The CEO – Ondrej Materna (Legito)
I am a co-founder and the CEO of the legal tech company Legito. Legito is a smart document workspace platform which has over 100,000 users in 37 countries. It is used by a wide range of companies, from small law firms to Fortune 500 companies such as PwC. Legito has grown from a startup with four people to a global company with offices on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
I hold a master’s degree in law and a master’s degree in computer science, so some might say the legal tech industry was a clear choice for me, but it wasn’t. Despite creating my first webpage when I was around 11 years old and a love for computers at school, I was still very motivated to study law. I found an internship job in a small law firm right after I finished the first year at law school.
In the last year of my law studies, I decided to study IT as well. My intention back then wasn’t to move to software development but to specialise in legal services to IT companies. Studying IT and being in close touch with programmers and other IT professionals completely changed my perspective. I suddenly started seeing all the unnecessarily repetitive and mundane work which can be easily done by computers. I knew I could create a robot that can do a significant part of my job better and way faster than me. That was the first sign I wanted to transfer from practising law to developing software.
I loved being a lawyer and helping people, but I felt like I was missing something. As a lawyer, each case starts from scratch. However, I wanted to continuously build something. The second sign I wanted to move into software development was when my friends introduced me to a start-up community. It helped me to connect all the dots. I realised that I can connect my legal and IT knowledge and start building a legal tech startup.
I prefer evolution over revolution, so I started building Legito overnight and at weekends. After we verified the concept for Legito, I went from full-time to part-time at the law firm I was working in. Then we received some revenue, so I started focusing mainly on Legito but continued to work on a few select cases for the law firm. When Legito started to generate decent revenue, I began working exclusively on Legito.
As a “lawyer turned legal-tech startup CEO”, I benefited from detailed knowledge of the legal services industry and my legal network. Being a lawyer also enabled me to negotiate, discuss, and formulate ideas. Unlike many startup founders, I was already used to working under pressure and already used to making decisions based on the critical evaluation of a situation. That said, I would say the key benefit was that I was able to speak the lawyers’ language, so it was easier for me to explain the benefits and use-cases for our software. However, there were some areas of running a business being a lawyer didn’t teach me, such as financial management, marketing and sales, and I had to learn those skills.
I don’t think any lawyer should start a legal tech company without partnering up with specialists in areas such as software development, sales & marketing and finance. I’m one of four co-founders of Legito and I’m the only lawyer. The others are specialists in the aforementioned areas. Without them, Legito wouldn’t be where it is today.
Lawyers are used to avoiding any potential risk. I had to change this mindset and accept that risk is inevitable when building a legal tech company from scratch. I’d recommend doing the same thing to anyone making the decision to start a new legal tech business, as otherwise your technical and business development will be much too slow.
My other recommendation for lawyers who would like to move into legal tech would be to try and build software that will replace yourself. Try to build a robot that can perform your day-to-day tasks to the same quality as you. You know your daily tasks very well so it will be easy for you to design software that will do them for you. Realising your vision probably won’t be easy but you will at least know you are building something that will bring some real added value. Of course, the next step would be to create a robot that can perform those tasks better than you!
After being in daily touch with lawyers and programmers for several years, I can say they have one thing in common. They like doing things their way. For this reason, I’d recommend creating legal tech solution as customisable and modular as possible. Of course, don’t forget to create robust permission management because, you know, we lawyers love to control everything.