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When making things free means gaining more interest

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Law firms aren’t known for giving away their services, especially when it comes to a time-consuming process like paperwork.

So it was a bit surprising to see Cooley offer its full-scale automated document generator gratis. But that’s what the firm did in July when it launched Cooley Go.

The Web-based app is aimed at tech startups and entrepreneurs, and it allows users to create legal documents such as business incorporation forms, employment agreements and convertible note term sheets. Cooley Go also contains articles and advice from the firm’s lawyers about a number of issues important to business owners, including protection of intellectual property, issuance of stock and cybersecurity.

I spoke with Craig Jacoby—chair of Cooley’s emerging-companies group and partner in charge of Cooley Go—in July after the website launched and six months later to see how it has performed.

“When it came to generating and filling out paperwork, what we heard a lot from our clients was: ‘Shouldn’t this be simple?’ ” Jacoby says. “We needed to find ways to help them get things done quickly and work to make their lives easier so that they could get bigger.”

When I originally spoke with Jacoby, he told me the website was not necessarily a client or lead generator. “Our business is built through relationships,” Jacoby said. “Cooley Go is designed to strengthen those relationships and, hopefully, that will lead us to the best and most ambitious entrepreneurs, investors and companies.”

Jacoby is pleased with the website’s performance during its first six months. It has had approximately 25,000 visitors from 140 countries since launch, he says, and about 15,000 docs have been generated. As for 2015, Jacoby hopes to build up the rest of the site, particularly the section that keeps track of trends in the marketplace.

Cooley wasn’t the first law firm to come up with a free, automated document-generation site. Goodwin Procter’s Founders Workbench has been available since 2010, while Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and Perkins Coie have more specialized tools for automation.

Like Jacoby after him, Goodwin partner David Cappillo says he started Founders Workbench to strengthen and enhance existing client relationships.

And though the initial hypothesis behind the Founders Workbench was not to bring in new clients, Cappillo says, the site has ended up generating business after all.

“You don’t have to be a client of the firm to use the site,” he says, “but as a result of the widespread adoption of the site, we have scores of startups out there that have found us through it and become clients.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “When Making Things Free Means Gaining More Interest.”

Victor Li shares his reporter's notebook at and on Twitter as @LawScribbler.

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