Meet The Disruptors: Kiwi Camara of ‘DISCO’ On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

Jason Hartman
Dec 8, 2020 · 12 min read

“You can afford to be nice.” I heard this from an old law school friend who was making the point that the most successful people are often the most pleasant to deal with because, literally, they can afford to be nice. Squeezing the last drop out of a deal isn’t a sign that you’re successful; it’s often the opposite.

a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kiwi Camara, DISCO founder and chief executive officer.

Kiwi Camara founded DISCO in 2013 with a vision to help legal professionals deliver the highest quality of services more efficiently through technology that enables lawyers to focus on the practice of law. Bringing together great engineering and a deep understanding of what lawyers do and how they work, Camara has led DISCO to become one of the largest and best-funded enterprise legal technology companies today.

Camara earned his J.D. at age 19 from Harvard Law School, clerked for Judge Harris Hartz of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, was a Ph.D. student in economics at Stanford, taught corporate law at Northwestern, and was a founding partner of Camara & Sibley LLP in Houston.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

am from the Philippines originally. My family moved to the United States when I was a child, and I grew up in Ohio and Hawaii.

I was fascinated by computers. I got my start on an Apple II in the ’80s. I learned to program in the ’90s when the Internet came into its own. And when I went to college in 1998, I decided to major in computer science and math. I was really interested in artificial intelligence.

As a junior in college, I had to fill a political science requirement. I took a constitutional law course taught by Professor Sandy Muir, who was visiting from Berkeley. He used the law school Socratic method, with every class focused on discussing and debating one or two Supreme Court cases. I loved it. The idea that the biggest issues in a society could be resolved through reasoned argument — and not through violence, or business, or politics, or tradition, or any of the innumerable other alternatives to the rule of law — was amazing to me.

I had been planning to go to graduate school in computer science, or maybe take a job with IBM, but Professor Muir convinced me to apply to law school too. I decided to try law school, and I loved it. Being a lawyer seemed a lot like being a software engineer, but working with systems of people instead of systems of bits.

One of my mentors in law school was Professor Lucian Bebchuk. He got me interested in academia and so I pursued that after graduation and taught for a while. But ultimately, I decided to “sell out” and be a real lawyer.

I started a law firm with my best friend from law school. We grew that practice and built the first version of DISCO’s ediscovery platform as an internal tool at our firm. In 2013, we spun it off and, eventually, I made the decision to give up my practice and pursue DISCO and legal technology full time.

I feel lucky that I get to combine my original passion for computer science with my later passion for the law. And my story is very much an example of how a series of lucky accidents can lead to an unexpected career. If I hadn’t taken that class from Professor Muir, I wouldn’t be at DISCO today.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Lawsuits and legal investigations often require lawyers to pore through their clients’ documents and emails to figure out what happened — to determine what the facts are.

In a case about a chemical spill, for example, lawyers might dive through records of what chemicals were brought to a facility, what maintenance was done, whether any soil testing was conducted, internal incident reports, and so on. A patent infringement case might involve emails, schematics, and lab notebooks showing how an allegedly infringing product was designed as well as invoices and contracts to see how much of that product was sold.

Lawsuits can involve millions, tens of millions, or even hundreds of millions of documents. Junior litigators spend months or years on these document-review projects. And clients spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars just to have their documents reviewed. To me, this was an obvious opportunity for disruption: to use technology to help lawyers find evidence faster.

DISCO’s solutions make this process dramatically faster: 30–50% faster. As a result, instead of spending hours or days scanning through PDFs and other digital files, lawyers can spend their time on case strategy and actually using the skills they learned in law school.

By using artificial intelligence and creating consumer-friendly user experiences, DISCO is transforming how lawyers find evidence: replacing laborious manual review with an AI-powered solution that finds the evidence in a fraction of the time. Our solutions work much like Netflix: as you watch and rate movies, Netflix learns what movies you like and pushes them to the top. DISCO does the same thing for evidence.

