Co-founder of HighQA&O: 1998-2000
Veenay qualified as a lawyer in 1997 and has an LLB honours from the University of Manchester. He worked as a Banking lawyer at A&O and Denton Wilde Sapte, where he gained extensive experience in legal deal making and transaction execution. Veenay co-founded HighQ in 2001.
Veenay joined A&O’s Banking department in 1998. He left two years later to join DealComposer, an online capital raising company, as in-house counsel, before launching his own company, HighQ. His ‘inside’ experience of deals was invaluable in helping build his company into a leading supplier of cloud-based enterprise collaboration software.
I worked on aircraft and shipping finance deals at A&O. It was hard work, with long hours and many all-nighters, but I learned a lot and enjoyed my time there. The deals were exciting, and I had responsibility from early on. I mostly worked with Julia Salt, Mario Jacovides and Ian Annetts. Fortunately, there was time for relaxation too, when I played golf with partners and colleagues, including Mario, Richard Satchwell and Davide Mencacci. I also helped organise a few corporate golf days, which was fun.
Being a lawyer, either in-house or as a partner, wasn’t my long-term goal. I’d always wanted to start my own company, and that ambition stayed with me throughout my time as a lawyer. When I left A&O I joined DealComposer. It was 2000 and the peak of the dotcom bubble. DealComposer was designed to guide companies through funding processes, including regulatory and due diligence.
I joined as their in-house counsel, but also worked on business development. It was an interesting time and, although ultimately the business didn’t succeed, it taught me a lot about running a start-up.
When I left DealComposer, I co-founded HighQ with my best friend from university, Ajay Patel. HighQ supplies cloud-based enterprise collaboration software. It provides secure project and client collaboration to some of the world’s leading law firms, investment banks and corporations to drive digital transformation, innovation and client engagement.
At the time I left A&O, David Morley was leading the development of A&O’s in-house ‘virtual deal room’. Several law firms were doing the same, but it was expensive to develop, and difficult to maintain and enhance due to competing internal IT projects. Ajay and I also realised early on that not all law firms would have the resources to develop in-house systems. So we decided to start HighQ.
The plan was to build the best file-sharing software and license it as a hosted solution to the legal industry. The idea was further reinforced by the fact that it was important for lawyers and their clients to have an industry standard to minimise any learning curve. This solution had the benefit of law firms avoiding putting resources into developing in-house products.
During this time, I made contact with Marc-Henri Chamay, who joined A&O after I left. At that time, he worked on technology solutions for A&O and was interested in and supportive of our product development. It was helpful to have someone to talk through ideas with in those early days. He also put me in touch with people in similar positions at other law firms, and between them these contacts were instrumental in defining a product that would work best for lawyers and their clients.
I was also indebted to Mark Dibble, who took the time to understand the solutions we were trying to build. Mark also joined A&O after I had left. He was head of Digital and Online Services, and his feedback on how we could make improvements to our product was invaluable.
“The most useful products will be those that automate the more document heavy and mundane tasks, such as due diligence. Law firms will be cautious about embracing those products, but they are undoubtedly going to affect how lawyers work.”
Amid the rush of adrenaline working on deals, I still found time to think about how lawyers function in a high-pressure environment. I started considering ways in which the delivery of legal services could be streamlined to benefit both clients and law firms. My experience at A&O helped me transform the kernel of an idea into a product. Knowing how to build the right product only came from being able to work on the inside and have a close understanding of how deals work and how the parties on each side need to communicate and collaborate.
The biggest challenge was to win our first major client. The legal industry was not used to hosted solutions at the time. The initial hurdle was to make law firms comfortable with their client data being hosted outside their firewall. Once we had a few well known clients, others could see that the product and hosted service was robust and reliable, and they soon followed.
The next challenge was growing and managing the company, through hiring high-quality staff. Maintaining standards and customer service as you grow is important, and you need your staff to show the same level of passion and commitment that you would. We’ve been very lucky with the people we have hired, both in India, where most of our development is done, and here in London. We’ve looked after them well and they’ve remained loyal to us.
Technology is a fast-moving environment, and far more complex than it used to be. This can be daunting for law firms. The development of AI will be interesting, but the most useful products will be those that automate the more document-heavy and mundane tasks, such as due diligence. Law firms will be cautious about embracing those products, but they are undoubtedly going to affect how lawyers work.
Lawyers, legal secretaries and paralegals have traditionally had to manage huge amounts of paperwork which can be difficult to keep track of, making the job time-consuming and confusing. I can remember falling over piles of paper in my office, twisting my ankle, and spending a few weeks on crutches! Email has made a huge difference to effective and speedy communication, as does having a secure workspace online. This has enabled lawyers to send large files to relevant parties quickly, to give the right access to the right people, keep things secure and work far more efficiently. Time is freed up to work on the important aspects of a deal, rather than on the more paper-heavy administrative work.
In January 2016, HighQ raised its first-ever investment round of USD50m from Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and One Peak Partners, to help accelerate the company’s expansion into the U.S. market. I decided this would be a good time to take a step back and pursue different adventures. I am, however, as confident as always in the products that HighQ brings to market and the management team that runs it. I’m still an investor in the company and plan to remain so for the foreseeable future.
I joined A&O in the summer, and in the first month I was working on an aircraft finance transaction with Julia Salt. By Christmas that year, I was working long hours, taking trips to Europe and working late nights until the transaction completed. Julia took the time to tell David Morley about my work. Given how new I was, I felt that was a good start. Such positive feedback gave me great confidence.
I’m leaving my options open and just enjoying the time with my children. Starting another business venture is always a possibility. I’ve made various investments and spent time passing on the benefit of my experience at HighQ to several new business owners.
When I was at HighQ, I went to many meetings across A&O’s network of offices, so I felt constantly in touch with my old friends and colleagues, and it was great to have them as clients. Ben Fox joined A&O just after I did. We’re good friends and he’s a now a partner in A&O’s Amsterdam office. I’m still good friends with Marc-Henri, who is now CEO of aosphere. I’m also in regular contact with Mark Dibble, who left A&O in July 2017 to join HighQ as Director of Legal Innovation.
Over the years we’ve recruited several people from law firms, including A&O, to work for us in various roles, including sales and consulting, so it’s always good to keep in touch through the Alumni Network. I attend the annual alumni reunions in London and always enjoy reading the Alumni Yearbook to find out what old colleagues have been up to.
Reconnect with Veenay Shah via the Alumni Network at allenovery.com/alumni