Artwork by Kelly Ye

George Psiharis graduated from UBC with an MBA in 2009 after previously completing an undergraduate degree there in Political Science and History. Upon graduating, he immediately began his career at Clio, joining the now legendary company in its earliest days. Clio is the leader in cloud-based legal practice management and client intake software. This year, Clio was selected to Fast Company’s prestigious list of the Most Innovative Companies for broadening access to justice amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and was named Third on Elpha’s Top 10 Workplaces for Women. Most recently, it announced a new valuation of USD $1.6 billion after raising US $110M in its Series E. This valuation is a historic moment in the growth of legal technology, with Clio becoming the first legal practice management unicorn globally and one of six Canadian unicorns.

George oversaw Business Development, Partnership, and Business Operations before finally becoming Chief Operating Officer, playing an instrumental role throughout Clio’s 11 year journey. He had a front-row seat in witnessing the massive technological and cultural changes in the legal industry over the past decade — most of which have only been accelerated by COVID-19. In 2020, George began using the unique perspective he had gained at Clio to serve as an Industry Advisor to an Access to Justice B.C. Working Group on Transforming the Family Justice System.

How did you get involved with Clio?

During my undergraduate years at UBC, I initially thought I wanted to become a lawyer. But after completing my undergrad, I had a change of heart and realized I had a calling for business. I wanted to stay in Vancouver and I was determined to invest in a skill set that would be transferable to a variety of areas. So I decided to do my MBA in a part-time program at UBC Sauder. While I was there, I met Rian Gavreau. We started working together because we had been assigned to the same project group, but we quickly became friends and began working together by choice and connecting outside of coursework. 

We were both passionate about startups and starting new enterprises. It got to the point that we had thought up dozens of ideas for new ventures together, most of which were awful, frankly. Looking back I’m glad that we didn’t decide to pursue any of them too deeply While we were doing this, Rian began working on a project that ultimately became Clio. The inspiration for Clio came from his time as an IT leader at Gowlings, one of Canada’s largest law firms. Rian went on to co-found Clio with his childhood friend and Clio CEO Jack Newton. I stayed in touch throughout this time and got formally involved in Clio shortly thereafter. I was our first go-to-market hire so to speak; this was before we had anyone in sales, marketing, business development or anything, really, so I joined the team when we were a very small and scrappy team.

Now that you have been at Clio and in the legal tech space for so long, what excites you the most about it? What do you find most meaningful about working in legal tech?

I think legal tech is just an incredible space. One of the most exciting things about it is simply the importance of it in our lives, and by working in legal tech we get to support practitioners who drive profound impact in our societiesAccording to the World Justice Project, 77% of legal problems don’t receive legal assistance; there’s a multitude of factors that contribute to this and we try to tackle as many of those as we can. One particular place we can drive impact is providing technology solutions that make it easier for law firms and the clients they serve to connect, interact and communicate - making it easier from the client’s perspective and lessening time spent on non-client facing work for lawyers. 

Yet, there’s still so much opportunity for transformation outside of that, such as designing a more inclusive and accessible legal system and judicial system. Because of the enormous opportunity and challenge, I’ve never lost my passion for working in legal tech. Despite being in the space for 10 years, I feel like we’re still just scratching the surface in terms of the impact we at Clio can have on our customers (lawyers) and their clients. 

I’ve also become more passionate in the process of connecting with individuals in the legal community. This led me to get curious and inspired about volunteering to support access to justice initiatives. That’s how I got involved in an advisory role for Access to Justice B.C. and their Family Justice Collaborative. The goal is to transform the family justice system in B.C. by focusing on achieving family well-being and preventing adverse childhood experiences. I’m honoured to be a part of this initiative alongside my role as COO at Clio. 

What role do you think Clio has played in Vancouver and Canada’s tech and legal industries? 

When Clio was first trying to secure earlier stages of investment, we had many interested investors who were passionate about the business and our mission. However, like many Canadian founded startups years ago, many were insistent that we relocate to a technology hub, with the most popular recommendations being San Francisco. However, we decided to stay in Canada.

Contrary to much of the guidance we were getting at the time, we believed that we could build a large, successful technology company and that we could broaden horizons by recruiting out of all of Western Canada to get technical talent in particular but also many other roles. In our case, this meant recruiting mostly from Alberta and British Columbia among many other places. I hope that in making that decision and finding a way to build, grow, and scale an amazing team in Canada, we inspired others, at least to the point that would create space for others to make the case that they could do it as well. We’ve been thrilled to see companies that preceded us do the same and many other companies come along afterward. If we served as any kind of inspiration or even a proof point for the latter, that would be really cool to hear, especially within the Vancouver ecosystem.

