Mikhail Avady, left, and Yuri L. Eliezer, right.
Mikhail Avady, left, and Yuri L. Eliezer, right. (Courtesy photos)

The U.S. Southeast is not often considered among the nation’s biggest startup hubs, but Atlanta is slowly but surely making its way onto the national scene. The so-called “Silicon Valley of the South” was ranked fifth in a recent ranking of the best cities in which to launch a startup in 2015 and declared itself this month the core of the lucrative financial services tech industry.

Atlanta Tech Village, a collaborative workspace and technology business incubator, plays host to almost 300 startups, but only a handful of the “villagers” are working on legal-facing startups.

Founders: Yuri Eliezer, a Georgia Tech graduate and former patent attorney, found immediate use for his engineering skills in his law practice. He and co-founder Mikhail Avady have championed automation in legal services.

Approach: SmartUp, the duo’s first project, was designed to help small businesses respond to the 2013 America Invents Act (AIA), which established the “First to File” standard. With the added pressure to file patents quickly, SmartUp looks to basic automation to help clients secure patents before competitors.

Avady explained that SmartUp is envisioned as something of a hybrid between traditional legal services and the do-it-yourself legal services now available online. “Its whole concept is LegalZoom on steroids. LegalZoom just give you templates; we give you the same, if not better, templates, and we connect you with an attorney,” Avady said.

Avady explained that clients not only benefit from attorney expertise in their patent applications, but because clients fill out the necessary patent application forms themselves through the SmartUp platform before they are reviewed by SmartUp’s attorneys, SmartUp argues it can keep its prices competitive with LegalZoom and other online service providers.

Out of that project emerged a second, attorney-facing product: ClientSide, which puts a legal spin on the traditional task manager, especially around document signature and handling.

While task management tools like Asana and Trello are popular across many industries (Eliezer and Avady told Hypepotamus in 2014 that they rely heavily on Asana for their own workflow), ClientSide looks to streamline and automate many common processes specific to law firms, most notably with processes such as client intake and document signature management.

Eliezer and Avady geared their two companies toward both the client and attorney side of legal services, looking to leverage automation to smooth out legal services delivery along both sides of the attorney-client relationship.

Legal tech philosophy: Many legal tech entrepreneurs and investors discuss the industry’s ripeness for “disruption,” but Avady says they’ve taken on a slightly less adversarial approach to legal technology. “The industry is going to be disrupted without our need to disrupt it. With that disruption, we’re going to become the solution,” he said.

Avady noted a key disconnect between leaders of major legal and business entities—while company CEOs are increasingly part of the more tech-friendly Generation X, law firm leadership skews a little older and a lot more tech-reticent. Combining this natural transition in leadership with automation technology will present an opportunity for tech integration more so than a “disruption,” Avady said.

“We’re not looking to disrupt. We’re looking to bring solutions to the partners as they get disrupted,” he said.

In action: Avady said ClientSide has gained traction especially in more transaction-based areas of law where documents need to be sent back and forth routinely. While Avady added that litigation-focused practitioners have successfully leveraged the tool, the greatest use seems to come from practice areas like personal injury, contract management and patent law.

Small and midsized firms were the first adopters of the ClientSide tool, but Avady said larger firms, who have more documents flying back and forth between attorneys and clients, are expressing increasing interest.

ClientSide at present is designed with an eye to lawyers’ work but is getting a lot of interest from other business areas looking to automate task management. “We’re definitely getting a lot of interest outside it, especially in work like accounting, that has a lot of similarities to law firms,” Avady noted.

Obstacles to launch: Trying to pin down the market that most stood to gain from the ClientSide tool was an early challenge, Avady admitted. “At the beginning, we tried to get it in front of every lawyer, and that was a mistake,” he said.

Although Avady noted market research may have helped the tool find its way into the right hands a little quicker, some of that research still doesn’t exist in the legal technology market. Finding a core audience required that the company paid attention to its user base, then cater to its best users. “Sometimes you just don’t know how people are going to use your software,” Avady said.

ATL Connection: Eliezer has kept his connection to Georgia Tech close in launching the company. The firm grew out of the area because of his connection to the school, and continues to draw talent from the institution.

Avady noted that Atlanta isn’t yet a hub for legal technology, but the company is committed to growing the city’s legal tech ecosystem. “We’re still committed to Atlanta; we’re building up Atlanta,” he said.

The company is actively involved in building a legal tech innovation group for more collaborative efforts across the city and is hoping to invest in bringing more legal tech events into the Southeast. The company also has connected with Evolve Law, a legal tech community, in hopes of bringing more legal tech infrastructure to the area.

“We still don’t see ourselves as a legal tech community,” Avady said of Atlanta’s legal tech scene. “As a community, we need to do a better job of cultivating and growing it.”

What’s next: Automation is an ever-expanding field throughout legal technology, but Avady is hoping that ClientSide can be on the forefront of that expansion in the next few years. “In the next couple years, we want to get even better at finding those tasks that people don’t want to do and automate them,” he said.

Dynamic task automation, being able to adapt and shift workflow as intervening factors arise might be on horizon for development. Especially with advances in AI technology, Avady said the company is hoping to weave in more adaptation for its automation tools.

