Tunji Williams, co-founder and CEO of dealWIP, took a major bet on himself and the future of the legal industry when he quit a cushy job as a corporate transactional attorney to take on the mission of revolutionizing the way corporate transactional legal services are delivered.
The company, founded in 2017, holds itself out as a legal technology company helping deal professionals deliver differentiated value for clients by leveraging integrated, cloud-based software solutions. Though, as Williams hints, the long-term mission of the company extends far beyond what meets the eye.
As corporate transactional legal clients grow increasingly dissatisfied with what they see as the inflated cost of corporate legal services, such clients are finding creative ways to get more value out of their legal service providers at reduced costs. This dynamic leaves many traditional law firms grasping for sustainable strategies to deliver more value at lower prices - a challenge, as William sees it, begging for technological disruption.
To meet the demand, Williams and the team at dealWIP have developed a workflow and collaboration platform for corporate legal transactions. "We’ve designed the dealWIP platform experience by systematically deconstructing corporate transactional matters into their component phases, assembly line-style, and layering value-added automation and collaboration tools on top of each of these modularized phases to help deal teams optimize for speed, efficiency and seamless communication in any given transactional matter.
Although Williams and the dealWIP team have placed their immediate focus on developing the world's premier workflow platform for corporate legal transactions, they have eyed an opportunity to leverage their platform, over time, to create the world's first central repository for real-time, raw data about private transaction legal deal points. The team intends to aggregate and synthesize the valuable data to create groundbreaking tools capable of providing the market actionable, real-time insights regarding market trends related to material legal provisions and global deal activity, generally.
Of his vision for the company's impact on the legal industry, Williams says, "I want us to be known as the company that forever changed the way corporate legal services are delivered."
RANDI LEWIS: How did you decide to start to dealWIP?
TUNJI WILLIAMS: People don’t believe me when I tell them it came to me in a dream. The truth is working as a junior corporate associate can be an extremely stressful and anxiety-inducing job. There’s so much about the way we practice law, especially in the transactional space right now, that is outdated. It doesn’t match the way we do things in the rest of our lives. A lot of that in terms of very inefficient processes, difficult communication norms, and just incredible volume of work, made my daily existence really difficult and really painful at times, quite honestly, practicing law. I think out of all that pain and out of all that frustration came this beautiful vision. What if I could be part of creating a software platform that solved all these issues I have, all these issues I’ve identified as a very junior lawyer? What if I could introduce to the marketing to my colleagues something that made it easier for them to practice the way they want to practice, and to take the attention away from the mundane, administrative, clerical things that lawyers do on a daily basis, so we could focus on what our job is? A lesson I learned at Hogan Lovells—being the trusted counselor, understanding your client and servicing them the way that makes them feel like they’re valued. That’s where it came from.
Leaving the law for me was an extremely difficult decision. I come from four generations of attorneys and barristers. Getting into this point was a big deal. I mean, I’m a lawyer—that’s the pinnacle. I’ve done it. To drop it all and leave an esteemed firm, to leave a trajectory that was planned and set was difficult, but I’m chasing a vision with this company that I think is a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing. We’ve got a massive, massive opportunity.
Now you’ve identified the need for better and more efficient tools to handle corporate legal transactions, but what does that mean? And how does your product provide a solution?
We have a massive issue in the delivery of corporate legal services, currently. Trillions of dollars worth of deals are done on an annual basis across the world, and I think many people would be surprised to find that the highly skilled attorneys who execute and manage these deals are using outdated—I mean, Stone Age desktop software applications to get these massive pivotal deals done. To me, it’s just inconceivable. How is that possible? How is it in 2017 that a junior associate at a massive law firm, like the ones I worked at, is using an amalgamation of desktop software to help clients cross the finish line on massive billion-dollar deals? It makes no sense.
What we’ve done with our software is that we’ve paid careful attention—we’ve been very thoughtful in designing a platform that pays attention to the nuances of contemporary transactional practices, and helps lawyers leverage automation tools and data to improve the way they work. And happy and satisfied lawyers means happy and satisfied clients. Improved processes mean more deals can get done. At the end of the day, we think we have a very targeted focus, but at the end of the day, the impact is macroeconomic and is multiplied.
That sounds like a great idea. How do you turn that idea into a market opportunity and who are your target customers?
I like to tell folks when they ask me, “Why now? Were you just tired of practicing law? Could you not hack it anymore? Why are you starting the business now? There are so many other legal technology companies, so many other tech companies, so much noise—how are you different?” I like to start by explaining we’re at a very interesting inflection point in our industry. There’s a perfect storm of sorts that’s occurring right now. What you’ve got is you’ve got a client base—and I say a client base, I mean the businesses and clients that retain law firms—you’ve got a client base that is increasingly dissatisfied with the way lawyers work. They’re increasingly dissatisfied with how much it costs to get quality legal services. That’s number one.
Number two: You’ve got a shifting demographic within the law firms. You’ve got a class of attorneys—these are young Gen-Xers and old millennials who are very used to a certain kind of technology stack or profile in their consumer lives, and haven’t found technology in the workspace that matches that quality. That’s a problem, but that’s an opportunity. And that’s why our company makes sense right now, and that’s why our product makes sense right now. There’s a massive market opportunity here as well.
We’re a mission-driven company at dealWIP—and “WIP” by the way is workflow integration platform; deal-WIP. There’s a massive market opportunity that we’re tapping. There are nearly 400,000 transactional attorneys in the United States alone—that’s according to the ABA as of 2017. Each one of those transactional attorneys is a potential customer for our platform. On top of that, the legal technology industry is about a $19 billion industry as of next year. You think about that and you think about the fact that it’s currently a nascent market, moving fast, moving quickly, and learning quickly about the market and the opportunities means that we, at dealWIP, hopefully will be a dominant player in this market as it matures. So, that’s why now and that’s why this product.
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