Tunji Williams, co-founder and CEO of dealWIP, took a major bet on himself and the future of the legal industry when he quit a cushy job as a corporate transactional attorney to take on the mission of revolutionizing the way corporate transactional legal services are delivered.
The company, founded in 2017, holds itself out as a legal technology company helping deal professionals deliver differentiated value for clients by leveraging integrated, cloud-based software solutions. Though, as Williams hints, the long-term mission of the company extends far beyond what meets the eye.
As corporate transactional legal clients grow increasingly dissatisfied with what they see as the inflated cost of corporate legal services, such clients are finding creative ways to get more value out of their legal service providers at reduced costs. This dynamic leaves many traditional law firms grasping for sustainable strategies to deliver more value at lower prices - a challenge, as William sees it, begging for technological disruption.
To meet the demand, Williams and the team at dealWIP have developed a workflow and collaboration platform for corporate legal transactions. "We’ve designed the dealWIP platform experience by systematically deconstructing corporate transactional matters into their component phases, assembly line-style, and layering value-added automation and collaboration tools on top of each of these modularized phases to help deal teams optimize for speed, efficiency and seamless communication in any given transactional matter.
Although Williams and the dealWIP team have placed their immediate focus on developing the world's premier workflow platform for corporate legal transactions, they have eyed an opportunity to leverage their platform, over time, to create the world's first central repository for real-time, raw data about private transaction legal deal points. The team intends to aggregate and synthesize the valuable data to create groundbreaking tools capable of providing the market actionable, real-time insights regarding market trends related to material legal provisions and global deal activity, generally.
Of his vision for the company's impact on the legal industry, Williams says, "I want us to be known as the company that forever changed the way corporate legal services are delivered."
RANDI LEWIS: Tunji, you are a business lawyer who left the law recently to start a business in legal technology. You are now the CEO of DealWIP. You and I met a few years ago, when you were a first-year law student, and then we got to know each other when you were a summer associate at Miles & Stockbridge. I, as you know, have followed your career ever since, and I’m so happy to be here today to talk to you about your new venture, dealWIP.
dealWIP, in short, is a legal technology company developing software to help automate and streamline corporate legal processes. I’d love to hear you tell us about your career path and how being a corporate and M&A lawyer led you to becoming an entrepreneur.
TUNJI WILLIAMS: First of all, it’s great to be here with you, Randi. Thank you for taking out time to interview me. I tell folks that you’re kind of a fairy godmother to me. I think at every stage of my career you’ve been there to help guide me and make sure I land in the right space, so I appreciate it.
Starting dealWIP has been quite an adventure from the get-go. There is a great quote—I think it’s from The Tempest, the Shakespeare play: “what's past is prologue.” And I feel that way about my career. I think every step in my career, until this point, has been a great staging process for the next point in my career. It’s not immediately clear when you’re going through that phase in your career, but in hindsight you realize the story all makes sense. For me, I think there’s almost a genetic disposition towards entrepreneurialism. I think I’m kind of destined to be exactly where I am right now.
I graduated UVA Law in 2014, left UVA and went right to practice at a big international firm with an office based here in Baltimore. After that, I left and joined a legal technology company based out of DC; left there, went back to the big firm; left the firm again and led a campaign and finally ended up in Miles & Stockbridge practicing law before I started this company. If you look at my resume, I think one is likely to say, “My goodness, this guy jumps around a lot. What is going on here?” But, again, I think every stage has taught me something that has equipped me for the next stage.
While I was at UVA, even though I did not really want to go to law school initially, my dad kind of pushed me into it. I was working in politics before I started at UVA Law and I wanted to be a speech writer. I wanted badly to write for the President of the United States one day, and my dad told me, he said, “You’ll always be working for somebody else unless you have a degree that can feed yourself and give you independence. So, go get that law degree. If you want to write speeches for presidents, go ahead and do that afterwards.” I went to law school with that nugget of wisdom, and I think what I took away from the law school experience is that—and this is a small little thing—I was just an average lawyer. I think anybody you talk to who I’ve worked with will tell you that. I love people, I love being in the center of complicated and important processes, but the substance of the law? It’s just okay for me.
Tunji, I would never call you average. That’s way too modest.
Thank you. What I took away from law school experience is that there’s a distinction between substance and process. Sometimes, process is more important than substance: the way you do something is more important than the outcome. And that’s something we are using today as we build this product for a market that has really lost its way in terms of process and client delivery.
Moving on to Hogan Lovells, which is the large firm I worked at coming out of law school, I learned how important it is to have a trusted legal counselor and the difference that a trusted legal counselor makes for a large corporation. There’s nothing like having a lawyer you can call at 2a and know: “this lawyer is going to give me an answer that I can trust and this lawyer cares about my business as much as I care.” I got that nugget working with great lawyers like Glenn Campbell, and David Gibbons, and Amy Freedman at Hogan Lovells, and that is the nugget I took away from there.
Leaving Hogan Lovells and jumping into the Legal Tech startup in DC—FiscalNote—I learned what it means to be bold, and step out and take a chance, and learn something new, and introduce next-frontier technology to a really legacy market. My job at FiscalNote was to sell this product they created which applies predictive analytics to legislation and regulation. My job was to sell that product to law firms. Not only are we introducing a new category in terms of the technology solution; we’re selling to a market that is notoriously resistant to change of any kind, especially this kind of thing—it’s massive risk for them. Learning what it looks like to be told “no” a million times, and understanding how to take those no’s turn it into useful information and come back with a better proposal—that’s what I learnt at FiscalNote.
Heading back to the practice of law, I got back into the process and realized: “There’s something missing here. This is still not for me.” So, I left and ran a political campaign. Lesson there is it’s okay to step out and lead something. You don’t have to have all the knowledge in the world. You don’t have to know everything to go out and give something a try.
Again, at every stage there’s something I’m picking up that’s helping me at the next stage. And that’s just a general summation of my career up until this point. We started the company back in June 2017.
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