How Automation is Transforming the Completion of Legal Documents and Forms
A Chat with Tucker Cottingham, Founder and General Manager of Lawyaw
With the announcement of Clio’s acquisition of Lawyaw, I had the chance to sit down with Tucker Cottingham—Founder and now General Manager of Lawyaw—to learn a little more about the acquisition, what “smart technology” is, and why it’s so important for legal professionals to adopt.
Carissa Tham (CT): Thanks for sitting down with me today.
Tucker Cottingham (TC): Thanks for having me.
CT: Let’s start at the beginning. What inspired you to work on solving the challenges of legal document automation?
TC: My own experience as an attorney, working at a transactional firm, was the starting point. I started out in mitigation and then spent several years building a small firm as a Clio customer. We used Clio for our time and billing.
I realized there were a lot of opportunities—particularly with small businesses and consumer legal issues—that could be streamlined. Things that machines could optimize, in theory. There was also a real blocker in the ability to put documents into digital workflows. So much of the legal system is built on documentation. It’s absolutely critical. It’s the work product that we show to the court or the client, so how it looks is important. Attorneys have a lot of pride in their documents, and that was the starting point for us.
CT: What were those early days like?
TC: We implemented a lot of efficiencies, but we kept getting stuck when we tried to have information that a client fills out, trigger all the right form fills in documents, and assemble the right packages of documents. Even though we knew, logically, how it would work, there was a gap in our ability to execute on it. So I had a lot of firsthand experience with that and that led me to start exploring solutions.
CT: Awesome. Where did the name Lawyaw come from?
TC: Great question. Many times people think that we’re saying lawyer with a funny accent, but the idea is that the “yaw” comes from “pitch and yaw.” So pitch being up and down and yaw being turning on a vertical axis. So our thinking was that Lawyaw was turning the law. We saw Lawyaw as a catalyst for change in the legal industry.
CT: So as software designed specifically for legal documents, what are some of the unique benefits that Lawyaw offers its users?
TC: We have two main components. First, we have content, so we have large libraries of up-to-date free automated court forms. Currently, we’re in California and so we have all the counties in California, and we also host the US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) immigration forms. We’re actively expanding that library to cover all the states in the U.S.
Second, we have no-code tools for lawyers to build their own workflows. We believe with a lot of conviction that the workflows come from the documents, so we have a no-code Template Builder inside of Microsoft Word that makes it easy to set up conditional logic statements and trigger certain clauses, or change pronouns, or subject-verb agreement based on certain inputs.
So, those are the two core pieces. Then we have some additional functionality, such as our built-in e-signature tool, that’s very convenient and mobile-friendly.
CT: Is there a specific firm size or practice area that benefits most from Lawyaw, who are the users of Lawyaw?
TC: The users of Lawyaw cover the entire legal industry. But as you can imagine, it breaks down similar to how the legal industry itself breakdown breaks down. Almost half of all lawyers in the United States are solos, so a lot of solo attorneys that use Lawyaw are happy with it and they can benefit very practically from the efficiency that they get from Lawyaw. We’ve got a lot of firms in that two to 20 range, where you have multiple attorneys and paralegal support. And, especially with the pandemic, people working remotely and trying to collaborate. So that’s the sweet spot for Lawyaw. But then we also have a bunch of legal aid organizations, sometimes with more than 100 attorneys. So bigger firms and larger legal aid organizations also get a lot of value out of Lawyaw.
CT: How has the company evolved since you started it? Looking back to this point, what are some of the milestones that really stand out?
TC: Well, I remember when we had 50,000 documents total drafted on the platform. That was a pretty big milestone for us. I think now we’re doing more than 40,000 documents a day, so that’s been a big jump.
CT: Did I hear that you’re about to cross two million documents drafted?
TC: That’s right. Yeah, two million unique documents is pretty neat. That’s a big milestone. From a company perspective, I think when we rolled out the Template Builder, that was also a big milestone, the Microsoft Word add-in. Some of the other Lawyaw Labs projects that we’ve done have been interesting and exciting, and have given us the chance to get closer to how Lawyaw is implemented and used. Especially in those cases where Lawyaw can improve access to justice and improve people’s lives. That’s been meaningful for the company.
CT: For those who aren’t familiar, can you tell us more about Lawyaw Labs, and how it fits into the larger company?