Why do you think Vancouver is poised to be a Canadian tech hub?

First, we have a great talent pool to recruit from. This group is only growing, especially with Vancouver being an internationally desirable location to live and work. Second, we have access to great support, such as industry groups and government funds or grants.

It's never been as good a time as it is now to build a startup in Vancouver. I think we've also started to see momentum around the ecosystem, where we have fresh but seasoned leaders who've built enterprises and can provide insight and advice. This group seems to become more and more world class every year.  

What are some areas that Vancouver or Canada’s innovation economy still need to develop in order to compete against other traditional tech epicenters like the Silicon Valley?

One place where we've seen great progress but I think could afford to see more is within the investment ecosystem, specifically in terms of appetite for risk. At Clio, we've worked with a lot of U.S based investors, not out of a preset preference for doing that, but largely because we tend to see the level of experience and guidance but also tolerance for risk, aggressive investments in growth and with along with both of those factors recognition through competitive valuations. It's an area where there is tons of opportunity to improve within Canada, but it likely comes as the ecosystem matures more so I think it should come along nicely and it already seems to have in some areas.  

This year Clio was recognized by Fast Company on their prestigious list of Most Innovative companies for its efforts to increase access to justice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Around the same time, Clio had just updated its mission statement. What does this all mean for Clio going forward?

We were recognized for our commitment to corporate social responsibility and being innovative, but for also being a mission-driven company. So it's fitting that we also recently announced our new mission statement. Our new mission is to transform the legal experience for all. For context, our old one was to “transform the legal experience for good”, with a double meaning on the “good” to emphasize that we wanted to transform it for the better and to do so permanently.

We changed our mission statement to reflect that we have an opportunity to make legal more inclusive, for all. It's not just about helping legal practitioners, which is very important, but it's also about making legal services more seamless and accessible to members of the public looking to connect with lawyers. It's up to the legal professionals to do great work, but it's up to us to create the technologies that make it easier and a better experience for legal professionals to do that. In turn, this empowers them to deliver a better experience to their clients.  

What is your personal philosophy of success?

It's a tough question to answer, but I'm a huge fan of a growth versus fixed mindset. Carol Dweck writes about how if we can avoid a fixed mindset and are constantly learning, growing and staying curious, regardless of what the challenges are or who the individual is, they can always be at their best. I think that's a big part of success and it's something I prescribe to. I'm also a fan of Simon Sinek’s work on the “infinite game”. It's a mindset shift to encourage business leaders to not just think about their organization winning at a finite game, but to instead position it to grow and perform infinitely, ultimately building an entity that outlasts individual careers. 


What is your advice for students who are thinking about tech entrepreneurship and having a meaningful impact?

I would encourage students to make sure that they have thorough plurality on the horizon. Essentially, possess cross-functional capability. When we go through our academic disciplines, we tend to be in diverse groups. But we can also get a bit siloed into our disciplines, like business, engineering, or computer science. Being cross-functional — meaning you work across different disciplines — is a really unique opportunity. Looking back on my early days at Clio, I got cross functional very early on, which exposed me to so much, making me curious about different areas and ultimately helping me approach problems better. I think that's the name of the game in technology, so I would encourage undergrads interested in the space to consider all the different disciplines to learn about. Especially for business students, connect with folks outside of your discipline because they might help connect you with opportunities that you can bring your business skill set to that you otherwise might not have encountered.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned at Clio?

The biggest learning lesson for me is to stay authentically mission-oriented. At Clio we talk a lot about our first value of customer success always coming first. I do think that it takes intentional effort to be that way, stay committed to those principles and to not let them slip over a longer journey. Doing those things well connects back to the infinite game mindset. Staying committed to your principles and your cultural values is super important. 

The other lesson I’ve learned is to not be afraid to be a 10 year “overnight” success story. A lot of folks I talk to worry that they’re not progressing if things aren’t happening quickly. In reality, it took almost all the amazing people I've had the chance to meet and learn from who've built incredible cultures, teams, and companies, a long time. It usually takes much more work behind the scenes than it looks like once things become highly visible to others. So don't worry if it's taking a bit longer. Most of the big success stories we see didn't happen overnight.