As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation last year, millions of people lost their jobs, putting them at risk to miss rent and mortgage payments. After reading an article about a possible impending wave of evictions, a salesperson at SixFifty, the technology subsidiary of Silicon Valley law firm Wilson Sonsini, saw an opportunity for the firm to help.
The federal CARES Act passed by Congress in 2020 included protections against evictions and foreclosures, but these didn’t apply automatically— renters and homeowners needed to take steps to invoke the new law. “Legal services can be expensive or inaccessible,” says SixFifty CEO Kimball Parker. “And people didn’t know how to generate the paperwork they needed to protect themselves.”
Though SixFifty was founded with an eye toward streamlining legal processes for businesses, its leaders decided to use this expertise to help private individuals. Within five days, teams had built HelloLandlord and HelloLender—free tools that generate the paperwork needed for individuals to avoid eviction and foreclosure. Since their launch, these tools have been used more than 16,000 times. It’s initiatives like this that helped land SixFifty a spot on Fast Company’s list of Best Workplaces for Innovators.
A HISTORY OF LEGAL INNOVATION
Parker has long been a champion of finding ways to simplify law, making it more accessible to more people. As a law professor at Brigham Young University, he led a student project called Law X, which built an automated documentation system for debt-collection lawsuits. The project caught the eye of Wilson Sonsini, which was interested in automating high-level legal expertise. “They thought it could help a lot of people and companies cut down on costs and be an alternative to using a lawyer,” Parker says.
Among the new company’s first steps was to automate documents needed to comply with new privacy laws in Europe and California. When the pandemic struck in early 2020, not only did the firm understand that individuals would be struggling, but they realized companies would be scrambling to catch up to the changing needs of their workforces. “A lot of basic assumptions about employment law and the relationship between the employer and employee didn’t even exist anymore with COVID,” Parker says.
The firm built automated employment tools, including one that could help businesses write an employee handbook that accommodates remote workers across multiple states. “It covers all 50 states, updates dynamically, and costs a fraction of the price because you’re not paying a lawyer billable hours,” Parker says. Within three months, the handbook became SixFifty’s best-selling product ever, leading the company to double its client base.
The products SixFifty has launched over the past year have changed how the company sources ideas. “The best ideas we’ve had haven’t come from decision-makers in that area,” Parker says. The idea for HelloLandlord and HelloLender came from a salesperson, while the employee handbook idea came from an employee in the company’s customer relations department.
To encourage employees at every level to share ideas, the company has since instituted unstructured brainstorming meetings—a development Parker believes is good for the company and for the people it serves. “The law should be more accessible and easier for people, and legal services need to be delivered affordably, efficiently, and at scale,” Parker says. “I think our people really internalize that and want to continually think of new ways to help.”