About a year ago, we had just completed our most successful Legalweek conference to date; launched DISCO Case Builder, expanding our company offerings beyond ediscovery and managed review; and updated the DISCO Analytics Suite with cross-matter AI, dramatically increasing review accuracy, speed, and efficiency.
Then COVID-19 swept the world. COVID forced us to change the way we operate, immediately, to ensure that we and our customers would continue to thrive.
After taking steps to ensure the health and safety of our employees and their families, we had to reevaluate our business plans and make some critical — and tough —decisions without knowing what the full impact of the pandemic on our business would be. We knew we had to find new, nimble ways to operate in order to keep up with our legal customers. The legal function can’t afford to slow down, even in the face of a global emergency.
A year later, I’ve gained many insights that I didn’t see coming. Some reinforced my beliefs, while others led me to shift my thinking. After reflecting on the past year, I came away with four key learnings that powered us through last year’s challenges and that will be invaluable to DISCO and to me in 2021.
Continue to invest in long-term strategic priorities in the face of short-term setbacks
When facing economic uncertainty for your business, dialing back investments and figuring out ways to spend less money is wise, and sometimes inevitable, since you can’t be sure how bad things will get. You have to do this to some extent so that your ability to serve your clients isn’t disrupted.
It’s common to approach necessary cutbacks by focusing on preserving what matters in the short-term “here and now,” but that thinking may limit your business’s ability to reach its long-term strategic goals. So, even in the face of economic uncertainty, you have to be willing to keep your foot on the gas on your strategic priorities as much as possible.
At DISCO, we wanted to ensure we retained parts of our business that may not pay off for three to five years or more, but that still serve an essential long-term purpose. We continued to double down on global markets and expansion, sustained our investment in DISCO Review, and actually accelerated programs like DISCO for Schools, a program with law schools designed to empower the future legal workforce with education on legal technology. While other companies’ initial thought would be to cut efforts like these, we knew these were long-term investments worth continuing through the pandemic.
There’s no way to build the leading legaltech company without going international, and that takes time. Productized legal services like DISCO Review expand our total addressable market (TAM) by 300% or more, and our investments in our people team and DISCO for Schools lead to the best strategic advantage of all, which is working with great people who share our vision of strengthening the rule of law through great legal technology.
Trust your team members with leadership roles, even in a crisis
As CEO, you are the main face and primary voice of your company, both internally and externally. When a crisis strikes, it can feel like it’s your job to take a public and prominent role in your company’s response. But depending on your strengths and those of your team, that may not be the right decision.
While it is always a CEO’s job to lead, and while ultimate responsibility for financial results and customer and employee experience always rests on you, sometimes effective leadership means trusting others on the team to take center stage in the response to a crisis. At DISCO, I entrusted our COVID-19 task force, made up of senior leaders from operations and HR, to meet daily, communicate with the company, address problems in real time, and otherwise lead our COVID response. They rose to the challenge admirably.
By letting others handle our COVID response, I was able to focus on continuing to drive product and service innovation for our clients, deepening our relationships with our largest customers, ensuring that our transition from field selling to remote selling had as little impact on our growth as possible, and closing a major $100M financing round for the business. Had I not delegated our COVID response, there is no way I would have been able to focus on these priorities.
The lesson here is that you shouldn't always feel obligated to take center stage as CEO. Rather, putting your trust in the leaders on your team can empower both you and them and lead to collectively greater results.
Who knew? Remote work has more good than bad and ugly
I’ve always been skeptical about the effectiveness of a remote workforce. In the first few months of the pandemic, as we had all of our employees working from home to ensure their health and safety, my thinking was always to have each and every employee back in the office as soon as possible.
Well, I've changed my mind.
Although I used to think that employees couldn’t be as productive when working from home, I’m happy to share that I was proven wrong. During these trying months, the DISCO team didn’t just adjust to our new normal, we thrived. Team members proved their resiliency as we launched mobile forensics and managed review capabilities, held meetings over Zoom (while taking steps to reduce “Zoom fatigue”), and found new ways to collaborate internally and with customers without missing a beat.
While there are still some shortcomings to a fully remote workforce — for example, I haven’t found a solid digital replacement for a white board and the ability to effectively brainstorm, and I’m often thinking about how long-term remote work will impact developing early career employees — I now know that business can be just as successful employing a hybrid or fully remote policy.
The pandemic demonstrated what was must-have versus nice to have. This goes for legaltech solutions too
During the past year, we restructured our business approach and focused on strategic areas we believed best addressed customers’ real pain points. Not what was nice-to-have, but solutions that helped customers solve thorny issues, stay ahead of the competition, and make smarter overall decisions for their organization. Our offerings proved to be mission-critical to our customers, and, as a consequence, we posted strong year-on-year revenue growth even in the pandemic year.
Two examples of tailwinds in our business illustrate the point. With all our customers moving to work from home, many of them indefinitely, cloud ediscovery solutions like DISCO as well as our remote data collection capabilities went from nice to have to must have. Customers who previously had a three-year plan to move to the cloud found they suddenly needed to move to the cloud immediately. And with many of our customers’ teams consumed by COVID response and under tremendous internal pressure to reduce costs, there was a great increase in demand for full-stack, turnkey offerings like DISCO Review. We were able to help clients keep up with legal demand despite increased demand and more limited internal resources by increasing their use of DISCO offerings to automate legal work.
This appreciation and awareness of areas where we could help customers with mission-critical solutions rather than just nice-to-have ones helped us build deeper relationships with our customers even during COVID.
It's been a heck of a year, but in hindsight, what was initially a year of challenges became a year of opportunity — not to mention growth that exceeded all expectations. By leaning into change rather than resisting it, we became an even more resilient company that’s better positioned to serve our customers.
I’ve never been prouder to serve as DISCO’s CEO. I am looking forward to another year continuing our journey to help lawyers and legal teams improve legal outcomes for their clients through the power of legal technology.