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Evan Zimmerman

Evan Zimmerman is the co-founder of Edge, a Y Combinator-backed startup using AI to help people write patents. He also founded the investment firm Jovono. Zimmerman was a 2023 Forbes 30 Under 30 and has been published in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, California Management Review, Palladium Magazine, Techcrunch, and more.

 

Why focus on patent practitioners?

 

Edge is a tool that helps practitioners write patents.

 

Patent practitioners do some of the most complex, specialized work in the legal profession. They do work that is multimodal, that deals with technology, and that creates immense value for their clients. It's the fusion of the law and technology. It's just fun. Why wouldn't I want to serve one of the coolest parts of the legal system?

 

We help you get great disclosures from your clients, quickly and with consistent quality without having to have any extra meetings through an assistant that does Q&A for you and writes for the client; a patent editor that automatically tracks references and has an assistant built-in that will help you draft key elements of the patent, like the claims and the detailed descriptions; and a figure editor that's dead-simple easy to use with even the ability to help create images that are USPTO-ready with text-to-image functionality. This is all integrated in a beautiful fashion with great design. And our roadmap this year includes tons of management features and tools to help practitioners go deeper in the prosecution process and even patent management for your clients.

 

And if you're in-house counsel, you can access all of this too. Even if you don't draft in-house, we have a version of the disclosure tool made just for you to get more out of your inventors.

 

Given your unique blend of legal expertise and entrepreneurial spirit, how do you see the future of legal technology evolving, and what role do you think startups like Edge will play in shaping this future?

 

Legal technology is about to take off. I was at a dinner with several AmLaw 100 partners just a few weeks ago and they told me they're ready to invest in technology like never before.

 

Legal tech, as the field is known, has an interesting reputation that is getting shaken off. Lawyers have always been seen as prime targets to use technology. But it hasn’t taken off the way that many have expected.

 

With the internet, the main use case that evolved was e-signature, and now we have the evolution of that with e-notarization. Then you had tools that essentially automated some paralegal and associate work, especially in e-discovery but also with docketing, timekeeping, and other computational workflow tasks, and online search databases. 

 

What you've seen is the legal profession slowly get more receptive of technology as it got more useful. It took so long for lawyers to stop using fax machines and typewriters in favor of email and word processing that the legal profession still has a reputation for being risk-averse. But look at the speed of adopting the cloud and e-docketing. It's been pretty dramatic. But all still focused on, essentially, information management tools. And why? For clients, basically every promise was broken by technology companies except for companies that basically just make form contracts available and automate a few basic tasks—again, just specialized information technology. AI changes the game. You can see the value right away and it’s transformative.

 

Today, companies like Edge just offer so much value that you have to at least give it a try. The opportunity to "wow" your clients is just too great.

 

As the investor behind Jovono and with your extensive experience in the startup ecosystem, what key qualities do you look for in a legal tech startup before deciding to invest? Could you share some examples of innovative legal tech projects that caught your attention?

 

The most important thing people underestimate is how they need to sell. Lawyers, like every other industry, has a unique procurement process, a unique ICP, and more. I like to think: what value are you adding that isn't addressed by a better, more horizontal tool? Like, if your workflow tool isn't better than Salesforce or Asana, why should I bother? And similarly, if you don't seem to like or care about your customers (how many legaltech founders complain about lawyers?), why should I believe you'll succeed and not pivot into something else?

 

Obviously, I think that we're pretty innovative. But I think Ironclad has done a really cool job building a useful service. Clerky as well. Among the new AI legaltech companies, some of favorites include GC.AI and Formally, but there are a number of others that I'm keeping my eye on (some of which aren't announced yet!)

 

During your tenure as Chairman of the Clinton Health Access Initiative technology council, how did you see technology impacting global public health, and what lessons from this experience can be applied to the legal tech industry?

 

Technology was a major force multiplier in the world of public health. So, that's takeaway number one right there: to the practitioners who are reading this, you should be thinking today, not tomorrow or next week, about how to use technology to be the best lawyer you can be. The tools to help you are better than ever. We helped people use machine learning to do remote diagnostics where there weren't enough doctors, help far-flung health systems get off paper records, and more.

 

Probably the biggest takeaway (other than use technology!) is how wide the aperture of technology is. In the context of CHAI, many thought "technology" just meant software, but it was so much more than that. Similarly, I think for many lawyers today, the height of technology is workflow automation and the cloud, but there's so much more going on today that can help lawyers be more efficient. For example, we recently launched a tool to help lawyers generate images in seconds instead of having to use a draftsperson. That saves weeks and thousands of dollars for clients. And it's something totally different, and more high-value, than the types of tools lawyers usually look at.

 

Similarly, we learned the importance of using technology that is purpose-built. The tech council helped create infrastructure for developing countries where they couldn't buy stuff off the shelf because they weren't designed for a Subsaharan climate, or assumed power wasn't intermittent, and so on. Sometimes, a general purpose tool isn't right for the job because it isn't as general as it appears. Looking at tools specifically made for lawyers is the equivalent here. Do you want to use the basic copilot for Microsoft Word, which was probably mostly trained on marketing copy and helping people make thank you cards? Or do you want an editor specifically made for patents with an assistant that is purpose-built for IP tasks? I think you probably want the latter given how high-intellect legal work is.

 

Your academic background is quite rich, from your law degree with a focus on technology law to your economics thesis on the economics of embargoes. How has this academic diversity influenced your approach to technology, particularly in the legal domain?"

 

I went to UC Berkeley, arguably the top law school in the world for IP—it's been the top U.S. News law school for IP law forever. And of course, as you mention, there are other things. While I was there I even published papers, like an analysis of CFIUS as a regulator of technology and the potential of zero-knowledge proof cryptography for the law.

 

To me, the value of an academic background is that it teaches you how to research well. The thing about the law and technology is that often you're dealing with things that are outside your expertise, just because both fields are so big. With technology in particular, you're also often dealing with the unknown when you're on the frontier. So the best path for both fields is to take calculated risks. Do the research, but don't do so much that you're paralyzed with "analysis paralysis." And understanding how to take risks means having a variety of experiences of knowing what "good" research looks like, what thoroughness really means, and getting it done on a tight deadline. That calibrates you.

 

Reflecting on your involvement in the Vienna Biennale's 'Future Of Work' theme, how do you envision the role of technology in transforming the legal workplace, and what advice would you offer to law professionals to adapt to these changes?

 

When we put together the Biennale, the focus was on craftsmanship and artisanal work. We wanted to talk about how technology is about serving people, not the other way around, and ensuring that there was a place for caring about the work that people do not only with their expertise but also as individuals. The industrial revolution created machines that can create goods with a level of consistency in quality that humans can never match, but they don't have the ability to create artistry. That said, we were focused more on blue collar work, like textiles and glassmakers. Who would have expected that, 5 years later, we'd be talking about the same themes with legal professionals!

 

Here's one last one for fun. How did law school help you prepare for startups and tech?

 

Well, aside from the obvious (lack of sleep, knowledge of the law for my startup, etc.), the most important thing is how to write a lot! Lawyers output a crazy amount of text. As a founder, you do the same. You have to work on internal policies, documentation, marketing content, and more. This is the unspoken skill lawyers all have, and I think it is often more important than the oft-cited skills of “thinking like a lawyer” and learning how to quickly brief a case.

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