Atrium had a fantastic business model to disrupt the law. Why did it still fail?

Disrupting law is a messy business.

As a commercial lawyer focusing on startup and tech work, I’ve longed for the day where technology and law firm can be merged to offer better legal services to customers. I mean, a tech platform that lets you check on your lawyer’s work progress and collaborate better with Dropbox-like features. Isn’t that brilliant?

At least that’s what Atrium had in mind when they launched their platform sometime in 2017. Atrium had a novel idea to operate a hybrid model that bridges a corporate law firm and tech platform. Their ideas were to offer “flat fee legal services” for startups and help lawyers “do more meaningful work”.

Any startup can access legal advice with direct lawyers by paying Atrium a monthly USD500 as a subscription-based platform. The startup can get access to the lawyers on-demand and get advice on fundraising, hiring and other common legal matters that a startup typically needs legal advice.

With over 100 staff and lawyers and USD80 mil in funding from big VCs like Andreessen Horowitz, Atrium developed software for startups to navigate compliance stuff like fundraising, hiring, and collaboration with its legal team.

Although it had a great idea, its technology remains a tough sell for law firms. Many traditional law firms see no need for new technology solutions when the existing billable hour works just fine. I mean, law firms will continue to get a constant supply of cheap legal talents. Let’s be honest, what happens when you get a lawyer gets legal work done quicker? The firm doesn’t make as much money.

In a post-WeWork fiasco, a negative balance sheet is just a red flag. I think it was a good call when Atrium decided to close shop and refund its funding.

I don’t know if this news is fortuitous or what, but UpCounsel, a legaltech platform that links freelance lawyers with businesses was also shut down a month ago. In UpCounsel’s scenario, it appears that a shareholders dispute together with a certain licensing agreement with Linkedin triggered the shutdown.

Interestingly, although Atrium’s technology platform is now closed, Atrium Law, its separate independent law firm business will continue as an independent law firm.

As for me, I am still hoping for Atrium like legal tech platform to reappear again someday.

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