LegalTech Interview: Docket Alarm

This week we had the opportunity to interview Docket Alarm founder and CEO, Michael Sander. Docket Alarm recently received Legaltech News’ 2015 Innovations Award for Best Legal Research Product, so we figured it was about time we took a look under the hood.

LI: In your own words, what does your product do and what problem does it solve?

MS: In short, Docket Alarm allows attorneys to find and track court cases and use analytics to predict their outcome. As a patent litigator, I would often follow cases that were related to a litigation I was working on, but because I was not an attorney of record, I did not get court alerts. Asking a para to log into PACER every day and pull down new filings was onerous, and we would never get filings when they were released. I built Docket Alarm to hook into PACER and other docketing systems to give me instant access to new developments. All of a sudden, I knew what was happening in court before anyone else.

A related challenge arose performing research on the procedural issues that routinely crop-up in litigation.  While Google Scholar and other legal databases make it easy to find seminal cases, they often lack the smaller decisions that help you answer questions like how often a judge grants extensions, whether a judge refers issues to a magistrate, or whether she entertains early summary judgment motions.

LI: Has your business model changed significantly since you first started?         

MS: Providing alerts and document access has been the base of Docket Alarm, but once we had the content, we started analyzing it in interesting ways. My focus has been on the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), a specialized patent court in Washington, DC that was created about three years ago.

Docket Alarm analyzes every decision from the PTAB, applying tags to each decision.  Then, users enter facts about their case, like the judge, technology area, law firm, or party, and Docket Alarm analyzes similar cases, generating graphical reports and calculating your likelihood of success. For me it was a tremendous time saver. I could visualize a judge’s opinions on particular issues and drill down to see why the judge ruled a particular way. We’ve made this feature free with a subscription to the Docket Alarm service.

We have also been experimenting with other business models, such as integrating our new case alerts with Salesforce as a business development tool.

LI: As one of the most exciting new LegalTech start-ups,  what advice do you have for businesses trying to build products and services for law firms?

MS: In law firms, most purchasing decisions are made by law librarians, who are extremely well versed in the available tools. Make sure you know your competitors because your potential client certainly will.

LI: What does your ideal customer look like?

MS: It’s almost cliche, but we love working with clients that challenge us. When a client submits a list of a dozen features they want, it shows they are engaged and using the tool and, of course, it gives us guidance on where to go next. Many Docket Alarm features originated from customer requests.

For example, one customer liked using our search engine to perform one-off research, but wanted a once-a-day email with all new PTAB decisions so that he could stay on top of new law. It was a challenge because we needed to be comprehensive but avoid information overload. Working together, we put together a beautiful daily alert email that is easy to skim in two minutes and which allows attorneys to keep abreast of the law.

LI: What’s your current customer acquisition model?

MS: We have signed up a number of large firms, and we are building up those relationships and encouraging them to spread the word.  The community is not so big, and many of our larger accounts came from word-of-mouth referrals. We are in no rush to sign up everyone immediately. We work with each client to make sure we have a product that gives them a real leg up in their cases and improves productivity.

LI: What do you feel most proud of in your work?

MS: Just as Docket Alarm’s PTAB analytics tool was up and running, an attorney told me that he suspected, based on his experience, that a particular judge was tough on patent owners and would often invalidate their patent claims. The attorney did not have data to back up his assessments, it was based on countless hours reading many of the judge’s opinions. Docket Alarm’s analytics tool quickly provided hard stats quantifying how much tougher this judge was. The fact that we could statistically pinpoint, within a matter of seconds, what this attorney only suspected after years of experience was an exciting moment for me.

LI: How much does being a lawyer help you in your current job?

MS: Every feature, button, and design element on Docket Alarm has been informed by my experience as an intellectual property litigator. This is a tool made for attorneys, by attorneys.

More about Michael

Michael Sander, Founder, Docket Alarm, Inc.

Although patent lawyers are expected to understand technology, few have as strong of a tech background as Michael Sander. Sander, a native New Yorker, worked as a software systems engineer before moving to law. As an attorney, Michael focused on patent litigation in federal district courts, the International Trade Commission, and the Patent Trial and Appeal Board. He has represented some of the largest brands in the world, working with technologies such as 3D photography, internet video, and speech recognition. Michael has also represented clients in trademark enforcement matters and copyright litigation and counseling.

While practicing law Michael became frustrated that lawyers who handle tech innovations were using old-school methods to track cases and predict outcomes. Docket Alarm is the result of years of development, a new tool that gives attorneys key insights into win rates across judges, parties, and technology areas.  

Michael can be reached at michael.sander@docketalarm.com.

About Preston Clark

Preston Clark has been writing about legal tech since 2010. He's currently the CRO for a leading legal tech SaaS company in the San Francisco Bay Area. Preston was formerly in-house counsel for the University of Miami and a Peace Corps Volunteer in Central America. In his free time, Preston enjoys building world-class sales teams, reading about SaaS, playing pick-up basketball and planning adventures with his son.