only for advice, but in some cases, for hands-on help in transforming the company to meet the demands of today’s clients.
Information governance consultancy and legal solutions provider InOutsource, for example, is a 15-year-old company, but founder Nancy Beauchemin explained it has gone through “a major rebirth in the last four or five years” when her children came onboard.
During that period, Nancy Beauchemin noticed many clients asking her team for a more full-service approach to choosing and implementing information governance technology. Growing the company to tackle such a demand, she said, would not have been possible if it weren’t for her children, especially daughter Meagan Beauchemin, whom she said “brought this company to a whole new level.”
Joining the company in 2012 while working on a master’s degree in business intelligence and analytics, Meagan Beauchemin pushed InOutsource to focus on harnessing the still underdeveloped area of analytics.
“It was time for us to go out and work with [our] big clients to leverage those data sources, and to do it in a way that is going to enable them to continue to remain compliant with their IG policies,” Meagan Beauchemin said.
Meagan Beauchemin’s brother David Beauchemin also joined InOutsource around the same time, taking a role in overseeing the record management processes for a Philadelphia law firm in the midst of moving its offices.
The project soon led David Beauchemin to look for new record management solutions, which Nancy Beauchemin recalled “led to us partnering with a company called FileTrail. And now David oversees that entire team, including four project managers and [related] technical resources.”
The Beauchemin family’s youngest member, Zach Beauchemin, recently graduated college with a degree in information sciences. Now, he’s also the most recent family addition to the company, joining its business intelligence services in 2016.
Meagan Beauchemin praises her brother’s presence at the company as being instrumental in “changing the way that we market to the clients. He’s helped us kind of come into this century with the way we do email marketing, and he’s working with us to develop a new website.”
She added, “He is the youngest of the three of us, and typical of his generation, there is an app for everything. He has a quick way or more efficient way that we should be working.”
Contact Rhys Dipshan at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @R_Dipshan.