Today, DISCO is being used in some of the most important litigation in the world, including litigation over the 737 MAX defects, the opioids epidemic, and the coronavirus response. We help lawyers quickly and easily find the truth, and improve legal outcomes for their clients.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ve never been a salesperson and I was afraid of sales when I started.

I tried to outsource sales to another company. We signed them up for a 12-week trial, with an option to cancel 6 weeks in. It was obvious almost immediately that this was not going to be a success. But their founder called me as we hit the 6-week mark and he was such a good salesperson that he somehow convinced me to renew anyway! We spent a lot of money — especially in relation to our size at the time — on this failed experiment.

I learned the hard way that you can’t outsource sales. I also learned that in business it works best to run toward the fire. Spend your time looking for parts of the business that are broken and learn how to fix them. Only then can you hire people to scale out what you’ve learned.

(This is why being a startup founder is so hard — you’re running from disaster to disaster, especially in the first few years. But it does get better!)

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Charles Nesson is the smartest person I’ve ever met. He was one of my professors in law school and has been my friend and mentor ever since. He taught Torts and Evidence and the American Jury, but it didn’t really matter what class you took from him because what he really taught was the power of questions and narrative. You can see Charlie in action here.

One of his first lessons was about the Necker cube, a cube you can see in two ways. He would say, level one is asking which way you see the cube; level two is being able to switch between the two ways of seeing it; and level three lawyering is seeing the cube both ways at the same time. He delivered his lessons in stories like this, stories that stick with you long after lectures fade.

Judge Harris Hartz, the judge I clerked for after law school, is another of my mentors. There is a strain of thought in legal academia called “legal realism” that suggests that law is best understood by looking at the political underpinnings of decisions, that judges are political actors rather than faithful servants of the rule of law. Working for Judge Hartz convinced me that, for most judges, nothing could be further from the truth.

Judge Hartz read every precedent, analyzed every litigant’s argument with care, and ultimately decided every case according to the law. I have never met anyone so fair-minded or hard-working, anyone who so lived up to the ideal of what a judge should be.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

This is a big topic, but let me sketch an answer.

The secret of the free market is that we don’t rely on any authority to tell us which disruptions are good and which ones are bad: we let people decide for themselves.

When a company introduces a new product that disrupts an existing industry — as Apple disrupted the music industry with the iPod and iTunes or Amazon disrupted the retail industry with ecommerce and next-day delivery — that disruption comes about because people prefer the new product. Disruption may harm competitors, but it leaves consumers better off; and, in a free market, the company leading today’s disruption can be disrupted in turn.

This kind of disruption is generally good and is why disruptive has become a positive adjective. Free markets drive companies and entrepreneurs to innovate in ways that leave consumers better off.

But this can go wrong in a couple of ways.

First, the value created by innovations like these can be divided among a company’s stakeholders in ways that are unfair. When a company’s innovation creates value, that value is divided between the company’s stakeholders according to their bargaining power: some of it becomes increased wages for employees, increased tax revenues for governments, lower prices for consumers, increased profits for shareholders, and so on. If the bargaining power of these groups is grossly out of balance, the resulting division of value can be very unfair. Maybe shareholder profits soar, but employee wages or job security collapse because of an innovation that automates jobs.

Second, an exchange that benefits both the company and the consumer might harm third parties. Maybe a new manufacturing method results in cheaper, higher quality products, but harms the environment. A company is happy to use the new manufacturing method and consumers are happy to buy the superior products, but residents living near the company’s manufacturing facilities suffer from pollution and contamination.

Unchecked, imbalances in bargaining power or third-party costs can result in bad disruption, disruption that leaves us, on balance, worse off. Disruption that is the result of free market competition is generally good — but that general principle is subject to scrutiny of how the value created by that competition is divided and whether the participants in the free market are bearing the true cost of their innovation.

