This lawyer got a gig in Silicon Valley by promising to automate a lot of legal grunt work — now he's got his own company

Key Points
  • Ironclad has almost 70 employees, with about 20 percent having previously worked at Palantir.
  • It just raised $23 million in a round led by Sequoia.
  • Customers include Dropbox and Autodesk.
Ironclad co-founders Jason Boehmig, left, and Cai GoGwilt.

When Jason Boehmig was in law school at Notre Dame in 2012, he decided he really wanted to be in technology. So he sent a cold email to Ted Wang, who was one of Silicon Valley's most prominent lawyers, having represented Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Square and Spotify.

Boehmig asked Wang for a 15-minute meeting to pitch him on his idea to bring intelligent software to the legal world. Wang agreed to hear him out, so Boehmig hopped on a plane from Indiana to meet with the lawyer in the Bay Area.

"Wouldn't it be great if you could have associates who could code and automate their own jobs and would make the firm more efficient?" Boehmig recalled asking Wang, who was a partner at Fenwick & West. Wang liked the idea enough that he ended up hiring Boehmig for a two-year gig helping out on start-up work.

"He came and helped us deliver a higher-quality service to our clients," said Wang. "So we could make their experience better, the work product was more accurate, and it was cheaper to the client."

Seven years later, Boehmig and Wang are still working together on that idea.

Boehmig is co-founder and CEO of Ironclad, a start-up focused on automating the flow of contracts and other paperwork. Wang, who joined investment firm Cowboy Ventures in 2017, put some money into the company.

Ironclad has since caught the attention of the best-known start-up investors. The company said Wednesday that it's just closed a $23 million financing round, led by Sequoia Capital.

The fresh money is "really around intelligence as the future of our software," Boehmig said in an interview.

Simplifying the process

Lawyers generally have to do a bunch of things before a contract is complete. They have to prepare the right first draft. Then they have to track the changes in versions as different parties contribute. Then they have to get the right signatures. Finally, they have to store the document so it can be easily discovered.

Ironclad is trying to simplify the process, so that law firms and legal teams can save time and money. The company now has more than 100 customers, including Autodesk, Dropbox, Glassdoor and L'Oreal.

"Instead of having 10 forms lying around, you have a simple flow," said Dan Cook, Dropbox's vice president of legal. "It's a simple interface that does what you expect it to."

In the past 12 to 14 months, Ironclad has run as many as 1,700 transactions for Dropbox, Cook said. Each transaction entails establishing a new document, getting it approved and then storing it properly. The remainder of the cases involves a manual ticketing system that assigns work to an attorney or contracts manager, who can approve documents and amend as needed.

The software works with e-signature tools like Adobe Sign, DocuSign and HelloSign, which was just acquired by Dropbox. It can also save files to cloud storage services Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive.

Boehmig, who taught himself to code, started developing products while at Fenwick that would automatically incorporate a company or generate a term sheet for the mergers and acquisitions department.

After leaving Fenwick, Boehmig attended a lecture at Stanford's law school, where he met Cai GoGwilt, a former software developer at Palantir. They were both interested in building software for legal contracts, so they started working together and then applied for the Y Combinator accelerator program.

About 20 percent of Ironclad's nearly 70 employees previously worked at Palantir, the secretive data analytics start-up that does work for numerous government agencies.

Watch CNBC's full interview with Palantir CEO Alex Karp

But Ironclad isn't modeling itself on Palantir, which provides services as well as software.

"We very much want to be a product company from the beginning, with everyone on the exact same platform and the exact same stack," Boehmig said.

In addition to automating contracts for things like sales deals, Ironclad can be more general purpose, producing and managing the flow of offer letters, for example. It also has a healthy dose of legal expertise on the team, including Chris Young, who was previously general counsel at GoFundMe, and Damon Mino, who was head of the legal business at DocuSign.

With Ironclad's software working on a wider array of products, the company's collection of data grows, allowing its developers to build more sophistication into the service. The system could cut down on unnecessary back-and-forth in communication and come up with clearer ways of conveying information in a contract.

Senior partners at a law firm can run $1,000 per hour, said GoGwilt, the company's chief technology officer. Ironclad isn't trying to displace lawyers, but it can at least help companies cut the cost of its bills.

"Ironclad has seen more indemnification provisions than any senior partner at a law firm and will continue to see more of those," GoGwilt said.

Jess Lee of Sequoia has typically invested in consumer technology. But after meeting Boehmig and hearing more about the product, she immediately understood its value. Lee was previously CEO of e-commerce site Polyvore, where she had to deal with all sorts of signed agreements.

"As he explained the product, I was just thinking, 'Oh my God, I could have used this,'" she said.

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Update: After publication of the story, Sequoia clarified that the amount of the financing was $23 million.