Silicon Valley entrepreneur Justin Kan first put himself in the public eye over a decade ago when he spent eight months broadcasting a 24-7 live feed of his life online. This experiment in “lifecasting” led to the startup Twitch, which found a niche in livestreaming video game play. The company was purchased by Amazon for $970 million in 2014.
Now Kan is gaining visibility in the legal community through his “new law” venture Atrium. A group of venture capitalists led by Silicon Valley heavyweight Andreessen Horowitz just plowed $75 million into the year-old enterprise, which is split between a legal technology wing and an LLP. Former Orrick partner Augie Rakow, who advised Kan’s brother’s startup Cruise Automation when the autonomous vehicle company was acquired by General Motors for $1 billion, handles the law firm side.
Kan spoke with ALM about how he gained interest in the legal industry and Atrium’s accomplishments in its first year of business.
You built your name in the tech industry through live streaming. How did you settle on disrupting the legal industry as your current act?
I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire career, since about 2005. I started a bunch of companies, but the one that people know and worked out the best was Twitch, in the live streaming space. Throughout that time I’ve been what I call a power user of corporate and transactional legal services. Everything we wanted to do as founders, we used lawyers to help facilitate— anything from financing to eventually M&A.
There were a lot of things that I really liked about it: I liked working with expert professionals who had a deep experience and could apply that experience to our situation. But there were a lot of things that I thought could be better. I’ve often felt that legal was an opaque process. To me as the buyer, I felt like it was often slow and a blocker to what we actually wanted to get done, and I felt often that the pricing was unpredictable. So when I was starting to think about new businesses to start, I thought there might be a way to improve all of those things, especially if we came at it from an innovation and tech point.
What have you accomplished in this first year as Atrium’s CEO?
We’ve basically started to understand legal documents and turn those documents into structured data and built applications that produce useful outputs on top of that. We’ve built a pretty great team so far and Atrium LLP has built up a great roster list of over 250 startup clients in Silicon Valley, and helped advise on over $500 million of primary financing transactions for those clients. I think that’s a lot for the first year, but we’ve only just gotten started.
Have any of your goals proven harder to achieve than anticipated?
Familiarizing people who come from the legal world with product and engineering development and people who come from the engineering side with the legal industry is no small feat, actually. The attorneys are coming over from advising Silicon Valley startups, so while that’s close to being in the technology and product role, it’s actually pretty far—further than I expected.
Just to learn from all the other disciplines and understand what everybody else does and what the timeframes are, I think that has been the biggest challenge.
Where do you hope to be in another year?
Just continue growing, continue building out the technology to be more applied for more and more different use cases. The goal with the tech side has always been, not to replace attorneys—I don’t think that’s possible—but to help attorneys spend more of their time on meaningful work and less of their time on crank-turning work.
Just having more and more coverage on what we can offer the legal staff is an important milestone.
Beyond a signal of the value in what you’re doing at Atrium, does the investment announced the other day say anything wider about the appeal of legal industry “disruptors” to VC investors?
I think you’re starting to see more and more investment in this space. Kira Systems just raised $50 million. People are seeing that legal is a massive industry: $450 billion in the U.S. and it’s hardly been tackled at all. We’re probably just one milestone on that road map, but I think you’ll see a lot more happening in the space, definitely.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.