Alex Shahrestani is a startup-tech nerd trapped in an attorney’s body. He serves as Vice President of EFF-Austin, CLE Program Coordinator for SXSW, is a leadership member of the Computer & Technology Section of the State Bar, a leadership member of Texas Exes Young Alumni-Austin, and the Founder of the Journal of Law and Technology at Texas. His practice focuses on startup and small business issues and he provides subscription services for his clients. You can find out more about him and how he uses his CS background to inform his practice at promiselegalpllc.com.
How would you describe your job and what do you love most about it?
My job is to challenge inefficiencies in the practice of law by partnering domain knowledge with sophisticated automation. The thing I love most is that I get to carve away at repetitive tasks over a long period of time; basically, I get to repeatedly push turnaround times for legal work products to new milestones, and it’s great to see times get cut in half over and over again.
What drew you to and how did you arrive at your current role?
I knew I wanted to be a technology attorney well before attending law school. I had suffered some of the consequences of the 2008 recession and I wanted to future-proof myself. I took up programming courses at my school in an effort to learn the law, but I ended up loving programming!
How has mentorship played a part in your personal and professional?
My mentors have inspired me to always be free with my giving. As a law student, I remember feeling that reaching out to successful attorneys was a longshot, but time after time, those who I reached out to would set aside time to meet with me, and they maintained those relationships with me long after first meeting each other. It made the concept of success seem less out of reach and helped me to plot a course for my career. Now, I happily pay it forward to the next generation of young attorneys.
What has been the most valuable piece of advice given to you, and the least useful?
The most valuable piece of advice has probably been “you can do it.” The legal profession leans towards risk-avoidance, so bouncing ideas, hopes, and goals off of others tends, as a rule, to lead to a negative reaction. The least useful advice ties in nicely as a counterpoint. I remember telling people that I wanted to start my own firm working in technology law, and I was always hearing that I’d be better off if I did X first—”X” being whatever that particular person had done as the first step in their career. Recognizing that pattern has helped me to separate thoughtful advice from a simply-stated option, and it has really driven home the “you can do it” mantra. I think working in tech, and particularly with startups, has validated this line of thinking for me. Half of potential clients who walk in the door want me to do for their startup whatever their successful friend had done for theirs, whether or not that is the right decision.
Is there something that you do in your personal life and community (outside of the office and work) that you think contributes in some way to your professional success?
It has got to be my love of programming and my interest in new things. I never stopped tinkering with code, and it has gotten to the point where my coding skills are professionally informing my approach to the practice of law, as well as my understanding of the practice area.
How do you think employers, organizations, and communities can increase diversity and support diverse professionals, specifically in the legal tech world?
One thing, to me, that indicates lip-service is being paid to diversity rather than a sincere effort, is when statements committing to supporting diverse candidates and stakeholders are overly sanitized. There is a time and a place for precise, legal communications, and there is a time to let words and works speak for themselves. Don’t be afraid to put your support of diverse candidates plainly.