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: What do you see as your biggest challenge is to achieving those goals, because those are lofty goals?
TUNJI WILLIAMS: I don’t even know where to start. There are a million challenges and I think some of our early potential customers are making it very clear to us the roadblocks that we’re going to face trying to bring this thing to market, and trying to educate folks on what it means to leverage technology in a meaningful way to improve the way you deliver legal services. If I were to isolate the three main challenges we’re going to face, I think number one is we are as a company operating at the nexus of two very distinct markets. You’ve got the legal market, where longevity and legacy is its own currency—it’s important to be trusted and well known—and then you’ve got the tech industry where newness and innovation is what’s popping —that’s were to be right? The question is: How do we balance those two objectives, and where do we fit? How do we ensure that our brand inspires a level of trust requisite to be successful in legal, while also being on the cutting edge of innovation and being relevant in tech? That’s very difficult, and that’s going to be a constant calibration.
I think the second thing, related to the third thing, is adoption. I tell folks, whenever I’m describing the business we do, that our mission is not about innovation. There are people much smarter than me, who are true technologists and who are out there creating wonderful tools that will never see the light of day. No one will ever use them, no one will ever buy them—thus, they are useless. The problem we’re solving for is adoption. Adoption is what changes the world. Adoption is what changes the way legacy industries do what they do and that’s the problem we’re solving for. So, adoption—getting law firms to buy in to this vision, getting law firms to use these tools to improve the way they do work, getting people used to it such that they never go back to where we are now—that’s the second problem.
And related to that, that second problem of adoption, is maintaining our commitment to listening: listening to our customers, listening to the people who use the tools we’re building. Our product is a fusion of two things. It’s this fundamental empathic connection we have with our users. Why? Because we are our users. Up until two months ago, I was a frustrated junior M&A associate at a big firm wondering, “My God, is this what practicing law is? Is it worth it? Is the prestige worth this stress? Is it worth always feeling like there’s a massive gap between what I’m doing and what’s expected of me? I don’t know. I don’t think so.” That understanding of how stressful it can be to try to fulfill your clients’ greatest needs in their greatest time of need is what leads us to create a product that speaks to that anxiety. It speaks to that difficulty. So, maintaining that commitment to understanding that our success is dependent upon connecting with our user and creating a product that fulfills their need. Making shit people want: that’s our job.
Tunji, what does success look like for dealWIP?
Our head of engineering, Ian Hahn, always tells me that in the software business, you are never finished. It’s an iterative process. It’s an ongoing conversation with your customer. There is no “success,” because you always live to fight another day, there’s another conversation to have with your customer, there’s an improvement you can make on the product. In that context, we’ll never be successful because we’ll always be chasing a moving goal post. However, I think I’ll finally try to catch a couple of hours of sleep—I’ll feel a little bit satisfied when it can be said of dealWIP, a hundred years from now, that we were one of the companies responsible for shepherding the legal industry into the data-enhanced 21 st century of corporate legal service delivery.
Entrepreneurship suits you very well, Tunji. I want to thank you for taking the time to talk about your journey and the exciting things that are going to be happening with dealWIP.
Thanks, Randi. It’s been a true pleasure and I want to take the time to thank you for what’s been a wonderful interview, and for being a wonderful friend, mentor, and career coach to me throughout my career up until this point. Without you, I’m not sure where I’d be.
I also congratulate you on being an entrepreneur in your own right, with your business at Major, Lindsey & Africa. You guys do a wonderful job, and you do a wonderful job personally, so thank you.
Thank you, Tunji.
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