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Athena Fan: Path of a Legal Tech Entrepreneur

By February 28, 2019 73 Comments

At thirteen years old, after immigrating to Silicon Valley with my family, I realized that I needed a part-time job to help my family’s finances. So when my middle school started hiring tutors for the after school program, I jumped at the chance to work. It was wonderful to use my brain to earn money and help ease my family’s financial burden. With each challenge from that point on, I leveraged the tools and skills I had to my best advantage. My journey is a story of grit, passion, and following your heart.

 

Learning Grit as A Generation 1.5 Immigrant:

 

My experiences are familiar for many Asian immigrants in the USA. After immigrating to the USA, my parents who were white collar professionals in China had to restart their careers and find their footing in this country. They struggled to figure out the dos and don’ts of this country. We were on survival mode for a good nine years before they were finally able to purchase a house in Silicon Valley. Figure it out, that’s what my parents always told me. So I did at every step of my growth.  

 

Due to financial restraints, I hacked college by going to a high school program that allowed students to take college credit courses and got as many grants I could. As a result of my efforts, I graduated one year early from undergrad with minimal debt.

 

Growing up, I witnessed my family’s attempt to navigate the legal civil system. We had several landlord tenant problems in the struggle years. There was one landlord who refused to refund a deposit knowing we didn’t know the legal rules. There was another landlord who refused to fix amenities and caused major inconvenience.

As recent immigrants, my family didn’t know where to go for help. Access to justice was an issue, along with financial restraints to afford legal help to fight the injustice. This type of struggle was not only unique to immigrants of all class backgrounds, but also to low-income Americans and middle class Americans.

 

Passion in Public Interest:

 

My passion in public interest law stemmed from my passion to improve my community and my own family’s experiences. After graduating from University of California San Diego, I returned to Silicon Valley to work. In my free time,

I volunteered at the Asian Law Alliance’s immigration clinic. This non-profit organization was started by Santa Clara University Law Alums to provide critical legal services to underserved low-income population in South Bay Area. In addition, I volunteered at the International Rescue Committee’s San Jose branch, where I helped refugees re-adjust to USA life (apply for jobs, find apartments, etc.) These experiences inspired me to pursuit law school and opened my mind to important work that needs to be done to bridge the access to justice gap.

 

Sales and Business Development Experiences:

 

While I volunteered at above mentioned organizations, I worked in sales and business development for various technology companies in Silicon Valley before law school. I was fortunate to have leadership who encouraged learning programming and professional self-improvement. I am thankful for going beyond my comfort zone to learn programming taught me more advanced problem solving skills. In addition, these experiences expanded my sales skills. I encourage everyone to do at least one sales job or business development job in their professional life to hone the necessary speaking skills. It is empowering to feel great about talking to anyone in any business setting.

 

Path to Legal Tech:

 

After working several years in Silicon Valley and volunteering at public interest focused organizations, I started law school at American University Washington College of Law in Washington, DC. In law school, I focused on software patent litigation and civil litigation. Upon receiving my Juris Doctor degree, I wanted to combine my experiences, tech, and public interest law to help people. This passion led me to become an inaugural NextGen fellow with the ABA Center for Innovation. This year-long fellowship enabled me to further hone my public speaking and technical skills. I was able to gain more Python programming skills and became familiar with various AI chatbot methods through my fellowship project.

 

Path to Entrepreneurship:

 

After this fellowship, I decided to start Bite Size Legal to help close the access-to-justice gap for low-income and middle-income people. I believe that everyone should have access to legal information and legal help. Access to resources and language comprehension shouldn’t be barriers for people.

 

My company is a business-to-consumer company that empowers consumers to self-help civil legal issues through freemium and premium services. Our first product launch is https://rentips.io – a web-platform focused on housing rental issues. Users can access through Google Assistant by asking to “Talk to rent tips.” or access via the website. We combine the power of community, natural language processing, and internet to empower renters to self-help legal issues. Why community? Because as people, we like to get advice through friends and people who have been through similar situations. Why natural language processing? It is time for legal information and legal terms to be accessible to the everyday person. We want to make the conversation similar to getting helpful tips from a friend.

 

Since Bite Size Legal was initiated at Techstars’ Startup Weekend in May 2018, we were fortunate to go through Founder Gym, which is the first online program that trains underrepresented founders on how to raise money to scale their tech startups. Then in October 2018, we gained valuable startup advice being a part of Y-Combinator’s Startup School.

 

We are actively raising a pre-seed round and would love to connect with investors, and pitch opportunities. We are also looking for business partners in the housing rental industry.

 

At the end of the day, I encourage you to ask these questions:

 

  1. Is what I am doing a meaningful combination of my skills?
  2. Is what I am doing making my heart happy?
  3. Is what I am doing helping people?

 

Hopefully, your answers approach yes.

 

I think about my thirteen year old self, and realize how far I have come. As founder of Bite Size Legal, I am thankful for challenges that taught me grit.  

 

Thank you for reading my story. You can reach me on Twitter @AthenaFanLT, or email: athena@bitesizelegal.biz.

Athena Fan is founder of Bite Size Legal, Inc. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from University of California San Diego, and Juris Doctor from American University Washington College of Law. She’s also on the advisory board of the Next Gen Leadership: Advancing Lawyers of Color initiative. She programs in Python and Javascript. She is a lifelong student, foodie, painter, and slow travel enthusiast.

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