Everything’s coming up Jack
Jack Newton, the co-founder and CEO of the world’s first legaltech unicorn, reflects on a monster year.
A Muse, as far as Encyclopedia Britannica is concerned, refers to a Greco-Roman group of mythical sister goddesses. After humble beginnings as the patron goddesses of poets, “their range was extended to include all the liberal arts and sciences.” One of the nine goddesses caught the eye of Jack Newton, the co-founder and CEO of Metro Vancouver’s legaltech unicorn, Clio.
Newton filled me in on how the name came to be. Newton founded Clio with childhood friend Rian Gavereau. The pair, who Newton described as “two hammers looking for a nail” upon founding their company, have a relationship that dates back to elementary school. Fast forward to the late 2000s and Newton recalls a buzzword-laden landscape he wanted his company to stand out within.
“It was a deliberate naming choice back in 2008. When we were launching a product, we felt that so much of legaltech, even in the way it was named, was unapproachable. Rian and I joked at the time that it felt like every legaltech product name was some mash-up of ‘legaltech,’ ‘pro,’ ‘2000,’ ‘attorney’ and ‘lex.’” We thought it'd be great to have a product that you can have a more personal relationship with. It just makes the product feel more approachable and more resonant with the human beings that actually need to use it,” Newton told me.
He expanded on this origin story in a recent profile. “We discovered that Clio was the Greek muse of history. So, there's this nice tie-in with our Greek mythology, the straight Greek mythology you see in our naming. And when you think about what Clio is really all about, it's about helping a law firm track their history and track everything related to what they've done with clients and create a log of those interactions and give what becomes a system of record for a law firm. So that tie to the Greek muse of history we thought was pretty cool,” Newton told Forbes in a profile published September 7.
While Clio muses over history, Newton, at the helm of the company of the same name, is looking towards the future.
“With this most recent round of funding, we're looking at acquisitions. We're really looking at how do we build out the suite of comprehensive tools that will help solve lawyer's problems and see the opportunity to both build those internally, as well as partner with other companies through acquisition to help accelerate our ability to deliver that product roadmap to our customers,” he said to the writer Bruce Rogers.
Newton, with this statement in mind, bears a closer resemblance to Nostradamus—a French prophet known for a propensity to predict the future—than the namesake of his company. Clio announced the acquisition of Lawyaw, a San Francisco-based company developing innovative digital workflows for legal documents, on September 8. The deal is the biggest in the company’s history. It will allow Clio to “really start to integrate the client experience into workflows,” Newton said.
“Traditional workflows have existed for the last several decades. How do those get brought into the 21st century? Everything about how you create a document with a lawyer and the way you collaborate with a lawyer is something that deserves to be and will be transformed by technology and by the internet. Documents are at the heart of the legal system. They are the atomic unit of work. If you think about what is the input and the output of most lawyer’s work, it is a document. Whether that's a divorce agreement, an incorporation document, a court form that might need to get submitted to a specific court. We want to automate and streamline as much around that document creation and document collaboration process as possible,” he said
He finished that sentence by saying “this is why we’re so excited about Lawyaw.” On the other end of my Zoom, this excitement is palpable—and justified.
The Lawyaw acquisition is the latest in an incredible year for Clio, one that also has ties to a mythical creature. 2021 has been marked most notably by Clio’s unicorn valuation last April. For Newton, the rapid growth he and his team experienced in 2021 has distinctly 2020 roots.
“When we headed into COVID over 18 months ago now, I along with every other business leader in the world was deeply concerned about the path ahead. I think in terms of legal transformation and digital transformation, we've seen the legal sector, as with so many other sectors of the economy, go through a really accelerated period of digital transformation. This has been a huge tailwind for Clio’s growth. We've seen an enormous amount of headcount growth over the course of the last year and a half,” he said.
This has been a point of pride for Newton. “I’m really proud of how the team has adapted to this. We've actually brought on over half of our team in the last 18 months. So, more than half of our employees have been onboarded remotely. They’ve been brought on with this crazy backdrop that is a global pandemic. Team Clio has just proven to be so resilient over the last 18 months and found a way to thrive in these really strange circumstances,” he reflected.
