April 19

Starting a SaaS Business to Help the Justice Crisis


Starting a SaaS Business to Help the Justice Crisis

By Deborah Johnson

April 19, 2021

billable hours, justice crisis, legal services, recurring revenue, saas business, software developer, subscription service

A SaaS Business

A SaaS Business is subscription as a service. SaaS is how many online companies are now formatting their business products. The principle is not new. Even while growing up, I signed up to receive a special monthly surprise box with makeup samples. This was an excellent example of a subscription. I paid a monthly fee and received a product. I could cancel at any time, but it created a recurring revenue model. Now we see subscription offers for most everything we see online, from Microsoft, to licensing videos to membership sites.

Documate, the company Dorna Moini started as a unique SaaS business for the legal profession, has transformed into Gavel. The new branding of this platform is designed to help streamline legal processes and services by creating customizable legal solutions going beyond just documents, to bring significant value to clients on a larger scale. They strongly believe that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a powerful tool that can empower the legal field. This innovation holds the potential to generate two important outcomes: (1) it will lead to the creation of more jobs for lawyers, albeit with some changes in their roles, and (2) it will increase access to legal services for a broader audience that would normally not be able to afford legal help.

Dorna Moini started a unique SaaS business that is used for the legal profession. Some of this article is based upon the interview I had with her for the Women at Halftime Podcast. Her company at Documate ( now Gavel.io) began as she discovered a problem that needed a solution. As an attorney, she did some pro-bono work representing many domestic violence victims in trial and appellate proceedings. She found there weren’t enough attorneys that could take on these cases, especially with the amount of paperwork involved. So she cofounded a platform that bridged the gap for the legal and tech industries to streamline the paperwork.

 The principles Dorna used in her business apply to most every business, especially for startups. We will cover four steps in this article: Solve a unique problem, expand your network, start small and think big and finally, use technology to grow.
Women at Halftime by Deborah Johnson A Powerful Gavel for Legal Teams with Dorna Moini 10-3-2023
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Women at Halftime by Deborah Johnson Starting a SaaS Business to Help the Justice Crisis with Dorna Moini 4-20-21
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Solve a Unique Problem

There are many people who have no access to legal services as it’s too expensive. This is a big problem for those who need help. Dorna found that 86% of the population didn’t have their civil legal needs met. The average person could afford a $25/hour attorney, yet most were $350/hour. The problem the attorneys faced was the large amount of paperwork involved, especially for pro bono cases. They only had so much time and so many billable hours they could give. So a SaaS business was born to bridge this gap.

Their recent beta launch using AI introduces a feature that takes the high-quality work produced by their customers and transforms it into attorney-controlled workflows for the delivery of legal services. What sets them apart is their commitment to ensuring that AI and its outcomes are under the full control of the attorney, prioritizing data privacy as a top concern. This ensures that the results are completely transparent and visible to the legal experts who use their platform.

Dorna and her husband balance raising two young children as well as their professional lives. Her team that was 4-5 members a couple years ago has grown to over twenty, including a CTO. Dorna quotes, “ Just like parenting teaches you the importance of prioritization, we believe that managing employees and running a company share many transferable skills with managing a family and fostering the growth of your children.”

Expand Your Network

Your network is extremely valuable and finding new clients and contacts may be easier than you think if you first access your current contacts. Referral is by far the best marketing tool and even if you’re starting to work in a new field, there are probably some current connections you can access.

Finding new clients is one of the big challenges for many entrepreneurs and you can throw a lot of money at marketing with not a lot of R.O.I. Of course, there are marketing companies that will make huge promises, but if you can’t afford one of those pricey options, start where you are. Who are you already working with and who do they know? I have a good friend and colleague who makes a personal phone call to every one of her contacts and agents yearly. It pays off for her. She works constantly. She also refers others which in turn creates even more business for her.