TC: Lawyaw Labs is our innovation arm. It’s one of the ways that we get direct feedback from customers who we work with really closely, hand in glove on implementing specific applications of Lawyaw. So that might be a divorce workflow, or that might be an eviction flow, or we have a product initiative and partnership working on expungements, a low-cost efficient way to expunge criminal records from people’s criminal backgrounds. We try to bring a social benefit bend to it. So we are thinking about, in this new paradigm where legal services are convenient and affordable and accessible, and people are able to benefit from the protections that they’re entitled to under the law. What does that mean for society? It makes society better and it makes it more equal and accessible. That’s something that we think a lot about and find motivating.
The Lawyaw Labs initiatives are a way for Lawyaw employees to be close to some of those projects and understand the impact that it’s having, for example, on somebody who is trying to get a job and they can’t because they have a criminal record. Then we get to help see how that criminal record getting expunged affects them. Or someone who might be in danger of losing their house during the pandemic—we can see how Lawyaw can help them stay in their home, and their kids stay in their home and have a place to sleep. So it’s one of the most special things I think that we do is being able to follow the product through all the way to its impact in actual people’s lives.
Of course, the law firms and the legal service providers that are using Lawyaw in a lot of the lawyer initiatives, we get to spend time with too and understand how we can make their lives better as well. What their pain points are, and what the little frustrating things are that they come across day-to-day. So Lawyaw Labs is a special part of Lawyaw that focuses on how Lawyaw can be the most impactful for society, I guess, would be the broadest description.
CT: So you’ve gone from being a lawyer who was a Clio user, to building a software company that had an integration with Clio, to being the first document automation company with an app in Clio’s app store. How did you first start to develop a working relationship with the company?
TC: That’s a good question. I had used Clio as an attorney and so I was familiar with it, and I knew where Lawyaw could benefit Clio users, because we were focusing on functionality that wasn’t available in Clio. So it just naturally fit together in my mind when thinking about it. I’ve also gotten to know Jack over the years as well, and we have a pretty shared vision for sort of the future of legal services, and ways that that technology can improve legal services.
So, over years of talking with him and getting to know the team, I started to have more conviction that this was a great partner to have— and a longterm partner, and one that we thought we could be impactful with by joining forces.
CT: It’s a pretty amazing journey. And now that we’ve joined forces, what are you most excited about?
TC: I think it’s the idea that Lawyaw can help bring about a change in the way that legal services are provided. We play this critical role in streamlining a lot of specifically consumer and small business legal services, such as estate planning, and family and personal injury law. By being able to play this critical role and allow documents to be part of these digital workflows, we open up new possibilities in the ways legal services are accessed and delivered.
So the thing that I’m most excited about is how, together, we’re going to be able to bring into view this new paradigm of legal services. Which is much more focused on helping people where they are, when they need the help, and increasing convenient access to affordable legal services. I think that we’ve seen a lot of different examples of that so far, and I’ve got a lot of theories about that. I don’t know if we should go into embedded legal services now, but that’s where I see obviously the big future. So that’s what we’re going towards and really excited about.
CT: Since you brought it up—can you briefly explain what the term embedded legal services means to you?
TC: Embedded legal services is a term that we started talking about a few years ago at Lawyaw. It’s been instrumental in how I think about the future of legal services. In its simplest form, what it means is that the best way to provide convenient access to legal services is to meet people where they are, when they need help. In a digital world that means that people might be on a job application form, applying for a job when they realize that they have a criminal record and have been denied the job. So the best way to provide somebody access to expunge your record, that they’re legally entitled to have expunged, would be to meet them right there where they are and help them to do that thing.
Other examples might be Visa applications when booking travel, or accessing certain legal agreements when you’re scheduling services, or accessing certain types of financial agreements when you’re doing specific financial transactions. A good example might be when you’re investing in real estate you might have legal documents that you need to sign to be able to invest. Rather than have a separate offline process where you have to drive to the lawyer’s office, meet with somebody, do all this stuff, what if we could just put that in front of somebody when they need it, in a way that’s convenient and seamless.
That’s where I think a really big part of the future of legal services is going to live. I think that we have a lot of conviction in the fact that it’s sort of an inevitable future. People want to use technology to maximize their convenience. So we think about Lawyaw as a significant enabling function for the future of embedded legal services. And now, with Clio and the way that Clio is able to work with time and billing, not to mention their great group of customers—Clio and Lawyaw complement each other super nicely.
We published this blog post in September 2021. Last updated: .