Augie Rakow '07 was a partner representing startups at Orrick when a Facebook post changed the course of his career. In January 2017, he saw that Justin Kan, an entrepreneur who had sold his live-streaming video company Twitch.tv to Amazon for nearly $1 billion, had posted a poll about the cost of venture capital financing deals for startups.
Rakow reached out, and the two met in a cafe a couple of days later. In the course of a four-hour conversation, they realized they shared a dream: attempting a radical new way to run a law firm.
In April 2017, the entrepreneurs founded Atrium, a San Francisco-based company and law firm that provides legal services to technology startups and their investors. The startup law firm is based on an innovative business structure, which combines a traditional law firm with a sister corporation that can raise capital, develop software to improve operations and oversee functions such as marketing and finance. The company creates technology to improve the legal services that Atrium’s attorneys and paralegals provide for clients, from document review to sending weekly updates to clients. And instead of relying on billable hours, Atrium offers multiple subscription options.
“Our ultimate goal is to let lawyers use their brains to focus on interesting problems and spend less time on operations and moving documents around,” Rakow says.
Since it launched just over a year ago, Atrium has helped more than 150 clients and has closed around $500 million in venture capital financing deals. These include Notable Labs, a drug testing firm, and MessageBird, a Dutch messaging app. Atrium itself has raised more than $10 million from investors, including General Catalyst and Y Combinator, the prestigious tech incubator.
Rakow's path to the law was circuitous. He studied history at UC Berkeley, then enrolled at the Harvard Divinity School with plans to become an academic researching medieval philosophy and theology. During a summer in Japan, he happened to come across a Japanese law textbook. “I totally fell in love with it,” he says. “It was one of those books that totally change the direction of your life.”
Instead of completing his divinity degree, Rakow moved to Tokyo in 1999 to study law and work for a patent prosecution firm. In 2004, he returned to the U.S. and enrolled at UC Hastings. He was inspired by courses on open source software and patent litigation, as well as an externship with Judge Ronald Whyte, who had a focus on patent litigation, at the Federal District Court in San Jose.
“UC Hastings really showed me the different careers you can have and the different issues you can work on as an IP professional in a way that was intellectually exciting,” Rakow says.
After graduating in 2007, Rakow worked at several patent litigation firms. In 2010, he joined the Emerging Companies Group at Orrick, where his clients included Cruise Automation, a self-driving car startup that sold to General Motors for more than $1 billion, and Zenefits, an HR software startup that has been valued as high as $4.5 billion. In 2016, he made partner with a $5.5 million portfolio.
Rakow wasn't planning on leaving Orrick, but he couldn't pass up the opportunity to reimagine legal services from the ground up. “Law firms are stuck in the past because evolution in the legal industry is left only to lawyers,” Rakow says. “Law firms don't invest in their own future like good businesses. A two-entity structure allows us to take bigger risks and innovate.”