Laws like our antitrust laws are meant to preserve free market competition; laws like our labor laws are meant to ensure decent bargaining power and therefore decent shares of value for stakeholders like employees; and laws like our environmental regulations or tort liability are meant to ensure companies consider the costs they impose on third parties.

The economic and social system created by these bodies of law acting in concert is one in which the free choices of individuals lead to the good kind of disruption: disruption that leaves the world better off. The genius of a liberal system like this is the idea that fair rules and free choice do a better job at getting to good outcomes than any central decision maker ever has or ever could.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“You can afford to be nice.” I heard this from an old law school friend who was making the point that the most successful people are often the most pleasant to deal with because, literally, they can afford to be nice. Squeezing the last drop out of a deal isn’t a sign that you’re successful; it’s often the opposite.

“Don’t negotiate like a litigator.” This is a hard one for me because I was a litigator! But the idea is that the detailed terms of a deal are important, but not nearly as important as the underlying relationship. You protect yourself in business not by trying to anticipate everything that can go wrong and provide against it, but by choosing to work with partners you trust to do the right thing when something goes wrong in the future — and by being this kind of partner yourself.

“Praise in public, correct in private.” As a leader, it’s easy to underestimate the effect of what you say. An offhand comment can loom large in the mind of someone who doesn’t interact with you every day. And it is very easy to slip from a healthy culture of candor to a stifling culture of fear. Counteract this by being liberal in your praise when praise is deserved and sensitive in your delivery of constructive criticism when it is required. I was a notorious shouter early in my career; I like to think I do a better job of this today.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We are hard at work at DISCO expanding beyond our core ediscovery product to other areas of legal practice. Eventually, we hope great lawyers use our technology to improve legal outcomes across all areas of legal practice.

Legal technology is going to transform the delivery of legal services by automating away all the parts of the practice of law that don’t require human legal judgment so that great lawyers can focus on doing only the things that only they can do.

I really believe that, if you love the idea of the rule of law, there are few things you can do today that are more impactful than working on legal technology. We are building the underpinnings of the rule of law, working toward a world in which the rule of law is strong and effective, where human conflict is resolved by the impartial application of rules arrived at by reasonable people engaged in reasoned debate about what rules lead to good outcomes.

Strengthening the rule of law is a life’s mission as important as organizing the world’s information or sending the human race to Mars.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

The book A Theory of Justice by John Rawls is one of my favorites. I read it in college when I became interested in law. I love it not only for the specific ideas it presents — ideas like the original position and the veil of ignorance — but for what it assumes: the idea that great big questions about how a fair society should be structured can be answered by reasonable people having reasoned debates. This idea remains as electrifying to me now as it was then.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I like this quote from Learned Hand, a famous American judge: “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.”

Judge Hand was writing about liberty, but his words apply to any ideal. You can work hard on rules and policies, on institutions and procedures, on metrics and on training. But what ultimately makes an ideal stick is that men and women believe in their hearts that it’s something worth fighting for.

I think what many people crave today is that kind of ideal and that kind of idealism, a cause larger than themselves and larger than their daily life. Or as I like to put it at DISCO, what people want most is to be part of a team that’s winning at something that matters.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I believe in education. I taught law briefly; if I weren’t working on legal technology, I would probably try to work on education.

Imagine this: a school for the best and brightest, aimed at giving them the practical skills needed to be immensely successful in the world, building an indomitable confidence that they can do anything they set their minds to, and instilling in them a moral imperative to make the world a better place. And imagine arming the best graduates of that school with resources adequate to get to work at scale immediately.

Imagine what 50 years of alumni of that school could achieve, across every field and in every sector of society. Imagine what 50 schools like that could do. How many billions of dollars would that be worth to the world?

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/kiwi-camara-18989581/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Pop Culture, Business, Tech, Wellness, & Social Impact

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Jason Hartman

Written by

Author | Speaker | Financial Guru | Podcast Rockstar

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.