chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.


From Lawyer to Startup Founder: Shifting Your Growth Focus

Tom Tong

From Lawyer to Startup Founder: Shifting Your Growth Focus

A growth mindset is a valuable skill for any lawyer especially for lawyers founding startups. All lawyers, whether advising clients or founding a business must see legal risks clearly and balance them with the goals of profitability and growth.

Tom Tong and Lori Ann Fox are attorney-entrepreneurs behind Lawmato, a first-of-its-kind startup for virtual legal consultation. A conversation with them follows.

What gave you the idea to found Lawmato?

Tom: “I have a growth mindset, or a constant sense to drive business growth. I am an International Partner at Locke Lord, with a focus on international transactions, and I have been developing legal work for the firm since I was a junior associate. While working with a telehealth app client during the recent pandemic, I wondered why law and the legal industry were not utilizing technology to its fullest potential like the medical industry.

Yet plenty of people said the telehealth model would not work for law. Instead of worrying about the problems and barriers, I set about changing the legal industry with the same growth mindset I implement for my legal clients. So, I envisioned Lawmato, a first-of-its-kind marketplace app for virtual legal consultation.

I started talking with friends and family about my new idea. With positive feedback and support, I realized the potential growth opportunity and took the initial step to raise funds to engage a third party for developing my idea into reality.”

Lori Ann, how did you get involved?

Lori Ann: “Tom and I got to know one another over the years with my work for Wolters Kluwer when his firm was one of my clients. At the time Tom started Lawmato I was General Counsel of a leading legal service plan company. By the end of 2021, Tom had his new technology built and had begun reaching out to test the waters on viability. In January 2022, I joined Lawmato.”

What made you interested in joining a startup?

"Tom and I share a passion for changing the legal technology landscape, the practice of law and ease of access to legal services for everyone. Lawmato represented an opportunity to make an impact. A startup like Lawmato can address areas of the market overlooked by larger entities.

Tom spends an average of 400 hours each year helping friends, family and acquaintances analyze their issues, and find the right lawyer and legal services for their business and personal needs. I share this in common with Tom. I also donate my time to help people find the legal assistance they need in addition to my in house and private practice endeavors."

How did you come up with the name “Lawmato”?

Tom: A few things went into the consideration: the name has to be easy to pronounce, hinting law, and easy to remember. Many of the obvious and clever catchy combination of law and legal vocabulary have been taken, Lawmato is the best that I could come up with before the deadline set by our app development team.”

A big challenge for early stage startups is knowing where to focus. Does Lawmato focus on specific areas of the legal market?

Tom: “Yes. Lawmato focuses on legal services for unserved and underserved communities, such as immigrant entrepreneurs.”

How did Lawmato choose this focus?

Tom: “As an immigrant myself and a lawyer at a large law firm, I witnessed the challenges so many entrepreneurs and business owners face when establishing, buying and maintaining a business in the U.S. along with the legal issues that inevitably arise. Some of the challenges include not knowing what they don’t know, not being able to identify legal issues, not being able to locate lawyers with the desired specialty expertise, and not being able to understand the many requirements in the legal profession such as conflict checks, retainer payments, no-guarantees for results, and billing at a seemingly unreasonably high rate. Yet, they are working hard to build their businesses and enjoying some great success, albeit still facing risks they are unaware of.”

Lori Ann: “And for lawyers, as we all know and have likely experienced, legal marketing can be costly with low return on investment. Illusory leads and uncommitted or no-show consultation appointments that waste time. Add to that the time and effort required to coordinate an in-person meeting, negotiating a limited scope engagement, especially with a retainer requirement, invoicing, and collecting fees for consultation . . . all reduce profitability for lawyers.”

Lori Ann: “We created Lawmato to address the pain-points identified above. Lawmato offers a first of its kind online marketplace app for initial virtual legal consultation by onboarding good and affordable lawyers and grouping them clearly according to their expertise and transparently showing their hourly rates. The app has its own secure audio-video communication capacity and payment mechanism.”

