Last year, Legal Week Intelligence, in association with Fulcrum GT, profiled 20 innovators driving change in the legal sector. We focused on what inspired these figures to shift their views and how this bred innovation. In 2017, we look at the innovations themselves.

The Top 20 Legal IT Innovations report aims to get to the heart of what innovation means by illustrating how new ways of doing things, large or small, local or global, have shaken up a sector often characterised as slow moving and resistant to change.

Click here to download the report from Executive Insights (free, registration required).

“Rian Gauvreau and I were two hammers looking for a nail,” says Jack Newton (pictured), CEO of Vancouver-based Clio. “We were technologists. The shift to cloud computing as a major transformative force had made its way through several industries. I saw the opportunity to identify an industry that was ripe for disruption, ready to be fundamentally transformed by technology.”

Over a lunch with the local Law Society in 2007, the two lifelong friends discovered that most malpractice and compliance-related issues involved sole practitioners and small firms. “They needed to use technology to stay on top of their practice,” says Newton, “and they didn’t.”

Existing products were too expensive or too hard to implement. “That was the lightbulb moment: the genesis of Clio. We conceived an idea for delivering practice management software directly through the cloud. There was nobody doing it.”

Newton points out that 80% of lawyers practise in firms of less than ten lawyers, while half practise as solos. His big reservation: will lawyers get comfortable with storing their data in the cloud and using a third-party provider? A key decision was to invest aggressively in getting ahead of that discussion. To overcome “fear, uncertainty and doubt”, Newton became a thought leader: publishing white papers, speaking widely, and becoming founding president of the Legal Cloud Computing Association.

Legal is the last major industry to be fundamentally transformed by technology

In its early days, Clio was “laser focused on solos – because they felt the pain that Clio helps solve most acutely”, says Newton. “We were surprised how many forward-looking lawyers were early adopters. We’ve also been happy to see how quickly the legal industry has embraced cloud computing.” Clio went from success with solos, initially in the US, to winning small and medium firms as well.

Today, Clio is used in more than 80 countries. “There are tens of thousands of law firms and over 150,000 legal professionals utilising our platform,” says Newton. Most are in the US, followed by Canada, the UK and Australia, ranging from solos to some of the world’s largest firms. Further growth is planned: Clio has recently doubled its headcount to more than 200, and is backed by venture capital investment from Bessemer, Point Nine, and Acton.

High security is integral – “everything from encryption to firewalls and authentication methods”, says Newton. Clio also supports two-factor authentication. “On-premise law firm software rarely has that level of security,” he suggests. “We invest in making everything highly secure: every customer benefits.”

Multiple awards pay tribute to Clio’s achievements. And Newton’s five-year plan? “We started Clio with fairly humble aspirations: we set out to make a useful tool to help lawyers manage their practice. But our vision has grown, and our mission statement is now “to transform the practice of law, for good.” We want to make our permanent dent in the universe, transforming how lawyers work and collaborate with their clients. But also for good in that lawyers should be happier than they are. Legal is the last major industry to be fundamentally transformed by technology.”

Clio’s ambition is “to become the largest legal technology company in the world”, says Newton. “But more importantly, we aim to transform the practice of law and to help develop what a technology-enabled law practice can be.” Continually educating the market, he adds, is critical.

His biggest internal challenge is scaling the company while maintaining culture. Externally, Newton identifies the biggest challenge as “getting lawyers to understand that there’s a different way to do things, to internalise the opportunity that cloud computing presents, to accept that practising the way they do now is not how they’ll be practising in five years, and to accelerate that change”.