We are just a week away from the Startup Alley pitch competition that is the opening night event of ABA TECHSHOW, and I recently had the opportunity to catch up with last year’s winner, Tony Valenti, founder and CEO of Universal Migrator, who told me that, since Startup Alley, “it’s been a very good year.”

“It definitely brings a lot of visibility,” Valenti said. “I think Startup Alley was a great benefit, and I think winning was a great benefit.”

In fact, Valenti’s company has gone from startup competitor last year to diamond sponsor this year, the highest level of TECHSHOW sponsorship.

Given that I organize and moderate Startup Alley, this is music to my ears. But I am not so naive as to believe that winning Startup Alley, alone, can lead to success. You need a product that solves a problem and does it well.

Facilitating Data Migrations

The problem Universal Migrator solves is data migration for law firms and legal organizations — most often from one law practice management platform to another or one document management system to another. It enables migrations from more than 100 sources, with new ones added almost every week.

Tony Valenti

“Data migrations in legal tech have traditionally really sucked,” Valenti said. “The problem with data migrations, generally speaking, is that a lot of people traditionally have tried to use CSV files to move data around. That just doesn’t work the way that Universal Migrator moves data.

“We make it really easy to pull data out of different systems and then push it into different systems, so projects that traditionally would have taken a human maybe seven or 14 days to do are now like two-hour projects.”

To be clear, that two hours is human time — the time it takes to set up and configure the migration. The actual time required to migrate all of a firm’s data varies depending on the firm and its systems, but averages 24 hours.

Even then, Universal Migrator moves recent data and documents first, so a firm can begin working in its new system even as older data is still being migrated, Valenti says.

Seeking System Alignment

One reason Universal Migrator has seen so much growth over the past year, Valenti believes, is that firms are more frequently changing practice management platforms to find one that best aligns with their business and areas of law.

Among practice management systems, there is no real “secret sauce” that distinguishes them, he says.

“If you look at pretty much all of the practice management systems, they are all selling the same ketchup,” he says. “Some of them have ketchup made from natural tomatoes, some from hothouse tomatoes, but it’s all the same ketchup.”

But what does differ is the platform and the user interface. “So you might have a firm that’s using brand number one and they find that brand number two better aligns with their business and the area of law that they practice.”

When that happens, he says, “Universal Migrator makes what used to be a very laborious, time-consuming and risky process of migrating from one platform to another a lot quicker and a lot less risky.”

When Universal Migrator competed in Startup Alley last year, it could pull data from 65 sources. It is now at over 100 and continuing to add more based on customer requests. The company supports over 200 data migrations a month, Valenti says.

Implemented through Consultants

While Universal Migrator has facilitated migrations for law firms and legal organizations from small to large, the primary channel for it to sell its products is not directly to law firms, but through the legal technology consultants and IT consulting firms that work directly with law firms to move them to new systems.

“A lot of law firms come directly to us, but we want to be a channel business,” Valenti says. “We want to be supporting everybody else’s projects and having more projects go to our partners.”

The company also has relationships directly with some practice management companies whose internal migration departments use Universal Migrator to facilitate migrations into their platforms, Valenti told me.

One thing Universal Migrator does not do is make recommendations about practice management or document management platforms.

“Sometimes law firms will ask us, ‘Who do you recommend?’ And I tell them, ‘We don’t recommend anybody, we recommend that you do your own research and you pick the company that best aligns with where you want to go and then we’ll take you there.”

While Universal Migrator will not recommend platforms, it does try to provide unbiased information on exactly what data can be migrated between platforms. Salespeople for practice management companies may not always be well informed or up to data on what data can be migrated from one platform to another, but Universal Migrator can provide this information, Valenti says.

In fact, for many products, its website lists what data can be migrated and which platforms it can migrate that data into.

Valenti also urges law firms to be cautious about signing up-front, long-term deals with practice management companies.

“Whoever you’re signing up with, go month to month until you’re on their platform, using their platform, and you love their platform. Once you love their platform, then have the conversation about moving to a yearly or tri-annual contract.

“But don’t do it up front — don’t get married until you’ve been on a few good dates.”

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.