Abtin Buergari could have easily toiled for years trying to climb the rungs of a big law firm. The founder of Modus was a law student who had to send 350 resumes before landing a job "in the basement" at K&L Gates, one of the largest law firms in the world, when he got recruited by a company that provided eDiscovery support services for the firm. "My career really took off when they started putting me in front of the customer," Buergari says. It would also get him fired.
Listening to clients’ frustration with the complex and costly eDiscovery process—whereby both sides in a civil suit exchange electronically stored information relevant to the case—Buergari’s deeply rooted urge to serve the customer (he used to wait tables at a high-end restaurant) came bubbling up.
Given the proliferation of big data, the legal industry now must contend with more documents, email messages, social media updates, and text messages than ever before. It's a voluminous amount of information to wade through for an industry that has been slow to adopt the technologies required to digest that data efficiently. In 2007, the average cost for processing one gigabyte of data through electronic data discovery was around $2,000. It’s now in excess of $7,000, according to some estimates. Buergari developed a process that would save the client an enormous amount of time and money—billing on a fixed-fee managed service model instead of by the hour, or gigabyte. The problem: Buergari’s solution meant his company could no longer hand law firms a huge bill for the service.
The response was a not-surprising no thank you. "When you hear that enough as an employee you kind of give up—or just go about your 9 to 5," he confesses. Buergari was at a crossroads. Unsure whether he wanted to become an attorney at all, he proposed leaving the company but continuing to consult with existing clients. "My company saw that as a threat and fired me and sued me under a non-compete provision."
Blindsided, but convinced he had struck the right vein in the legal system, Buergari appealed to his brand-new wife (they’d just returned from their honeymoon) and asked her to take a leap of faith so he could bootstrap his own startup. Admitting he’s the type to "jump off the cliff without a parachute and figure out how to build one on the way down," Buergari spent the next year and a half using $10,000 from a maxed-out credit card to get Modus off the ground.
Although dazzled by stories of star entrepreneurs, Buergari admits his concept of leadership has changed dramatically since founding the company in 2008. "It’s simple. It’s doing the right thing."
That mental fortitude helped him earn the loyalty of Modus’s first clients even though, "we had no marketing, no branding, and no message," he says. Buergari worked on selling trust and confidence in their lower-cost method for eDiscovery. Since then, Buergari says business is booming. Now with 200 employees, he says Modus has grown about 1,000% from 2012, and had revenues of $20 million in 2013.
No wonder it’s big business. Nearly 90% of U.S. corporations are engaged in some type of litigation, according to research by the law firm Fulbright & Jaworski. The bigger they are, the more they juggle. The Transparency Market Research "eDiscovery Market" report estimates the global eDiscovery market will reach $9.9 billion in 2017 with the U.S. maintaining its status as most litigious with 73% of that marketshare.
Buergari estimates up to 25% of company budgets goes to lawyers. He maintains, "We are not going to change how discovery has been handled for 100 years, we are talking to companies and law firms about how we can make it efficient." One tech company in Silicon Valley, which he declined to name for confidentiality, was spending about $18 million on costs related to legal. Buergari says Modus showed them how they could cut that down to $10 million. Now a client, the spend is still around $14 million but Buergari says it’s still on track to shave even more from that budget.
Although he’s come out of financial straits and been sued again by the company that fired him—for different reasons—Buergari is determined to spark big changes. "Legal is generally a very reactive component of business," he explains. Modus’s newest product, Rediscovery, aims to usher in predictability and reuse data that’s already been gathered and analyzed.
Dashboard metrics may be a commonplace method to dissect data in most other industries, but Buergari is making it so legal departments at any company will be able to leverage its previously obtained discovery data to extract valuable intelligence. "Once upon a time we had no process. If you wanted to repeat something, the same guy had to stay up all night," says Buergari. "We are simplifying it for the business." And making it more cost effective. It’s the right thing to do.
[Image: Flickr user Emmanuel Huybrechts]