Scott Ball / Rivard Report
San Antonio’s first and only law firm focused solely on providing “tech-forward” legal services opened business Monday in the heart of the burgeoning downtown Tech District. Attorneys Debra Innocenti and David Jones formed Innocenti Jones PLLC to fill a void they found in efficient legal representation for tech companies.
The new law firm is tech-forward both in its client focus and delivery of legal services.
“I had a lot of people tell me that they had trouble finding professionals – lawyers, accountants – who understood tech startups,” Innocenti told the Rivard Report Monday. “They have different models of operating, so it’s hard to have a conversation. I had clients tell me they had been going to Austin for professional service providers who understood tech startups.”
Innocenti, whose background was originally in complex financial services litigation, began pivoting her practice over the last decade to focus on innovative legal technologies that leverage efficiencies larger firms often do not deliver.
David Jones, recognized by Best Lawyers in America, is experienced in representing Fortune 500 companies in commercial litigation and views the new firm as an opportunity to reimagine the way law firms provide client service to enterprise clients, not just aspiring entrepreneurs.
“We were listening to our clients talk about the ways they wanted their law firm to innovate, in everything from unbundling legal services in order to allow for picking and choosing of legal services to the way lawyers are spending time on nonlegal activities like accounting and managing legal documents,” Jones explained. “There are companies available to handle accounting and managing documents for clients who can do these things much more efficiently and in a more cost-effective way.”
Innocenti and Jones added Nathan Roach, who works with the firm in an “of counsel” capacity, to bolster the firm’s tech expertise and add depth of knowledge in securities law and crowdfunding, given his experience as an entrepreneur and tech investor in addition to his legal practice.
Roach has been a strong presence in the tech ecosystem, having co-founded startup companies and written code as the the 18th employee at Rackspace in the late 1990s. In 2011, Roach started RAM Law Firm, now MWR Legal, and maintains an active intellectual property law and litigation practice focused on helping inventors, innovators, and startups protect their intellectual property and continue tech innovation. He also launched MassVenture, Texas’ first crowdfunding portal under the state’s new crowdfunding laws. Roach also played a key role in creating the new laws.
The Rivard Report spoke to all three lawyers, who easily piggybacked on each other’s thoughts on how they strive to innovate legal services, mirroring the engine of innovation reflected in the work of tech startups and their often unique legal needs.
“If you talk to lawyers, they like practicing law, but they don’t love working on these administrative details, and clients don’t like paying lawyers for their time to do that kind of work either,” Roach said. “We asked ourselves, ‘How do we structure a law practice where both lawyers and clients are working on the same set of incentives?’ We choose to focus on the core legal services that, as lawyers, only you can provide, and we’re using technology and third parties as the most efficient means to deliver the necessary support services.”
Adopting lean business practices means that Innocenti Jones lawyers can focus not only on the legal services a tech startup needs today, but also on mentoring entrepreneurs in their journey to become successful innovators.
“Operating this way allows us to be a good listener for our client so we can focus on that,” Jones said. “We want to be committed to the role of being mentors for other people and to be close to our clients. When you strip out the stuff that’s not legal (such as administrative services), it enables you to have that time to focus on your clients’ needs.”
Roach couldn’t agree more.
“We want to ensure that the clients never have a reason not to call us,” he said. “My experience has been in the traditional firm model (where) clients come up with reasons not to call their lawyer because it’s so expensive. But for the clients well suited for our firm, we want to make sure we know what’s going on with their business, so we can be proactive in anticipating their legal needs.”
Innocenti Jones plans to integrate best practices used in the Information Technology (IT) community into how its legal services will be conducted, including process outsourcing, technology-assisted document review, automation, and providing dashboard interfaces for its clients. The new tech-focused law firm will also work beyond a startup’s immediate challenges to help clients create strategies focused on the startup’s mission and long-term goals.
“One of the great things about technology is that small firms can deliver legal services that are as quick and efficient as a large firm and that wasn’t possible, say, 15 years ago,” Roach emphasized. “With the discovery tools available now, it’s all about working smart and leveraging the resources that are available.”
Innocenti Jones will offer legal packages providing the unique legal support and alternative fee arrangements startups needed, while also delivering enterprise clients both predictability in legal services and a willingness to embrace new ideas that tech startups typically develop.
The new law firm uses Novus Law which applies process control and quantitative analytics to transform electronically stored information in its legal document management. The new law firm also collaborates with Founders Suite, an Investor Client Relationship Manager (CRM) software company focused on the needs of startups and investors.
When startups buy a one-year package of legal services from Innocenti Jones, the package includes a prepaid annual subscription to Founders Market, an entrepreneurship social networking site that provides a platform for student entrepreneurs to find peers on the same campus or region in order to facilitate collaborative innovation.
“We provide startups a monthly pricing service plan for legal fees, to help companies starting out better manage their costs,” Innocenti said. “We have a commitment to be tech forward. Our commitment is to adopt these emerging technologies that will enable us to deliver better services for our clients.”
The Geekdom Conference Room Chat that Launched a Law Firm
Innocenti Jones is the first in a series of collaborative partnerships designed to bring a fresh perspective to the delivery of legal services.
“One afternoon in a Geekdom conference room,” Innocenti said, “David and I shared with Nathan a vision of how we envisioned the legal profession of the future. Nathan turned around the screen of his tablet and showed us a similar sketch he’d already been developing on his own.”
The attorneys decided to join forces and launch Innocenti Jones. Open for business on Geekdom’s 8th floor, the law firm already has a roster of clients.
“We want to be an example to the community on how collaboration creates a rising tide,” said Roach, who has been recognized as one of the San Antonio Business Journal’s 40-under-40. “Successful innovation requires teamwork.”
Innocenti agrees. “We’re all in. We’ve got a team that’s committed to help take San Antonio’s burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem to the tipping point.”
“If San Antonio wants a competitive startup ecosystem, we need to have our own local experts,” stated Lew Moorman, general partner of Scaleworks, a venture equity firm that scales up software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies. Prior to spearheading Scaleworks, Moorman was the president and chief strategy officer of Rackspace. He is also the founding member of Tech Bloc.
“I’m excited to finally see a local law firm focused on these deals,” Moorman said. “It’s another marker that shows San Antonio is quickly earning a national place as an entrepreneurial hub.”