Speaking with Nicole Bradick, founder of Theory and Principle, which works with clients globally to build web and mobile applications designed to change the legal industry., at Clio Cloud Conference 2018.
Kevin O’Keefe: So who am I talking with?
Nicole Bradick: I’m Nicole Bradick. I’m a former attorney and I own a company called Theory and Principle and we build, we design and build digital products for the legal industry. Web, or mobile applications, that sort of thing.
Kevin O’Keefe: How’d you get the idea to go off and do that? How long have you been doing it?
Nicole Bradick: So this is my third company in the legal technology, legal innovation space. So I’ve been around the block and I think when you pay a lot of attention to this industry, you naturally see the open opportunities and this one was pretty clear one because there was no shop that was focused on the legal space and this space is desperately in need of good design and good user experience and good user interface for our products. So that’s sort of the opening that we see to help people build better, more usable products.
Kevin O’Keefe: How’d you get started when you were out there doing other stuff, you’ve got another company you’re working with, and got this idea: How’d you get it off the ground and just get it started?
Nicole Bradick: The barrier of entry to starting a company right now is very low, because you need to have an idea, you need to have a voice, you need to have business acumen, but you don’t really need a lot of money. Like, I didn’t need to go out and fundraise to start this company. I didn’t need to go out and, and find clients because I already had a name in this space. So we started day one and our biggest challenge was that we already had clients and were working from day one on products, and still had to sort of build the rest of the company: all the processes and all of our strategy work had to be built around actual work that we’re doing for clients.
Kevin O’Keefe: The type of work you guys are doing right now is development of products for law firms? Development of apps for law firms? What is it?
Nicole Bradick: Yes. And so our clients range is pretty broad, so we’re legal industry specific, but there’s so many corners of legal industry. So we work with large law firms, typically they’re trying to build apps to get to their clients as value add products or as lead generation products. That could be a native app, that could be a mobile app, that could be a web application. We work with other legal tech companies who have existing products to help them improve their user experience design, their user interface design. We can re-skin products that are fully functional on the back end, but just need a refresh on the front end. And then we work with foundations on the justice side. So there’s a lot of products being built that are aimed to bring access to justice, or help us to leverage technology to make the law more accessible. So we’ll work with foundations to build these end-to-end products. But we also do early workshops with law firms who are just thinking like, alright, so we have a new innovation team –
Kevin O’Keefe: Who is we?
Nicole Bradick: It’s my company, but I have a team of designers, a team of engineers, I have project managers. We’re sort of a full service product team.
Kevin O’Keefe: You’re based in Portland. Is the whole team based in Portland?
Nicole Bradick: Yeah, everybody’s in Portland and we do have some people, we have one engineer who lives in the mountains and he comes in once a week, but we’re all in Portland so we do a lot of traveling. We don’t have clients where we are, so we travel.
Kevin O’Keefe: How important is it for you now, or was it when you came up with the idea to start this, that people knew you?
Nicole Bradick: It’s extremely important because this is a trust business. It truly is because a lot of our clients, it’s the first time they’re building a product or it’s a bet the farm type, like, you know, we’re a smaller firm, but we’re going to dump a lot of money because building products is really expensive. So it’s a trust-based business and I think the fact that people know me, I think they know that I’m legitimate and I understand what I’m doing and I’m competent and I know this space very well. I think that’s been huge both for pipeline building, but then also for actually servicing our clients.
Kevin O’Keefe: It’s a trust business, it’s huge. Lawyers are paid to be suspect of other people, it’s what we do for clients, so that trust factor is huge. Your business is off and running pretty well right now. Did you know right away that this was going to work for sure?
Nicole Bradick: I got very early validation on this concept. I had been building products on my own, at my last company too, and so I knew the market, but very early on I was having conversations. I’m doing a lot of market interviews and I was hearing people say back to me our value proposition. Like, before I even explained the value proposition, people were saying, “Oh yeah, I would love to use you because you have this industry expertise, I don’t have to explain things to you, you can help better with strategy because you know the market.” You know, people are really finding a lot of value in the design side, but they don’t have the design resources. So we had almost instant validation.
Kevin O’Keefe: One question I wanted to ask you, and it’s a society issue, the number of women leading legal tech companies is… How many?
Nicole Bradick: We have a group, and we all support each other, and there’s only maybe a dozen of us.
Kevin O’Keefe: I would’ve guessed five or something. Maybe it’s obvious with the way the law has functioned, etc. but why do you believe that’s the case? What do you see needing to happen? Maybe it’s obvious. Why do you believe that’s the case? What do you see happening?
