Nothing strikes fear into the heart of a first year law student than the thick, monotonous law textbooks that hold all the cases students will be expected to know inside and out for each class, and for an end-of-semester cumulative exam.
Usually students, armed with multicolored highlighters and pencils (in case of an error), have to categorize the different parts of a case by hand, transfer the information to a word document, or flip through the pages for an answer in class. It’s a system that Wilson Tsu, founder of LearnLeo, found unsustainable after an exhausting first semester in the JD/MBA program at Northwestern.
With that in mind, Tsu launched LearnLeo, an online platform that allows law students to categorize case information, and organize briefs and outlines with the click of a button. He estimates it will save law students on average ten hours of work per week.
Launched in 2012, LearnLeo has since expanded to include two more products, a pre-law prep program and a careers option. The company now works with over 4,400 students at the top 20 law schools in the country, and has been incubating with venture capital firm Founder Equity since last fall. Now LearnLeo is gearing up to launch an iPad app, and aims to be in a quarter of all law schools by the end of the year.
The problem with current studying methods said Tsu, a 2008 Northwestern law grad who previously worked as a project manager at IBM and lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis, is students get caught up in the day-to-day grind of organizing notes and compiling information.
“There’s not enough time to digest everything, synthesize it,” he said. “There’s not a lot of urgency to prep for the final exam when you are halfway through the class. People tend to focus on the things they need to do day to day.”
With that in mind Tsu wanted to create a program that could automate the busy work, and allow students more time to understand the overall picture.
The main LearnLeo product is a tool that helps students create case briefs and outlines– a major source of course work for law students. Students are required to read a case, and distill important elements such as facts and procedures, then be able to quickly answer questions on that case if a professor or exam asks. One way students organize this information is through a case brief, which organizes the main aspects of the case, and helps students learn how to quickly distill the important parts of a given case.
The problem is that it is a time consuming process, said Tsu. With that in mind, students using LearnLeo highlight passages and choose a color that corresponds with the elements of the case. Students can then add notes about the case. When students are finished reading through and annotating the case, they can see their notes in “brief” or “outline” view, which distills information into an easy-to-read, and printable, document.
For supported schools– right now the top 20 law schools in the US– cases are organized by class and syllabus. Unsupported law school students (schools that aren’t officially partnered with LearnLeo), still have access to 13,000 cases the LearnLeo library.
A second product is geared at pre-law students, with the goal of helping students get a leg up on the legal education terminology before their first year. Otherwise, they can be caught pulling double duty. “Students have to learn to be law students while learning law,” said Tsu.
With this in mind, the pre-law course shows the case elements as a student is reading in order to familiarize students with how a case brief might be set up. Then students go through quizzes that test their knowledge of the case and the elements (and familiarizing themselves with the LearnLeo platform).
So LearnLeo might help students make it through the academic rigor of law school, but what about when they leave? The legal industry has shrunk since the recession, though a law job is still a lucrative endeavor. With that in mind, LearnLeo launched a career planning platform (currently only available for top 20 law schools). “We found students were Googling a bunch of stuff when there are actually some really
specific things you should look for [in a law firm],” said Tsu.
Most students at top 20 law schools will find a job at a prestigious firm through On Campus Interviews (OCIs), where they have to rank their top choices for interviews and a computer system chooses who gets interviewed if there aren’t enough interview spots compared to the demand. LearnLeo’s platform aggregates key information about a law firm (including their GPA cut off and alumni working at that firm) and offers students the opportunity to get virtually introduced to a law firm outside of the interview process.
That’s also how LearnLeo aims make revenue. The platform is free for law students (a practice Tsu hopes to adhere to given his memories of pinching pennies in law school), so LearnLeo sells sponsorships to law firms hoping to get talented law grads’ eyes on their brand through the platform.
Next steps include launching their iPad app (set to hit the app store before school starts) and an ambitious goal of expanding to a quarter of all law schools in the country (there are 203 accredited by the American Bar Association).
The platform was developed by Tsu and his team, most of whom are Chicago law school and law firm graduates (including five Northwestern law grads, and a UChicago and DePaul law grad). Most recently LearnLeo got a $3 million investment from Founder Equity, a boutique venture capital firm that focuses on incubating businesses likely to get acquired by a larger company, a connection he made through development services at venture capitalist Joe Dwyer’s Digital Intent (Tsu and Dwyer attended Northwestern’s JD/MBA program at the same time).
“I like [Founder Equity’s] philosophy, I thought it was a lot more realistic,” said Tsu. “It fit the profile of my company.”