Don Keller, CEO and founder of Joinder, discusses the unique capabilities of his company’s new legal tech platform, and how it can help empower in-house legal departments to truly take command of their work product.
CCBJ: You’re a former partner at Orrick and at Venture Law Group. How did your experiences with those organizations lead you to your current role with Joinder?
Don Keller: I came to Venture Law Group from a large firm, Morrison & Foerster, where I’d been a partner for five years. I was looking to be an entrepreneur in the legal space, and at the time VLG was led by Craig Johnson, a real pioneer in the law. He always pushed two concepts. One was that it’s all about the clients. And second, he always encouraged innovation, which will help clients by reducing billable hours and making things more efficient — and as a result, we will be rewarded with more clients. He believed that those who do not embrace innovation will become dinosaurs. That was formative for me.
In 2005 a large number of Venture Law Group lawyers joined Orrick, so Orrick really shares significant DNA with VLG. That led to Orrick consistently winning awards for innovation, client focus and client service. And it led to Orrick encouraging us in the development of Joinder, which actually grew out of a client-focused project in Orrick’s corporate group, where we built an electronic file system that enabled clients to access their corporate records at any time.
The system was a huge success. It provided a significant benefit to clients, who for the first time were able to locate their records and easily access them. It provided a system of record for more than 1,000 Orrick clients. After that success, we looked for ways to commercialize the Orrick product and make it even better. That led to a decision to spin it out from Orrick, which is the origin of Joinder.
Tell us more about Joinder, how it was developed, and the kinds of solutions it offers.
Joinder’s focus is primarily on corporate legal departments. We subscribe to the concept that corporate legal departments pay for their work, own it, and should have control over it. Historically, they have had challenges getting access to the work product because it has been spread out within different law firm systems. We set out to allow companies to manage deadlines, tasks, and records in a single place, for any kind of legal project whether involving an outside firm or being handled entirely by the legal department.
Joinder flips the script and puts control firmly in the hands of the corporate legal departments. The goal is to allow better, faster, and more cost-effective decisions, leading to better outcomes, greater efficiency, and improved and enduring lawyer-client relationships.
Joinder clients have the ability to develop customized platforms such as pay-equity analysis checklists, employee termination workflows and forms, and board meeting management and documentation. How have clients responded to these opportunities? What are some of the key differentiators that Joinder offers?
There are three key differentiators that I should mention. First, there are the templates Joinder provides. Second, is the ease of implementation. And third is the combination of deadlines, tasks, and records in one place and in one product, allowing work across organizations.
We have more than 20 templates that provide a predetermined, but modifiable, set of tasks that are associated with a practice area. There’s also a set of folders that are relevant to the practice area, and in some cases, there are additional forms that are handy in that practice area. These templates exist for all sorts of different areas, including intellectual property litigation, employment litigation, securities filings, venture financing, mergers and acquisitions – basically any area where there’s a likely project for a user, we’re trying to create templates for them. So when they go to start a project, instead of starting with an empty page, they’ll start with a template that we provide to them. They can modify it and in effect create their own custom template, so that every time they have an intellectual property case, for example, they can use their version of the template, which is consistent with how they work and consistent with how they manage their outside counsel or their in-house counsel.
This gives them confidence that the task list, for example, covers exactly the areas they want covered. They can also use the task list as a way to have a set of deadlines associated with a project, and the various participants in the project have access to those deadlines and can see what’s coming up in the next couple of weeks in a manner not possible with other products. It is important to note, the templates are “no code,” meaning there’s no code to be modified to create a template, nor is there a need for custom consulting.
Another differentiator is the easy implementation. Our product is designed so that with just 15 minutes of training you can be off and running. And Joinder is incremental, you can start with a single project while other projects are not in Joinder.
The third differentiator is the fact that we’ve combined the management of deadlines, tasks, and records in one place. There are products that manage tasks. There are some that manage deadlines. There are some that just manage records. But we are combining these three capabilities in one place – and we’re betting that combining these elements actually simplifies the experience for the user.
You’ve been quoted as saying, “For many legal teams, control is fragmented and fleeting, at best.” How does that play into the continued development of Joinder and your relationships with clients and users?
Joinder delivers a useful system of record for legal departments. They pay for the work and they own it, and yet they often can’t access it or even know where to find it. For us, it’s all about the companies. Law firms will use our product if they are focused on providing a better experience and more value to their clients, which we think is the case for many firms. We always say that it’s all about the clients. Whatever can be done to improve the client experience, the better it is for everybody involved.
How do you anticipate in-house law departments evolving over the next five to 10 years? What will Joinder’s role be in that evolution?
Legal departments are growing and taking control of their overall legal effort. You can see that with the rise of legal operations professionals in many, many companies. You can also see it in the growth of the number of lawyers in legal departments, in the range of expertise that they offer, and the amount of control they’re already taking with respect to their work and projects.
However, they are held back to some degree by the current lack of access to deadlines, tasks and records, because in most cases those items are controlled by the outside law firm that has been hired. Deadlines are a good example. Particularly in litigation, deadlines are handled in a calendar system run by the firm. That calendar system is a single organization system, not accessible to clients. So, clients have to ask for an email summary or an updated calendar to understand what’s coming up. With Joinder, however, the data gets stored in one place, and it’s accessible by the teams working on the project across multiple organizations – it could be multiple law firms as well – so that everybody has the same information and can work toward the same goals.
Legal departments now have access to more and better information about the quality and capabilities of the firms and alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) they use. That allows them to increasingly choose the right lawyer for the job, or in some cases multiple lawyers or firms, or a combination of ALSPs and law firms, all designed to get the best result. But to make that all work, they need control over the work product. It doesn’t work if the work product is managed by one of the participants in the project and they’re constantly having to update everyone else and remember who was updated on what concept. That is where Joinder comes in and provides a solution. We’re targeting the legal departments to be the users and providers of that solution to their law firm environments.
In the next five to 10 years, I see legal departments really controlling their work, as they have increasingly shown that they are doing already, by getting bigger and hiring more and different law firms for different projects. I believe that this trend will absolutely continue, and law firms need to react and need to work in that environment.
The other reason I believe Joinder will play a significant role in this evolution is that providing a system of record and a single place for the work product is a unique concept for legal departments, who in the past, have been provided with various point solutions, like billing or matter management, that don’t operate at the center of the actual work getting done. We bring control back to the legal department.