Legal entrepreneur: lawyer engineers a better law firm

Author: 
Lucianna Ciccocioppo

Monica Goyal remembers the day the ‘light bulb’ turned on in her head. She was an associate at a large downtown Toronto law firm, billing close to $200 an hour. “And I realized that I could not afford myself.”

Goyal, who graduated from University of Toronto's Faculty of Law in 2008, decided to do something about it. Her engineering roots—a degree from University of Waterloo, a master’s from Stanford University, and several years of working in Toronto and Silicon Valley startups—took over once again to help her launch My Legal Briefcase in 2011.

The online resource provides a three-step process for accessing legal forms, and guides users to next steps. You can set up a will, power of attorney, a non-disclosure agreement or research how to bring or defend a claim, for a fraction of the cost of using a lawyer.

“I was always interested in access to justice,” says Goyal. In law school, she worked at Downtown Legal Services, the University's award-winning legal clinic for low-income communities. And even before her law school days, knee-deep in the latest computer graphic interface theories for her graduate degree, she was involved with the local Amnesty International chapter when at Stanford.

“Now I’ve put these two passions together, and I find I really enjoy using my tech background in the legal space.”

My Legal Briefcase is currently the only online resource servicing small claims. If users wish to progress their case or need further information, the site—now conveniently and privately storing all their filled-out forms, documents and paperwork—can refer them to a variety of lawyers and paralegals, who contribute content to the site, and the preamble is already completed.

It can also connect clients to Goyal’s newly rebranded Aluvion Law PC. Not your typical firm (purple corporate colours, name derived from the Latin alluvium: new land created along the banks of a river), it actively encourages small business clients to incorporate using its online services—for just $750. It even has a chart, with the office goods-and-equipment chain Staples, US-based Legal Zoom and the average law firm fee as comparables. But it also has a brick-and-mortar backend to take clients from the virtual space to the office space.

“The value lawyers provide goes beyond what a software program can do. For a particular type of estate planning, or will restructuring, software can streamline a lawyer’s work, but it can’t replace the lawyer.”

Her high tech to legal tech focus keeps her busy blogging (itBusiness, Small Firm Innovation and Law Times), tweeting (@monicangoyal) and marketing (Google ads and trade shows).

“It’s really interesting because it feels like I’ve gone full circle,” says Goyal. “This site has been a journey. I’ve certainly learned a lot along the way. When you create something innovative, launch it, watch it working, it’s really rewarding.”

This article originally appeared in Nexus, the magazine of the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto. (Read more articles in Nexus.)