“Eventually we hope to produce some AI in there so that, when someone stops the workflow, the engine can know how where to go,” he said.

The U.S. Southeast is not often considered among the nation’s biggest startup hubs, but Atlanta is slowly but surely making its way onto the national scene. The so-called “Silicon Valley of the South” was ranked fifth in a recent ranking of the best cities in which to launch a startup in 2015 and declared itself this month the core of the lucrative financial services tech industry.

Atlanta Tech Village, a collaborative workspace and technology business incubator, plays host to almost 300 startups, but only a handful of the “villagers” are working on legal-facing startups.

Founders: Yuri Eliezer, a Georgia Tech graduate and former patent attorney, found immediate use for his engineering skills in his law practice. He and co-founder Mikhail Avady have championed automation in legal services.

Approach: SmartUp, the duo’s first project, was designed to help small businesses respond to the 2013 America Invents Act (AIA), which established the “First to File” standard. With the added pressure to file patents quickly, SmartUp looks to basic automation to help clients secure patents before competitors.

Avady explained that SmartUp is envisioned as something of a hybrid between traditional legal services and the do-it-yourself legal services now available online. “Its whole concept is LegalZoom on steroids. LegalZoom just give you templates; we give you the same, if not better, templates, and we connect you with an attorney,” Avady said.

Avady explained that clients not only benefit from attorney expertise in their patent applications, but because clients fill out the necessary patent application forms themselves through the SmartUp platform before they are reviewed by SmartUp’s attorneys, SmartUp argues it can keep its prices competitive with LegalZoom and other online service providers.

Out of that project emerged a second, attorney-facing product: ClientSide, which puts a legal spin on the traditional task manager, especially around document signature and handling.

While task management tools like Asana and Trello are popular across many industries (Eliezer and Avady told Hypepotamus in 2014 that they rely heavily on Asana for their own workflow), ClientSide looks to streamline and automate many common processes specific to law firms, most notably with processes such as client intake and document signature management.

Eliezer and Avady geared their two companies toward both the client and attorney side of legal services, looking to leverage automation to smooth out legal services delivery along both sides of the attorney-client relationship.

Legal tech philosophy: Many legal tech entrepreneurs and investors discuss the industry’s ripeness for “disruption,” but Avady says they’ve taken on a slightly less adversarial approach to legal technology. “The industry is going to be disrupted without our need to disrupt it. With that disruption, we’re going to become the solution,” he said.

Avady noted a key disconnect between leaders of major legal and business entities—while company CEOs are increasingly part of the more tech-friendly Generation X, law firm leadership skews a little older and a lot more tech-reticent. Combining this natural transition in leadership with automation technology will present an opportunity for tech integration more so than a “disruption,” Avady said.

“We’re not looking to disrupt. We’re looking to bring solutions to the partners as they get disrupted,” he said.

In action: Avady said ClientSide has gained traction especially in more transaction-based areas of law where documents need to be sent back and forth routinely. While Avady added that litigation-focused practitioners have successfully leveraged the tool, the greatest use seems to come from practice areas like personal injury, contract management and patent law.

Small and midsized firms were the first adopters of the ClientSide tool, but Avady said larger firms, who have more documents flying back and forth between attorneys and clients, are expressing increasing interest.

ClientSide at present is designed with an eye to lawyers’ work but is getting a lot of interest from other business areas looking to automate task management. “We’re definitely getting a lot of interest outside it, especially in work like accounting, that has a lot of similarities to law firms,” Avady noted.

Obstacles to launch: Trying to pin down the market that most stood to gain from the ClientSide tool was an early challenge, Avady admitted. “At the beginning, we tried to get it in front of every lawyer, and that was a mistake,” he said.

Although Avady noted market research may have helped the tool find its way into the right hands a little quicker, some of that research still doesn’t exist in the legal technology market. Finding a core audience required that the company paid attention to its user base, then cater to its best users. “Sometimes you just don’t know how people are going to use your software,” Avady said.

ATL Connection: Eliezer has kept his connection to Georgia Tech close in launching the company. The firm grew out of the area because of his connection to the school, and continues to draw talent from the institution.

Avady noted that Atlanta isn’t yet a hub for legal technology, but the company is committed to growing the city’s legal tech ecosystem. “We’re still committed to Atlanta; we’re building up Atlanta,” he said.

The company is actively involved in building a legal tech innovation group for more collaborative efforts across the city and is hoping to invest in bringing more legal tech events into the Southeast. The company also has connected with Evolve Law, a legal tech community, in hopes of bringing more legal tech infrastructure to the area.

“We still don’t see ourselves as a legal tech community,” Avady said of Atlanta’s legal tech scene. “As a community, we need to do a better job of cultivating and growing it.”

What’s next: Automation is an ever-expanding field throughout legal technology, but Avady is hoping that ClientSide can be on the forefront of that expansion in the next few years. “In the next couple years, we want to get even better at finding those tasks that people don’t want to do and automate them,” he said.

Dynamic task automation, being able to adapt and shift workflow as intervening factors arise might be on horizon for development. Especially with advances in AI technology, Avady said the company is hoping to weave in more adaptation for its automation tools.

“Eventually we hope to produce some AI in there so that, when someone stops the workflow, the engine can know how where to go,” he said.