AltLegal Case

AltLegal

2018

Intro

Intellectual Property Software is a growing market. Research shows it’s growing steadily and the US alone holds 30% of the market share regarding these softwares. There, in NY, Alt Legal started a bold mission: to bring IP docketing firms in the US to a new age. Differentiating their platforms from the others focusing on automation, simplicity and collaboration, they grew and got several high-profile clients. Growth always has its challenges and AltLegal struggled to keep delivering new features, while maintaining support and keeping the code base clean and tested. That’s when they reached-out to Vinta.

Diagnostic

We’ve been with Alt Legal for over two years now. AltLegal’s CEO, Nehal Madhani, first approached us to help deliver new features, increase code quality and reduce the bug count. However, we always start a project with a thorough inspection of the code base we’ll be working on. That helps a lot by clarifying which code needs refactoring and how the architecture is structured. During the inspection, we realized it’d take longer to improve everything than it’d be to create a whole new platform from scratch. 

As this decision would influence different parts of the business. We called for a meeting to explain all the tradeoffs involved. This meant maintaining two platforms and working progressively in a migration process. Nevertheless, the benefits in quality and freedom to explore the user’s needs were worth it. AltLegal’s team agreed, and we began iterating over what needed to be done.

Iterations

From our experience, we know a confusing user-experience generally leads to complex and nested code. So efforts in a better user behavior understanding are essential to delivering better code. During the first sprints, we realized that some assumptions about user behaviors needed to be checked and that could bring lots of changes for the new version of the product. Usually, to do that we look for the support team of the product. They have closer contact with the users and knows about their struggles. We created a board so everything that was brought by the users could be addressed and scrutinized by everyone. After initial studies, we categorized our design backlog by criticality — the ones which demanded an immediate effort and the ones that could wait. The primary goal of the redesign was to clear the way, made collaboration easier and streamline a bunch of tedious activities. We also understood what features the users expected to be fully automated and which worked better in a more manual context.

    While that was being discussed and the new UI is being prepared for development, we were focusing development effort in making the automation and USPTO imports more smooth and quick. This implementation was proved particularly challenging. Mainly, because of the enormous amounts of data that the system needed to process and store cyclically. The database is about 3TB big, filled with patents and trademarks from all over the US, each structured in the specific way the state where it was filed demands. That required us to de-duplicate vast chunks of data and do it in a way to avoid hindering the use of the software.

    When the new system was ready to start receiving the first firms, we developed a process that would speed up the migration of old users, while also making sure no mistakes occurred. It was essential to align with them what clients were to be migrated first and at what pace the migrations needed to happen.

The whole new system is built using Django, React and Postgres. We also rely a lot on community-validated open-source APIs and third-party software services. Based on our learnings on this project, we were also able to generate fantastic tech talks! Flávio Juvenal, one of our founders, gave tech talks about normalization and deduplication, both in meaningful events like PyconUS and Djangocon US.


Branching to the Business

After stabilized the migration process, we started discussing with the team which in AltLegal’s daily operation could be improved and parallelized with new feature developments. Their first idea was to develop automation that would help the CEO demonstrate and sell the system for potential clients.

    He further mentioned that his home-page could use improvements in conversion. We used this opportunity to increase their SEO, change the design to a mobile-first approach and added a monitor tool for heat mapping. So we could take advantage of user data to guide future design decisions. 

    To build a homepage like that can’t be done without a solid understanding of the sales process and the user persona of the client. Generally, opinions diverge on those two fronts, and different assumptions would sometimes hinder development and UX studies. The problem with assumptions is that unless you acknowledge them and test whether or not they are correct, they generate endless debates. Our initial study iterations allowed us to refine the process of discussion as a team. It has been used ever since and is one of the reasons we've been able to help AltLegal bring IP docket firms to a new age of seamless collaboration and automation.
 

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