Meet Harvard Law grad Raj Goyle, a high-end lawyer turned legal entrepreneur who never bothered with Biglaw
Happy summer to all you lawyers out there — billing Biglaw hours, while searching for a better way. Today, I offer a glimmer of hope to associates wearing the golden handcuffs, and the law students who haven’t tried them on yet! While I have fond memories of my old firm, there is no question that life as a Biglaw associate is really really tough. I’m often asked by law students whether Biglaw is a necessary step in order to become a leader in the alternative legal sector (and maybe make that $billion).
My stock answer is, unfortunately, yes. But wait . . . this week, we dive deep with Harvard Law grad Raj Goyle, who represents another first for us at alt.legal: a high-end lawyer turned legal entrepreneur who never bothered with Biglaw.
Over the past two years, as the alternative legal services market has blossomed to an $8.4 billion juggernaut, we have interviewed dozens of entrepreneurs using technology, the forces of globalization and process expertise to revolutionize the practice of law. We’ve met a few non-lawyers (mostly Harvard drop-outs!), but no lawyers who skipped the brutal Biglaw rite of passage altogether. When I heard about Raj, I wanted to know how he did it, whether his mother was disappointed (mine is just getting over my transition), and what advice he has for those who just don’t think Biglaw is for them.
Raj’s story is a great one, but reach out to me before you turn down that Biglaw offer! I still believe firmly that it’s the best starting gig in town.
Joe Borstein: So you were a Duke undergrad and Harvard Law guy, but somehow you never did the Biglaw thing. How did you avoid it?
Raj Goyle: My Mom dropped me on my head as a baby I guess… although she may not find that funny considering she’s an obstetrician.
I’ve always been an entrepreneur and tried to solve big problems. When I thought about entering the law firm world, it just didn’t seem like a fit. I spent my summers in law school working for Archbishop Tutu in South Africa, the NAACP LDF, Public Citizen – and starting an early dotcom. So I naturally gravitated toward public policy, politics, and the tech sector.
At least I married a Biglaw partner (Monica Arora at Proskauer)!
JB: So walk us through that. What did you do after Harvard Law? How did you explain it to the Harvard Law Career advisors?!
Harvard Law School has career advisors? Is that what the Cravath recruiters are called?
I took a federal clerkship at the end of my 3L year. It was not for me – during the Florida recount in 2000, I was stuck in a judicial chambers next to musty law books. I won a Skadden Fellowship, which gave me two great years as a civil rights lawyer – I shut down a women’s prison in Baltimore for inhumane conditions, became an expert on election law, etc. Then I became a very early staffer for John Podesta at the newly formed Center for American Progress in D.C., which transformed my career.
But the entrepreneur in me kicked in again and after two great years – in a role many people in the Beltway would have loved (VEEP is way more true than not by the way), I chucked D.C., moved back home to Wichita to be closer to my parents, and then beat a three-term Republican incumbent in a State House district that had never elected a Democrat before – and become the first South Asian elected in KS. Then it was 5 years of intense politics!
JB: Politics seems pretty important again these days! Okay, so there is still a big leap here… politics is pretty standard fare from Harvard Law. How did you get to legal innovation?
Definitely there are HLS grads who go into politics, but very few enter at the State House level in such hostile territory for a Democrat. We used tons of data – similar to how we use data in Bodhala to transform the law – to reinvent how to win a State House race in 2006. I personally knocked on 8,000 doors and registered 2,000 voters, and we raised a record amount of money and an army of volunteers – and went on to help a lot of people.
After I moved to NYC in 2010, I reconnected with my good friend Ketan Jhaveri from HLS. He was in Biglaw and we asked – why is this massive industry ($500B globally) so backward when it comes to markets, data, and technology? It felt like the same analysis I used to help my constituents and win campaigns – what’s the market failure, and how to best reply?
JB: So what do you think is the market failure in law? In this column, we have talked about lack of non-attorney ownership as one potential source of drag, but I’d love to hear your views.
A complete lack of data hurts the legal profession and the market. Bodhala has used data in innovative ways –saving a client $1.2M per year by allocating its spend more efficiently, helping a major law firm identify and win business in practice areas using data targeting, etc.
Lawyers have a hard time justifying their value because of this data vacuum. No one has confidence in how to rank different lawyers, matters, firms, etc. We have more data on buying socks on Amazon than we do about lawyers.
Clients feel gouged. GCs get stink eye from the C-Suite because no one trusts their budgets. Young law partners at firms resent gray haired partners. And so on.
But things will change very fast. Clients and firms realize enormous data is trapped in silos. Smart firms will use data to win more business and smart companies will use data to optimize their spend.
Those who don’t may find themselves playing a very expensive game of catch-up, like Walmart is with Amazon, or risk becoming obsolete, like Borders bookstore.
And more generally, you could argue the entire legal system is in market failure. The poor get almost no legal services, a middle-class worker never wants to even meet a lawyer, and the wealthy and corporations pay exorbitant prices with little to no transparency. And legal education is in total crisis – dropping demand (with rising costs) and an academic model that’s literally 150 years old.
JB: So how can lawyers, with no technology training, be part of the solution? And any last advice for lawyers who would like to be entrepreneurs?
RG: Just ask the right questions! Am I getting the best value in the market for the services I am paying for? Am I providing the best value for my client?
For would-be entrepreneurs, it’s all about relationship to risk. How badly do you want to solve the problem, and what will you do to succeed? The law is ripe for innovation so if you have an idea, pursue it!
JB: Thanks Raj!