Tom: “Lawmato solves these issues by being the marketplace app for legal services with secure, robust technology. Clients go to the app, search for and choose a lawyer based on the issue and jurisdiction with information about years of experience and consultation rate, the app notifies the lawyer to begin the conflict check after which a limited scope engagement letter is sent, the client provides a credit card to schedule the consultation and meets virtually with the lawyer at the date and time, upon conclusion of the consultation, the client’s card is charged and automatic payment is made to the lawyer minus the credit card processing fee and technology fee. It’s just that simple and transparent!”

It does sound like telehealth, but for law. Would you say Lawmato is “telelaw”?

Lori Ann: “Absolutely, you could say Lawmato is “telelaw” though we are mindful of trademark concerns for others who have indicated a desire to move in our direction based on initial filings though none appear to be in use as of our last review.”

Was there a moment in the early stages of Lawmato’s development where you realized the startup there any key milestones you have reached?

Tom: “Lawmato was started last year and officially launched in January of this year. In a very short time, we have already onboarded lawyers in more than half the states of the United States and a couple foreign countries.”

You have been on both sides of the table, as attorneys and as entrepreneurs. Is there anything you wish attorneys knew about entrepreneurs (or vice versa)?

Lori Ann: “Be sensitive to the stress entrepreneurs feel. Most people think of stress as negative but it can also be positive. Like when stressing a system for success or failure. Either way, you learn. As entrepreneurs go through constant stress, it can influence how they hear, understand and respond to the legal issues that arise.”

There is a tremendous virtual “metaverse” focus today. But I always found merit in bringing the virtual into the physical world. When I was General Counsel for one of the first social networking companies, we made it a point to sponsor in person regional events. Does Lawmato do anything to connect people in person?

Lori Ann: “Yes. We created the Lawmato Academy for business owners, executives and managers.

The Lawmato Academy Law for Business program is a live, virtual ten-week, intensive training and learning opportunity for laypersons. It provides a cradle to grave approach covering the various legal issues that can arise for a business to help better manage understanding of the legal system, how and when legal issues may arise, how to identify the legal issues and find the right type of lawyer to assist and overall assess the risks to the business. This program also supports the lawyers on the Lawmato app, especially those who are the instructors on their area of expertise and get to know the students, who hire them as legal issues arise for their respective businesses.

In addition to live, virtual classroom instruction, we have an in-person graduation ceremony and set aside time for in person networking and socializing, with events like golf outings. We held two successful Lawmato Academy classes in Texas already and are in the process of rolling it out in more states with a plan to roll it out nationwide.”

What is a typical day like as a startup founder?

Lori Ann: “Daily life for Tom and me has shifted from only focusing on the law and our respective law practices to now include startup duties. Those duties often have me feeling like the “Chief Cook and Bottlewasher”, which is just another way of saying I am continually growing personally and professionally.

In a typical day, at 8:00 AM I draft marketing materials at 10:00 AM I run an intern meeting, followed by a 1:00 PM call with a potential new lawyer to add to the platform to discuss how Lawmato can assist with practice growth and at 3:00 PM a website design meeting. Each day is different in the needs for a startup.

I am always thinking about how to show investors the value in Lawmato, how to better support the lawyers on Lawmato and how to best market the Lawmato app to potential clients: consumers who need legal services.”

Tom: “With a startup, I learn something new every day. Some days it is what not to do and other days are discovering the secret sauce for success. Each day is filled with new challenges and potential obstacles with limited resources and the drive to overcome.”

You mentioned support from your friends and family was key?

Lori Ann: “Yes, our families and friends also have this growth mindset. They understand the work being accomplished and how important it is to grow. It’s that growth mindset that fuels the world with new ideas, new companies, new revenue lines and ultimately provides more and better opportunities for everyone.”

Tom: “Creating a startup involves long hours. But as attorneys we are used to this. As a bilingual attorney with Chinese proficiency, I have been working “two shifts” throughout my legal career developing and serving international clients. Having brought in one of the largest Chinese companies as a firm client during my first year of law practice and a few more thereafter, my work schedule always includes having weekend and midnight conference calls with clients and prospects in Asia, in addition to the regular business hours.

Following this passion is not always easy. However, a growth mindset proves rewarding on several levels.”

This article was prepared by the Business Law Section's Private Equity and Venture Capital Committee.