#LegalTechLives with Alma Asay, Founder/CEO of Allegory

Ava Chisling
July 26, 2017

Alma Asay is the Founder and CEO of Allegory. After graduating from NYU Law at age 22, she found herself at age 29 speeding along partnership track and stopped to wonder if she should try something different. Ready to leave the firm to pursue volunteer opportunities to work with wildlife and in schools in South Africa, she put those dreams on hold when she saw an opportunity to bring her vision for a lawyers’ dream-come-true litigation software to life. Five years later, Allegory became a reality and Alma became one of the first female Big Law lawyers to start a legal technology company. In 2016, Alma was named one of 50 “Women of Legal Tech” by the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center and added to the ranks of the Fastcase 50.

You went to Albert Einstein High School. That’s a lot to live up to! Were you a good student? Did you watch Genius, the story of his life on TV?

I’ve never heard of Genius, which is weird because I used to be a total TV junkie and knew everything that was on. But now I live on the road and rarely keep up with television. I was a good student, a total nerd. Which meant I definitely wasn’t cool in high school (or ever, really, but never less so than in high school). I left high school a year early. I couldn’t wait to move on with my life.

Where were you raised and how did that affect who you are today?

I lived in Charlottesville, VA until I was six and then moved to Silver Spring, Maryland. I’m not sure that the location in particular affected who I am today. I probably would have been the same growing up on the outskirts of any big city. I think where I didn’t grow up was more impactful. When I started working in New York, it was shocking to me how many people had built-in networks. I didn’t know anyone and so I had to make friends and build a network from scratch (which was particularly difficult as a 1L who was too young to go out to bars with my classmates).

Tell me a bit about Allegory. What was the problem you wanted to solve when you founded it?

It was frustrating to see so many smart people, who had spent years training to be great lawyers, getting bogged down by disorganization and repetitive work. It’s not the all-nighter that’s soul crushing; it’s the all-nighter spent tracking down documents instead of learning the case or crafting winning legal arguments — followed by pushback from clients on why you billed that time or, worse, criticism because you didn’t perfectly polish the deposition prep outline (which you would have loved to have time to do). I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a tool built for litigation teams and that our best solution was Excel. My goal in building Allegory has always been to enable lawyers to spend their time being lawyers.

How do you feel about the use of AI in the legal field — and in our personal lives as well?

AI in our personal lives is neat — there’s a lot of room for error, which is easy to overlook, as there’s no harm done if my phone calls “Jim” instead of “Tim,” or suggests that I may need to buy diapers because I had been looking at baby clothes for a friend’s baby. The exciting part of AI today is the power of using AI to support lawyers, rather than suggesting that AI will replace them all together.

“The challenge — even as more law firms become accepting of new technology — will continue to be how to empower the Mavericks to successfully bring the Formalists on board.”

What is the most common barrier you come across when explaining Allegory?

The biggest barrier is seeing new technology as a cost — rather than a savings — center. Until recently, we were in a pretty greenfield space, meaning, we were asking clients to spend money where before, they were using free (for them) services like Excel and shared drives. Nothing kills me more than a law firm that comes back to us saying, “the end client is very cost conscious in this case — not even paying for paralegals — so Allegory wouldn’t be the right fit.” That’s exactly backwards. In fact, the law firm should pay for Allegory itself because they’re now absorbing the cost of the excessive paralegal time! But that’s on us. We have to get better at messaging the cost savings of using Allegory against the costs of attorney and paralegal time.

The word “allegory” usually has a more artsy, poetic connotation. What made you choose that name for your company?

Your question is funny to me at the moment. We recently hired Alessia Bell as our SVP of Business Development. She assumed I chose the name as a “brilliant analogy of lawyers to Plato’s prisoners trapped by their old disorganized ways and brought out to the beautiful light of technology.” I wish I could say it was that deep. The truth is, I wanted an “A” name because lists tend to be alphabetical. I was running through “A” words as I was on my way to a pedicure one day and the word “Allegory” popped into my head. It was perfect because it evoked that sense of telling a story, which is what our software would be intended to help lawyers do, and it was a word that would be easy to remember, while not having a preconceived meaning in the industry (along the lines of “Relativity”).

You spent a few months in Africa, including time at an elephant park. What did you learn there — and from your travels in general?

I had traveled a lot before, but my time in South Africa changed the way I saw the world. I fell in love with elephants — they are incredibly smart, sensitive, playful creatures, who more closely resemble people than you would ever guess from afar. But more impactful was my time in schools in South Africa. I met children who walk two hours to school every day, without any guarantee that the wells will have water along the way. Yet, they were the most joyful, appreciative children I’d ever met. To come back to New York from experiences like that — where people get lost in the hustle and bustle and focus on what we don’t have — it’s easy to forget all that we do have. There was a stark contrast that gave me a lot of perspective and appreciation for little daily things we so often take for granted.

Those of a certain age learned about litigators via Perry Mason, Ally McBeal, LA Law, and more recently The Good Wife and Better Call Saul. So, which one do you identify with most? And why?

You forgot Matlock! And Law & Order! When friends ask me what show most accurately represents life as a lawyer, I say Better Call Saul. There’s so much truth in those scenes of a lawyer sitting in the basement reviewing an unending stack of documents — that’s the unsexy (and more real) side of being a litigator that’s rarely reflected on television. But more than any lawyer tv show, the one I’ve related to most as an entrepreneur is Silicon Valley – so much so, that there was a time when I couldn’t bring myself to watch it because the cringe-worthy moments were way too close to reality for comfort.

It’s a sign of the times that when I googled “Matlock,” I got this guy: Matt Locke @matlock.

Do you feel lawyers and law firms are getting better at accepting and adapting to new technology — or not?

Yes and no. We went through an exercise today with our user-centered design firm (yes, big changes are coming to Allegory!) where we talked about Mavericks vs. Formalists. Most law firms these days have both types of leaders — Mavericks, who are open to change and focused on performance, and Formalists, who are averse to change and focused on just getting the job done. We can always find a Maverick to get excited about using Allegory — and yes, there do seem to be more of these. But collaboration doesn’t happen with one person on board — even if that person signs the agreement. The challenge — even as more law firms become accepting of new technology — will continue to be how to empower the Mavericks to successfully bring the Formalists on board.

Tell me three misconceptions people have about lawyers.

  1. Lawyers don’t want to become more efficient because they bill by the hour.
  2. Lawyers are extroverted.
  3. Lawyers practice law.

You worked on a case that involved Project Runway. I have watched all 15 seasons of that show and still have no idea how clothes are made. Can you sew?

Haha! I don’t sew and I also have NO idea how clothes are made. What I do know is that, in Hollywood, a handshake agreement codified in an e-mail can be binding.

Here is a question I ask everyone: what technology would you like to see invented right NOW? I have heard teleportation, robot maid, robot mechanic…

A time machine. Traveling back in time would be pretty cool, but really I just want something that makes more time. Where does it all go?

Like Allegory, ROSS
also has the convince professionals that the time to accept and adapt to new technology is right now! Thank you for your time, Alma Asay!

Ava Chisling

Ava is an award-winning lawyer and editor who counsels creative types, writes about pop culture/tech+law and sometimes creates ad campaigns. She is Quebec counsel for Momentum Law.