In 2014, as co-founder of a legal technology startup, PacerPro, Anna McGrane ’10 wanted to better understand the new company’s intended market, large law firms. She found an important resource in the NYU Law Jacobson Leadership Program in Law and Business. “When I first started, I was trying to get my head around what it meant to be a legal tech company within Big Law,” says McGrane, who had been a Jacobson Scholar. “So I talked to Helen [Scott] and Gerry [Rosenfeld], from the Jacobson Program, and they just connected me with so many resources,” she says, noting that a connection from NYU Stern helped her to understand how law firms work as a corporate structure and a business model. “Something that as an associate, you never think about,” she adds.
Today McGrane is co-founder and chief operating officer at PacerPro, a workflow automation platform that integrates publicly available federal court data into knowledge systems used in many Big Law firms. According to the company, its technology is used in just under 50 percent of the Am Law 100, the highest-grossing Big Law firms in the United States. Meanwhile, McGrane has helped grow the NYU Law networks that originally helped her, by co-founding the NYU Law & Tech group, which brings together faculty, alumni, students, and other leading voices in the law and technology space.
A sense of connection was part of her decision to attend NYU Law in the first place, she says. “I had gone through the application process and was trying to decide between schools…so I reached out to a friend who was an 1L. [She said:] ‘What’s really different about NYU is the community—I’d choose the school 10,000 times over,’” McGrane says. “And she was right. It’s one of the most collaborative, innovative environments I’ve ever been in.”
At the Law School, McGrane participated in the Jacobson Program, worked at a family law non-profit, and was a staff editor on the NYU Journal of Environmental Law. She was also enrolled in NYU Law’s joint LLM program with Peking University School of Law. After graduation, she took a position as a corporate and capital markets associate in Herbert Smith Freehills’s Moscow office.
Her path to PacerPro began when her brother Gavin, a California litigator, would call at night, talking about a tech start-up he was working on that would optimize public access to court electronic records (PACER) technology. PACER, an electronic system that digitizes access to case and docket information in the United States, has a wealth of information—“essentially every federal court filing since 2005,” McGrane says. “But the interface and a paywall prevent users from easy access and inhibit many of the types of analytics that would be standard fare in other verticals,” she says. PacerPro aimed to address these challenges. While McGrane was visiting her family on holiday in 2014, her brother asked her to help run a sales booth at an industry conference.
“I’ve never been much of a tech person, but when I talked to users at the conference, and understood how transformative they found this service—well, I just couldn’t leave,” says McGrane. She joined first as a vice president of sales, cold calling and running demos. As the company grew, she took on the role of COO.
Her experience at PacerPro led McGrane to help found NYU Law & Tech in 2018. Co-founded by Christian Lang ’10, the group hosts talks, Q&As, and other networking events that connect students, alumni, NYU faculty, and members of the legal technology space to share expertise and build support.
“This is a such a new space—and it’s changing so rapidly and impacting all of us—firms, clients, nonprofits, even our institutions,” she explains. “On the vendor side, we have to stay focused on sales. But you know that these technologies are doing a lot more than cutting costs—they have profound normative and practical implications, and the rate of change is accelerating exponentially. I mean, you just have to look at healthtech and fintech to understand the scale of the opportunity. There needed to be a space where people could think about these bigger questions - and NYU, with so many diverse experts, and a history of combining academia and business leadership, seemed like the perfect fit.” McGrane and Lang are currently working with NYU Law’s Engelberg Center on Innovation Law & Policy on issues raised by the challenges of networking remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Anna is a dynamic leader in the technology space,” says Adrian Davis ‘01, chief attorney development and knowledge officer at Latham & Watkins, who first connected with McGrane when his firm began using PacerPro. He later participated in a NYU Law & Tech panel event that McGrane moderated. “She’s an entrepreneur and she’s also a thought leader. She is concerned with what legal technology portends about the future and what issues that impact society as a whole,” he says. “I think we are all looking forward to what she will do next.”
“PacerPro has another five or ten years of growth. There’s just so much more work that can be done.” McGrane says of her future plans. “But eventually, I want to work on environmental issues. I wanted the JD because I saw it as a tool that would help me solve problems, and for me, environmental issues are some of the most important facing us as a society.”
“Every time you have a success, you get a little bit of a louder voice for the next issue you take on,” she adds, “and I’m excited to look out and decide what that next thing will be.”
Posted September 29, 2021.