I recently spoke with the CEO of an intriguing legal tech startup called Tali. Matt Volm describes himself as a recovering accountant, rookie fly fisherman, and technology entrepreneur with an MBA from the Berkeley – Haas School of Business. I love taking ideas from concept stage to execution and learning a whole lot along the way.”  Tali is a legal tech startup. Tali is a productivity assistant enabled by voice. Tali seeks to automate time entry for lawyers and other professionals. 

What was the spark that led you to create Tali?

My wife is an attorney here in Portland, OR, she does civil litigation work so tracks every six-minute increment of her day to make sure she is appropriately billing time to her clients. She will typically track her time via pen and paper, and then spend a few hours over the course of the week, typically late at night at our kitchen table, manually entering her time into her invoicing/billing system. One night in January 2017 she was doing her thing at our kitchen table – a stack of paper at her side, manually typing up her time entries for the week – and I was in the kitchen using our newly purchased Amazon Echo to set a timer for the dinner I was putting in the oven. After doing so, I randomly threw out the idea to my wife “hey, wouldn’t it be great if Alexa could just track your time for you and then enter it into your billing system?” And from there, the idea for Tali was born.

How has the product been received by lawyers?

Reception by lawyers has been amazing! When it comes to the product, our users have reported a 30%-45% increase in their billable time just by doing a better job of timekeeping. In addition, users have eliminated 10-12 hours of manual administrative time associated with time tracking and time entry by leveraging one of our three integrations (Tali currently integrates with Clio, Rocket Matter, and Practice Panther). These stats are great because it means that Tali is delivering on its promise to eliminate the pain and frustration associated with manual time tracking and time entry. But it doesn’t stop there – we truly have some of the best customers on the face of the planet – attorneys across the USA, Canada, and even Australia are using Tali and providing us with great feedback. Most people love our brand (it’s hard to hate a cute little beaver) and once they try the product and see how easy and frictionless it is, they tell us a bunch of other things they’d love to use Amazon Alexa for. Don’t get me wrong, lawyers can be tough to please, but we love the fact that our global customers hold us to such high standards and are helping us be successful.

What is your view of the billable hour model?

For lawyers, and anyone else in professional services (e.g. accounting, consulting, freelance, etc.) time = money and you need to bill for that time in some way, shape or form. The billable hour is just one type of revenue model for law firms, but there are others and it’s important to realize that business model innovation is a real thing that I think people often overlook. Just look at what software technology companies have done in transitioning to a SaaS business model – rather than sell an annual license, let’s sell a subscription that automatically renews. Take the same company and the same product but innovate on the business model, and you could transform a laggard into a leader. The last thing I’ll point out here is that lawyers and law firms need to understand their unit economics, or their profitability at the unit level, regardless of whether you bill by the hour or not. I can’t tell you how many times people tell me “I don’t need to track my time, I do all my stuff on a flat fee.” When I hear this, I inevitably ask “how did you determine your pricing? Do you know how profitable you are on your projects?” These questions are typically met with silence, but the ones that do track their time at even the basic level are the ones that are the most successful and most profitable. The top line is just one part of the equation, but profitability is ultimately the most important.

You’re not a lawyer, but you created a product for lawyers. Do lawyers ask you about that? Do you have lawyers on your team?

I am not a lawyer, but as I mentioned above I am married to one. We don’t have any lawyers on our team either, but since day one our product has been created with feedback from hundreds of lawyers from across the globe. I actually think this is one of the reasons why we’ve been successful thus far – everyone on the Tali team brings a fresh perspective to the legal tech space without any biases or preconceived notions on how things need to be done. By letting our prospective users inform how we built the product, we can ensure that we are building something people will actually use. For example, in the early days of Tali we actually sat in the offices of attorneys and told them “ok, I’m going to be your timekeeping assistant for the next hour.” No device, no talking to Alexa, instead, we acted as Tali and had our prospective users talk to us in order to get their time recorded via voice. This provided some great product insights into the things that were important for our users and ensured that we didn’t build something for lawyers that we thought they wanted, and instead built something for them that they would actually use.