Nicole Bradick: The biggest challenge, I think the biggest thing that needs to happen is that law firms, legal tech companies, people in this space need to start buying products or hiring companies that are women-led. And I think that’s very hard because most of the clients we’re dealing with are men, and it’s just more comfortable for them to hire another man. It’s foundation psychology, right? Like you’re more comfortable with somebody who looks like you, and I think that’s a business development challenge for me, because I am the face of our company and I think that, you know, even if it’s not explicitly, “I don’t want to work with a woman,” I think it’s much easier for them to hire a man. And so I think that the buyers need to take a leap and they need to be willing to buy from women, so that other women can see that you can really be successful doing this. Because it’s rough. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We have a support group, because we need a support group, because we see some ugly stuff. We need success stories is what we need.
Kevin O’Keefe: A lot of it I feel is the same lip service from law firms, because if it came down to it it’d be like 2 or 3% of women are leading major law firms. But inside the tech industry, how important is it for companies to hire women and get women in leadership positions? Just like we would be pushing law firms to do the same thing?
Nicole Bradick: Yeah, I mean I think it’s very important. And I think if we look right now at some of the legal tech companies, like the SAaS companies with the biggest trajectory, their leadership is mostly men, and a lot of them have zero women on their leadership team. And so we’re not going to build leaders. We’re not going to build people to then branch off and start their own companies and that’s how these leaders are built, so it’s absolutely critical and it’s just not happening.
Kevin O’Keefe: What has to happen? The leaders of the company have to get outside of their comfort zone and hire women, as opposed to another person who’s like them, or as opposed to someone who’s already on their leadership team.
Nicole Bradick: Yeah. And my wish is that we can get beyond the point where we’re always talking about this. I feel like I have to be an advocate for women in this space, and so I have to be out talking about it, but really what I want to be talking about is my company and our products, and it’s so hard to get there because there’s so much other work to be done.
Kevin O’Keefe: We talked about it in the 70s, we talked about it in the 80s. And everybody’s talking about making progress, and I used to wonder whether we should be talking about it or not, because that’s highlighting something that should be behind us. I hope people won’t do this forever. I know it sounds stupid, but I’m sitting here thinking, who are legal tech founders who are women? I’ve got to make sure that I reach out to interview them. Maybe that’s stupid that I’m even thinking of that.
Nicole Bradick: Yeah, but that’s better than not acknowledging it, because it’s easy to forget.
Kevin O’Keefe: We’re here at Clio, and you’ve been out doing stuff, founding things, being a part of initiatives. You have a strong name for that, but for the lawyers who haven’t got outside of practicing law but are looking at breaking some type of wall at one of these companies, what do you tell them?
Nicole Bradick: So I think that that leap is a big leap for a lot of people to make. I’m a big advocate of the lean startup methodology of taking baby steps. So at any time I talked to somebody who’s thinking about starting a company, it’s always, “make a baby, baby prototype, and go out and talk to people about it.” And not only will you get customer value evaluation and find out if there’s a product market fit, but also you’ll find out if it’s a fit for you. Do you want to be out there hustling and pounding the pavement, selling software? It’s a very different life than selling legal services, where there’s an existing demand, but a lot of times in software we’re creating demand. It’s a fundamentally different lifestyle. It’s an exhausting lifestyle. And so I think if you can sort of make a baby prototype and go out and test it and live that lifestyle for a little bit, then I think it’ll be to decide if that’s the path to go down.
Kevin O’Keefe: You’re the first person to mention the side of “what if it isn’t right for you.” And you’re right. Would I feel comfortable going out and selling my service? Would I be comfortable getting critiques on prototypes and being vulnerable on these types of things.
Nicole Bradick: And there’s a tremendous learning curve, right? When I started my first company after practicing law, people would always be like, “oh, you’re learning how to code?” No, I need to learn how to run a business and that’s not something I ever learned in law school. So with my first company, I spent that whole company making basic business mistakes and backfilling knowledge and filling that knowledge gap of how to run a company.
Kevin O’Keefe: What made you say, “okay, I’ve got to figure out, how to run a company?”
Nicole Bradick: It was interesting. In the design discipline, we talk a lot about constraints and the benefits of constraints. So I live in Portland, Maine, which is not a hotbed of activity, and I was not happy practicing law anymore. I didn’t have very many options. So that made me start to think creatively about what I could do there, what gapsI could fill in the space? Then I can run from here, but still have a national company. So I was forced into it and I’m really glad I was. So that constraint was a blessing.
Kevin O’Keefe: How long ago was that?
Nicole Bradick: It was my first company, which started in 2011, 2010, something like that.
Kevin O’Keefe: Pretty good amount of years. I’m sure it feels like a long time now. When you think about what you’ve accomplished and running a successful that’s based on your name and trust, that’s impressive.
Nicole Bradick: I’m very grateful and I think I have the best job and I work with the best people I could ever imagine.