The growing Team Clio is emblematic of the impact Newton wants his company to have. “We've got a big, audacious mission: to transform the legal experience for all. It feels like in the last year, a lot of the puzzle pieces to go and achieve that mission are falling into place. We’ve got an amazing team behind us in the form of Team Clio. We've got amazing investors and backers behind us to help drive some of the more financial aspects of that strategy. Just the last three months, two really significant acquisitions get across the finish line, that is helping us accelerate our vision for or accelerate our timeline for achieving that mission,” Newton said
On July 28, just over a month before the Lawyaw acquisition, Clio made the move for Calendar Rules, a company creating schedule automation for courts. “Calendar Rules has really quickly integrated at a technology level. That was really straightforward as they're an existing integration partner. Now we're just strengthening and deepening that integration. From a team perspective, the team is plugged right into Clio and fitting in really well. I've been really thrilled with how smoothly the Calendar Rules acquisition is going,” he said.
The proximity of the two deals was coincidental. Despite this, there is a common thread. “They were really two acquisition targets that we identified completely separately from one another. But, what they share in common is reflective of our overall investment thesis and our M&A thesis. We're looking for ways that we can automate lawyers day to day lives. We can help take some of the manual and error-prone work that lawyers often do and give it to computers, which are really good at repetitive tasks,” Newton pointed out.
All this was first made possible by the Series E funding round that made Clio a unicorn in April. I felt compelled to ask Newton the same question that was asked of me as a child. When my birthday would roll around, family members would routinely ask if eight, or nine, or 10-years-old felt any different than the last 365 days of my life. Upping the ante a bit, I asked Newton how it felt to wake up as a founder of a company with an over $1 billion valuation.
“Maybe the same answer from when I was a kid: it feels the same as it did yesterday. Just a little bit different. That’s the cool thing about a fast-growth company like Clio. It’s a lot like growing up in those tween or teen years. A lot is changing every day. We're presented with new challenges. I'm running a new business every quarter. The team is needing to grow and scale in new ways to meet the challenges of the business that are ever-evolving and ever-changing,” Newton replied.
The day after their valuation—frankly every day after—Newton awakes to the same goal. “I really think—especially SaaS companies—there’s this growth imperative. This focus on becoming the market leader––that's really what I think is something that I'm laser-focused on when I get up in the morning. It's less about looking in the rearview mirror, thinking about the great milestones we might have accomplished. I tell the team, ‘Let's soak those moments up for eight hot seconds.’ Then we've got to turn our eyes toward the long-term growth trajectory and the challenges we'll need to surmount them. [Moments like unicorn status] are mileposts. They speed by pretty quickly and you need to keep your eyes on the road that lies ahead,” he said.
Currently, the road ahead is an audacious growth plan that pairs nicely with Clio’s audacious mission. “We're still charging aggressively at the goal of hiring 250 people over the course of 2021. So, growing the team aggressively, certainly hiring almost every role. We’re doing a lot of hiring in Vancouver in particular but also more broadly,” Newton said, referring to Clio’s hybrid work plan, Distributed by Design.
“Distributed by Design is all about enabling our teams to work in a geographically dispersed way. It's our specific take on what the future of work looks like. We are a remote-first company. Even if you're in the office, you'll be joining many meetings through a Zoom call. We also really strongly believe in the importance of human connection. There's something magical and special that happens when human beings get in a room together. We've thought about how do we mix the best of remote-first with the best of in-person collaboration,” Newton said.
“Individual team members choose how they want to work. For some employees, that might be entirely remote. For some employees, that might be choosing to work out of one of our hub locations, which is how we've renamed our offices. We think that some people might choose to work out of a hub location on a part-time or even a full-time basis. We realize that not everyone has an ideal work-from-home setup. But then, independent of how people choose to work on a day-to-day basis, we imagined teams coming together on some regular cadence to gather and to collaborate,” he continued.
Distributed by Design’s methodology reflects a shift in what constitutes someone’s main workspace. “On sites are the new off-sites. The idea is you'll gather with your team and go through a really intensive collaboration session. After that collaboration session, you break and go back to your preferred work location wherever that might be. So, that's our take on the future of work,” Newton said.
Next on the horizon is the return of the Clio Cloud Conference in October, the 9th iteration of the legaltech conference Clio hosts. It’s destined to be a fitting celebration of what has turned into a landmark year for Newton and Clio. But, with how quickly 2021 has moved, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was another milepost between now and then.
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