Jack Newton, founder of one Canada’s largest legal software companies, isn’t a lawyer, but he’s learned to think like one. A software engineer by training, Newton began his unlikely legal career over coffee in 2007 with the director of practice standards at the Law Society of British Columbia, who kvetched about a problem that beleaguered smaller firms. The day-to-day tasks of running a law practice—time tracking, billing, administration and, most of all, running an on-premises server— were exorbitant for small firms and solo practices, pushing up the cost of legal services. Newton thought he had a solution: what if all those tasks and documents, including sensitive client documents, moved off a firm’s expensive proprietary servers and onto a secure, legal-focused version of the cloud?
Born and raised in Edmonton, Newton studied computer science at the University of Alberta because he was interested in technology. After graduation, he took a job as a software developer working on machine learning problems in medical diagnostics at Chenomx Inc., a commercial spinoff of a project at the university. At Chenomx, he became fascinated by how a company is developed: “I got to see the process of building something from scratch, the fundraising process from the inside,” Newton remembers. “I decided that this is something that I’d really like to do myself.”
His opportunity to act on that impulse came via Rian Gauvreau, a friend since they attended the same elementary school in Edmonton. Newton and Gauvreau, then an IT manager at the law firm Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP in Vancouver, had talked for years about starting their own company before they launched Clio in 2007. “We were two hammers looking for a nail,” Newton says. “The legal space was ripe for disruption, and we thought that there was a huge opportunity to deliver the benefits of the cloud to small firms.”
Clio is now the most widely used practice management tool for lawyers worldwide, serving 150,000 legal professionals in more than 50 countries. The company has raised US$27 million in venture capital and employs 225 at its offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Dublin. “We started off 10 years ago with pretty humble ambitions—to build a tool that would help make lawyers more productive,” Newton says. “I think we’ve succeeded in that.”