Dorna had already been working in the legal field. Before starting her business, she had assembled a wide net of contacts as she represented cases in multiple jury trials, administrative hearings and arbitrations. She also teaches Legal Innovations Lab at USC Law School. Her sort of network is extremely valuable for a startup. It gives you immediate access to clients and if your product truly does solve a problem, you will have many referrals for a long period of time.

Our time is one of our most valuable assets and networking groups are great. But they are important to evaluate. If your main clients or referrals are not coming from that group, it may be best to spend your time in other places. Keep focusing on your goals and expand on contacts that are for your particular business. Most of all, play well with others. Don’t be a jerk and people just may refer you!

Podcast-Interview from April 2021

Start Small and Think Big

I love this principle. If you are a solopreneur, which most entrepreneurs are, you have to be able to manage your life as well as your business. Making things simple enough that you can handle them yourself at first is very important. I have gotten so many questions on using assistants and V.A.’s and my answer is to understand first what it takes to do the job, even doing it yourself, then find the right person or people to help you.

You also want to be open to innovation but stick with the basics first. Getting feedback at every stage and building on what is currently working will save time, energy and resources. In fact, feedback from your customers may be the most valuable input you can get. Keeping the big picture in the forefront of your mind will help you keep the little details in tact.

One of my favorite sayings is Major on the Majors. This comes from producing my original musicals, but I also used it with raising our three sons, creating online content and even writing books and speeches. I have formatted my business so I can work remotely and do the travel my husband and I want to do at this point in our lives. I use many of the systems outlined in my course A New Way of Doing Business.

Life Goals-Deborah Johnson Charting

Use Technology to Grow

You can’t be afraid of tech, especially if you are a startup. All you need to know is what you want to accomplish, then get the tech help you need. Dorna wanted a no code platform. This means that the process would be simple for attorneys to create new forms online. The code was already done for them on the back end.

 There are many Saas businesses that do this for the entrepreneur and more popping up every day. I love Thrive Themes to edit my multiple websites. It’s a drag-and-drop system that provides beautiful templates and options for me to edit webpages. Even though I’m not officially a programmer, I have worked with .html enough to my edit webpages in the past to appreciate the system Thrive has created. It is worth every penny to work with easy-to-edit software.

It takes money for a new company to develop software. This is where funding comes in order to add features and scalable growth. When you have something that is working, as Dorna did, that is the time to pursue avenues, such as venture capital. But starting small with what was working has gotten them where they are today, and they began as a bootstrapped company. If you have a great idea for something new or are building on what is working, I know you can do it! Just keep the four principles in mind: solve a unique problem, expand your network, start small and think big and use technology to grow.

- about Dorna Moini

Prior to starting Documate, Dorna Moini was an associate at Sidley Austin, where she litigated retaliation and trade secret cases. Moini holds a BA in economics from NYU, magna cum laude, and a JD from the USC Gould School of Law where she was an editor on the Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice.

Moini was named to the Fastcase 50 list and chosen as a "Legal Rebel" by the American Bar Association for her work in using technology to improve access to legal services.

Starting as "Documate,"  in 2018-2019, she and her team built legal apps for low-moderate income consumers. Seeing the need for a toolkit for all lawyers to do the same, they built and launched Gavel in 2019 to enable anyone to automate their expertise without hiring a software developer.

There has never been a better time to follow your dream

than now, even in a part-time way.

deborah johnson

Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author

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1,295 words

Deborah Johnson

About the author

DEBORAH JOHNSON, M.A., creator of Hero Mountain® and former president of Los Angeles National Speakers Association, is an international award-winning music artist, author, speaker and National Media Commentator. She also hosts the popular podcast "Women at Halftime." Deborah provides tools to create your ideal lifestyle and work at mid-career or during the halftime of life, getting unstuck. You can live your second half fulfilled, focused and free! Up for multiple GRAMMY Awards and spending over 20 years in the entertainment industry, she's an expert on how to constantly reinvent yourself in a gig-economy. She is also the recipient of the Women's Economic Forum Exceptional Women of Excellence Award. Deborah is the author of multiple books, over twenty albums and musicals and speaks and performs in both live and virtual events.

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