Gavel Co-Founder, Dorna Moini – In-depth Interview

Document automation is one of the most populated segments of the legal tech market. At the same time feedback to this site suggests that demand is steadily increasing among lawyers, which in turn is helping the many players in this vibrant segment to keep growing. A case in point is Gavel (previously branded as Documate). Artificial Lawyer caught up with the company’s Los Angeles-based CEO and co-founder, Dorna Moini, to hear more about her company, and how it is evolving.

We cover what Gavel does, how it is different, how it is in fact used by several other legal tech companies, how client demand is changing, and how this all connects to the productisation of the law. Enjoy.

 First, can you tell the readers what Gavel does?

Gavel is no-code document automation software and an expert system builder that helps lawyers build both internal and client-facing legal applications. The platform is powerful, allowing you to easily set up complex conditional logic, numerical and date calculations, and collect lists of information.

Gavel workflows can be made client-facing to collect client intake data. And for the legal tech entrepreneurs, they can go a step further by building a ‘TurboTax’ for any area of law to sell their work to the public. Payment integrations, videos, and white-labelling are also supported. 

– What were you doing before and how did you come up with the idea?

Before starting Documate, which is now called Gavel, I was a litigator at Sidley Austin. I also represented domestic violence survivors pro bono, which led to building a ‘TurboTax for domestic violence survivors’, called HelpSelf Legal. The goal was to build technology tools for those who couldn’t afford legal representation and to help legal aid attorneys represent more people in the same amount of time. 

Through that process, we realised that the best way for us to serve this need was to build a platform (that’s Gavel!) to empower any lawyer to build any tool they want. As a no-code solution, Gavel is a software developer in your back pocket.

– Uptake of doc automation tools appears to have greatly improved in the last couple of years, but there are still barriers, why is that?

Historically, it’s been hard. The lawyers didn’t know about technology, and the IT team at the firm didn’t know the law. Gavel fills that gap with a robust, customisable solution that is also easy to use. Previously, the tools that existed were either too simple to be useful or too code-heavy to be usable.  

The smaller firms have been quicker to leverage document automation, sometimes out of necessity, because certain process-oriented areas of law have become price competitive. But we’re now seeing even the largest firms handing over the tech reins to their associates to build tools.

Why? Both as a result of client demand and because of how easy new, no/low-code technology makes it to set up. For example, Wilson Sonsini’s summer associates built a series of tools on Gavel last summer to help the firm automate in eight critical practice areas. 

– Following on, as there are a number of other companies helping customers with this type of application, how will Documate (now called Gavel) differentiate?

Gavel automation has been around for decades, but we’re focused on something bigger – the productisation of law. On Gavel, not only do our customers build internal document automation, but they also build legal products to generate documents and expert systems.

In turn, they can use these to collaborate with clients and generate revenue through new legal service delivery models (e.g., ‘build your own TurboTax for law’). You can conduct client intake, store the data, create client portals, and launch your own legal tech company through Gavel.

Anyone can hire a developer to build a web application, but we empower the lawyer to do it on their own. Our lawyers can use powerful functions on our platform, like loops, complex calculations, and nested logic to your heart’s desire – with the ease and UX of a modern, no-code platform.

– On the subject of no-code approaches, is this the main hurdle to lawyers building more of the tools they need?

That’s what we’ve seen. There are some very tech savvy lawyers who either develop their own tools or connect off the shelf tools to create their ideal solution, but they are in the minority. We give our customers the toolkit to build anything they want. Gavel and no-code platforms are accessible to all lawyers to make their dream software come true. This is needed more than ever now that every lawyer is “e-lawyering”.

A few months ago, a 78-year-old Gavel user launched a surrogacy law tool for his clients. He told me: ‘I am truly one of those ‘if I can do it, anyone can’ stories.’

– Finally, are you looking for funding and what is your long-term growth plan, (given that short- to medium-term is hard to predict right now)?

We grew significantly in 2020, partially due to lawyers taking their practices online to both (1) collaborate with clients and (2) build tools to generate new forms of revenue. We may look for funding in the future to help us scale faster. Stay tuned!

Thanks Dorna!

[ Editorial Note: the company has changed its name to Gavel. This article was updated to show this October 12, 2023. ]