Meet Toronto, Canada’s Paolo Tonelli, 43, Chief Executive Officer at Codify Legal Publishing, which was launched in May 2015. His wife, Darlene Tonelli, is Vice President of Codify (and founder of Inter Alia Law.)
Education: University of Toronto, LL.B./J.D. (2000). University of Toronto, Ph.D (Phil.) (partial). Western University, B.A., Philosophy (Hon.)(1997).
Are you a lawyer? No. I went to law school, but never went through the articling program which is required in Canada.
Past significant jobs: CRSTL Solutions, CEO, (2011-2012). Director of Content Development (2006-2011). CRSTL used technology to simplify regulatory compliance for banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions in Canada. (Canada is one of the most complex regulatory regimes in the world—the country was largely unharmed by the 2008 financial crisis based on the strength of its financial regulatory system). I developed CRSTL’s regulatory compliance product from scratch.
As CRSTL became successful, we were at risk of becoming victims of our own success—the monumental task of figuring out which banks should receive particular compliance requirements took months per institution that we onboarded. Those compliance libraries, in turn, were becoming harder and harder to maintain when (post-2008) new regulations were introduced almost daily. In response, I proposed and ultimately pioneered the use of automation to handle this process—determining which banks were subject to specific compliance elements. Work that had previously taken me months to complete for each client could, with the new system, be boiled down to seconds.
At the time, we were told that our goal was impossible. So we stopped talking about it, put our heads down, and just did it. CRSTL was acquired by Thomson Reuters in 2012.
Is this your first start-up? Codify is the first start-up I have owned and operated, but the majority of my post-law school work has been spent on what is now called “legal tech” start-ups.
What problem does your startup solve? Understanding and complying with the law can be a difficult task that is time-consuming and subject to human error. Codify uses automation to standardize and scale several key tasks:
• Codify Updates tracks all laws across Canada, and notifies users when the laws they are tracking have changed. Users can zero in on the amendments that matter to them by providing side-by-side comparisons that highlight changes. Side-by-side comparisons show what has changed. (Traditionally, tracking legislative updates is painstaking and almost unmanageable for even large law firms.) We automate the process, providing, in real time, reports on changes to any and all legislation and regulations. Power users can see everything at a glance, and everyday users can see only what they are interested in by creating an alert.
• Codify Automation automates the drafting process for legal documents from routine contracts to complex transactional agreements. |
• Codify Laws helps users conduct research across legislation and regulations in multiple jurisdictions, via scoping and filtering tools. For example, lawyers are often asked to provide multi-jurisdictional companies with a quick snapshot of specific compliance requirements in every jurisdiction in which they operate. It can now be done in minutes.
Is the service currently on the market? We are currently working in partnership with a number of “early adopter” national law firms, and are launching all three key products (Codify Updates, Automation and Laws) more broadly later this year.
How did you come up with the name? Codify Legal Publishing is an intersection of old and new themes. Legal Publishing is a convention reflecting the provision of highly technical legal information that is not legal advice. We believe that lawyers are—and must remain—part of the legal equation. Our goal is to supplement or augment lawyers with powerful tools that let them spend less time on certain task so they can spend more time providing high-value counsel based on their expertise.
Codify is also a pun that brings together technology and law. In the legal world, codification is the phenomenon of arranging laws under a coherent system. Codify seeks to bring coherence to law with powerful tools that allow lawyers to view, “remodel” and understand the law in efficient and powerful ways. In the tech world, computer “code” is used to take industry-shifting ideas and designs and turn them into real-world applications that change our lives and how we work. So Codify perfectly describes the convergence of technology and law that constitutes Codify’s DNA.
Do you have any patents? No.
Do you have funding yet? We have a small seed investment, in addition to grant money from the Ontario government and a space in the Ryerson Legal Innovation Zone.For the most part, we have chosen to bootstrap and proceed on the basis of revenue.
What is your biggest challenge re: the start-up? Finding talented legal minds with sufficient technological acumen. We believe both sides of this equation—programming skills and legal experience—are required to succeed in this start-up. Almost everyone on our team has a law degree and on-the-ground experience working in a law firm or in the field of regulatory compliance. Most have some experience with legal publishing as well.
What do you need right now? In six months? In a year? Right now: more hours in the day. In six months: More developers, and likely a couple of lawyers, to ensure we can meet rapidly rising demand. In a year: A larger office where we can work together more easily and install certain equipment we may need (longer term) to iterate even more quickly.
What have you learned that you wish you knew five years ago? To get the best out of people, it is critical to create a positive environment that provides guidance while fostering creativity.
How did you first get interested in automation? I ran one of six lines at the Chrysler automobile plant near Toronto while I was going to law school. It almost got me kicked out of school, as it was an unwritten rule that students were not allowed to have full-time jobs while attending law school. I had to have a conversation with the acting dean when she heard that I was running a manufacturing line instead of attending law school! Looking back, I see it was instrumental that I was watching the power of automation to perform extremely complex (but repetitive) tasks.
Who most influenced you? Steve Jobs. He was not only a visionary, but an individual that was able to make his vision a reality. I read a story about Jobs arguing with the Apple board about implementing a new product line. This was after Apple had already had much success with iPods, iPhones, etc. My first thought was “when do you have to stop convincing people?” I realized that the answer was never. Jobs persevered in the face of significant criticism and pushback. This is a lesson that I always keep in mind as I move forward with Codify.
What two people are/were your most important mentors? I have had fantastic support from Hersh Perlis and Chris Bentley (as well as numerous others) at the Ryerson Legal Innovation Zone (based in Toronto), a leading legal-tech accelerator.
What book changed your life? Sacred Contracts: Awakening Your Divine Potential, by Caroline Myss. It provides a compelling model of human behavior and what makes people tick.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs? Build your own technological expertise to back up your own idea—don’t rely entirely on hiring to do this. At the same time, always work with people who are extremely capable. A smaller group of motivated people is so much better than a large group of less effective individuals.
What are you afraid of? Not meeting my own expectations and letting people who are important to me down.
What are you most proud of? Living authentically.
Where do you expect to be in 10 years? If I’m still building amazing products, making people happy and solving their problems, plus finding enough time to be there for my family, I’ll be happy.
What would be your dream career if you were not a lawyer and entrepreneur? I’m doing it. Cliché or not, it’s the truth.
What does your workspace look like? (Borrowed from Sam Gosling.) So. Many. Monitors.
What’s your favorite vacation destination? California. Darlene and I got married in Big Sur. We did a two week road trip beforehand, up the Pacific Coast Highway, Napa, etc. We love the people, the interesting mix of culture and progressive values and the high tech scene. Plus, we love being close to the ocean.
Favorite food: Steak.
Favorite musician or group? U2, going way back to listening to the Joshua Tree album on cassette tape. I love the band’s principled approach; humanity; focus on spiritual themes in their lyrics; and mission to provide fans (customers) an unparalleled, experience during live concerts. Finally, I admire their ability to stand by each other, despite stratospheric fame and success. I aspire to bring all these elements into Codify as we achieve our own kind of success.
Favorite quote: Do or do not. There is no try. —Yoda
What’s your mantra? Simplify.
Who would you want sitting next to you if you got stuck for three hours on the tarmac in a 737? Jon Stewart. I would need to have a few laughs if I was in that situation.
Compiled by Monica Bay, CodeX Fellow and freelance journalist. She is a member of the California bar. Email: @email@example.com. Twitter: @MonicaBay.