Amy Wan is the General Counsel at Patch of Land...
a Los Angeles-based fintech startup that applies crowdfunding methods to real estate investment and financing.
We sat down with Amy to talk about her work at Patch of Land and her legal career.
What made you want to go to law school?
I had the typical child-of-immigrants experience. I contemplated medical school and, while in college, went abroad to Ghana for a summer internship to work in a hospital since I was told I’d be able to get more hands-on experience there. That summer, healthcare workers went on strike countrywide. It was through that experience that I realized that while doctors may have the ability to heal peoples’ bodies and priests may have the ability to heal peoples’ souls, someone--perhaps lawyers--have the ability to help heal the unfortunate circumstances in which people find themselves.
So, you’re General Counsel at Patch of Land (POL). Tell us more about your work there.
I was always drawn to technology, including the legal tech space. While in DC, I joined Women In Tech, tried to teach myself how to code, and explored the idea of starting a legal tech startup. My now-husband and I needed to move to LA for his residency. It was there I found Patch of Land, the rest is history.
I feel incredibly lucky to be at Patch of Land. A big part of what I love about Patch of Land is the entrepreneurialism and brilliance of the people in the company. Whether we’re pioneering a new business model or just a process within our business, we’re always looking to rethink and innovate to make products and processes better and more efficient. For example, recently, we were very excited to launch our new investment offering structure, which provides our retail investors security in the underlying collateral and a contingency plan if we are no longer around one day to manage the asset. We’ve also built a lot of technology in-house to automate the process of underwriting and financing real estate investments. We also regularly use technology like Docusign and Clio, which makes the whole “tech” part of law practice easier.
That said, there’s a lot of inefficiency in the real estate purchasing process across the 50 states that could use updating. Some counties don’t allow for the closing process to happen electronically. The physical presence of notaries are necessary for the closing process, for example, but are notaries really the best way to verify and authenticate an individual’s identity? The ability to e-close a mortgage is still incredibly complex and difficult.
I loved looking for parts of a business that can be automated or innovated.
Before working at Patch of Land, you worked in the government. What unifies your career goals?
Ethics and having a strong moral compass has always been at the core of my career path. My time interning with a human rights group in Fiji at a time when they had just abrogated this constitution piqued my interest in the intersection of morality and economics. While at the State Department, I helped on government policy relating to business and human rights (also known as corporate social responsibility in the private sector). Later at the Department of Commerce, I worked on government policy relating to regulatory coherence and regulatory trade barriers with the U.S.’s trading partners.
At POL, the democratization of investment opportunity and increasing access to capital are fundamental to the philosophy and moral underpinnings of the company. Our founder and CEO Jason Fritton started the company after seeing the effects of the recession on neighborhoods in Chicago. While at real estate auctions, he always saw the same 12 individuals at all the real estate auctions who all competed in bidding for large commercial real estate. But they ignored the single family residential properties, which are the backbone of America. He started POL to give smaller developers access to capital, communities a way to improve their neighborhoods, and retail investors access to investment opportunities that have been historically limited to the super-connected and ultra-rich. In short, POL is about growing wealth and building communities.
I love my job at POL. It’s an amazing opportunity to help grow a business in a completely new industry. I love the variety of tasks and issues we grapple with and the challenge of adapting old laws to a new industry. The only difficulty is that the business folk expect you to be an expert in every area of law and to provide an immediate concrete answer to every question. Alas, the role of the lawyer and the law itself is not so simple...
Where do you see legal technology going in 10 years?
Through meeting folk at CodeX’s FutureLaw Conference at Stanford and Legal Hackers, I no longer feel nearly so alone in wanting to change they way we practice law. I think there will be increased adoption of automation in simple transactions through services like Shake and LegalZoom, and more standardization of contracts. Transactional attorneys will be focused more on consultation and advising which contracts and options clients should choose, rather than just primarily drafting contracts.
What is your favorite app?
That would be Anova! We just bought a Kickstarter-financed sous vide machine that can cook food to perfection via bluetooth. Never have my eggs been so perfect.
What is your favorite piece of technology from days gone by?
TI-86 calculator. Frogger, Tetris, and all those other calculator games were essential to surviving calculus.