Atrium, the Silicon Valley-backed startup law firm, on Thursday announced its first set of partner promotions. And in a twist that tracks with Atrium’s vision that law firms should be run more like the corporations they advise, the new partners will be expected to help run the firm.
Atrium has been closely watched by Am Law 200 competitors because of its two-pronged business model: pairing a law firm with an investor-backed technology development business, Atrium Legal Technology Solutions, Inc.
Founded by serial entrepreneur Justin Kan a year and a half ago, Atrium has already raised about $75 million in venture financing. In September it raised $65 million in a financing round led by the highly regarded venture firm Andreessen Horowitz.
Hans Kim and Jon O’Connell are the first new partners to be made at Atrium, according to an internal memo. The promotions mean Kim and O’Connell will no longer be “general managers” and will now hold specific firm-wide management responsibilities.
In Kim’s case, he is the lead for finance and business model planning, while O’Connell heads professional development and culture.
Kim had served as general manager of the firm’s Atrium Counsel business unit, which provides general corporate legal services. O’Connell had the same role for the firm’s Atrium Financing business unit. They were responsible for making hiring and personnel decisions within those practices; supervising and mentoring younger lawyers; managing the group’s P&L statements; and setting strategies on pricing, marketing and product offerings, the memo said.
“One of the things Justin and I bonded on immediately was our shared belief that the future of legal requires a new standard of excellence in legal management,” Augie Rakow, co-founder of Atrium and former Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe partner, wrote in a memo to employees announcing the promotions Thursday. “The law firm of the future needs senior attorneys who are excellent legal and cross-functional managers.”
Atrium says it has represented some 280 clients. It represents emerging growth companies and offers flat-fee products. Its “Counsel” product, for instance, provides a dedicated lawyer, paralegal and a practice assistant to serve as an in-house lawyer for emerging growth companies. Those lawyers will handle cap table management, attend board meetings, review contracts and advise on employment issues.
Kim formerly worked at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York and Tokyo; Kim & Chang in Seoul, South Korea; and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in Palo Alto, California. O’Connell joined Atrium from Morrison & Foerster’s San Francisco office, and he formerly practiced at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr in Palo Alto.
In an interview, Kim said as general manager he also worked closely with the company’s software developers, which are focused on creating platforms that help lawyers work more efficiently.
“That is definitely part of our plan: To drive efficiency, and also to deliver a better product,” Kim said. “Scaling through better process-management and leveraging technology products whether it be internal tools or client-facing tools as well in the platform that we’re developing.”
On that front, Kim said it had been “incredibly challenging” to build a law firm and corresponding software applications at the same time, citing a language barrier between lawyers and software developers.
“Lawyers speak a certain language, engineers speak a certain language, and that is definitely something we’ve improved over time,” Kim said. “It is essential that we speak the same language and develop the right products for the marketplace. In this first year, we’ve focused mostly on getting this [law firm] off the ground, and I think we’ve done an incredible job getting to where we are.”
Still, Kim said he felt the firm has an advantage in developing legal tech products given the proximity of the lawyers to the engineers. They work together in the same room, Kim said.
“Having the technology team directly in the same room of the legal team is showing great benefits,” Kim said. “We could not be doing this if we were in separate locations. If we were in separate locations, the communication issues would be, I think, an impossible bridge.”
Kim said the firm’s clients have raised over half a billion dollars in venture capital financing in the firm’s 18 months. For his part, O’Connell said he had been impressed with the firm’s dedication to getting feedback from clients.
“When you’re working with people who aren’t lawyers in Silicon Valley, there is a heavy focus on the customers, in our case, the clients,” O’Connell said. “And we’re focused on improving our service based on the feedback. It’s different than in a traditional law firm setting where it’s not very common, I think, for people to solicit feedback.”