ALM charges sponsors to speak at educational sessions at LegalTech Show now known as Legal Week. Maybe not for all of them, but at least for the one in which I was asked to participate.

That may be standard practice for some conferences. In fact, we were told the $7,500 fee we would pay to have me moderate along with related fanfare that would reach about one hundred people was less than other shows charge.

I’m an old trial lawyer at heart. I like to know people’s motives when they’re presenting something. Why wouldn’t audience members of a pay for play conference feel the same way?

Imagine if someone at LegalWeek got up to introduce me and said Kevin O’Keefe knows a fair amount about this blogging/social media topic, but the real reason we picked him was that his money was good. Crass? But true.

Don’t get me wrong I like that ALM puts this show on every year. I am not sure who else would. It brings people from around the world interested in legal tech together in one place. And ALM can’t do it without sponsorship money.

The biggest reason I go to conferences is for the camaraderie. I like catching up with colleagues face to face and I enjoy spending time with customers and prospective customers. Relationships come first in business.

Educational sessions, though tough to find time for, can be excellent when led by people with a passion for a niche, people exploring new areas as part of their learning (take Fastcase’s Ed Walters “Law of Robots” at ClioCon) and entrepreneurs plowing new ground who share their experiences and know how with customers and entrepreneurs to be.

I’ve been going to ALM’s LegalTech Show for more than a decade. I have to believe ALM’s emphasis is on exhibitors and getting people to walk the exhibition halls. More money there than in educational sessions.

But educational sessions can be a big draw if they are exciting and led by people incredibly passionate about what they do.

Asking someone to sponsor a session, to find a few people as panelists and put up a sponsor’s table out front can be all it takes to suck the passion out of a speaker.

And what about the woman or man who has some kick ass idea or technology they’ve been working on out of their garage who’s funding their startup on credit cards? I did it and would have choked if I heard it may cost $7,500 to present at the “most important legal technology event of the year.”

ALM, if it wants its show to continue, should look for ways to up its game on educational sessions. It would’t be hard. Otherwise people and organizations will put on their own off site sessions in venues across the street from the Hilton.

And yes, we did turn down the opportunity to have me speak at LegalTech. As always I am happy to get together anytime. Just look me up — with $7,500 in my pocket I can buy a round of drinks.

Good2bSocial, a leading social media agency for law firms, is hosting a Webinar this Wednesday at 1 ET on to leverage the real power of blogging and social media to build a name, relationships and revenue.

I have the pleasure of partcipating in the webinar along side Guy Alvarez, the founder of Good2bSocial and its Chief Engagement Officer.

Among other things we’ll cover:

  • Developing a strategy for your blog
  • Technology and services needed
  • How to use LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to engage your audience and build relationships
  • How to engage influencers — bloggers, reporters, association leaders and conference coordinators — to grow your network and visibility
  • How to measure success from blogging and social media

Further details and a link for registration are available here.

Hope to see you there — and yes, it’s being recorded if you are unable to attend.

Read a story about a legal tech startup and you’re apt to read that they’ve raised venture capital or are about to do so.

In the vast majority of cases, venture capital is no sign of success — nor needed.

Jason Fried (@jasonfried), co-founder of Basecamp, wrote last week that most successful businesses don’t need venture capital to stay afloat.

…[I’t’s] basically like living in their parent’s basement. They haven’t had to go and make their own living yet.

Launching a tech startup is not nearly as expensive today as it was fifteen years ago. You don’t need a lot of developers, data base people and system aministrators. Much of what these folks did back then is now available in software or services available for free or at minimal cost. AWS and other cloud providers make hosting cheap.

Sure, you may need development and design work needed. That can come in the form of sweat equity from you or friends. In some cases you’ll need to pay for services or bring in a “partner.”

Extend your existing income and benefits as long as possible, ideally until your startup is afloat. You and any partners can keep your day jobs while working on the startup on nights and weekends.

Save all the money you can. As you consider cutting back on your job or quiting altogether, a spouse or partner (who’s a saint) is awful nice to have for income and benefits. And of course, you all live cheap, even as a family.

Demonstrate you have a real product. This means getting people to take money out of their pocket and put it in your pocket.

Customers will help you develop a product that’s of value to people and one that will sell. Paying customers, more than anyone else, will be vested in your success. Customers will get you pumped – “I built something that others will actually buy.”

You need not have a lot of customers, one may be enough. I knew I had a product with LexBlog when a law firm agreed to pay $200 a month. After a year, I had seven customers paying me that.

Having no investors limits your spending. You won’t be hiring people you may not need, traveling to conferences you need not attend, marketing a product that’s not proven or buying equipment you can do without.

In the time it takes to find investors, assuming you’re successful in finding any, you could be working on your product.

Many startups talk of venture capital. That’s unrealistic, except in the rare case where you’re looking to go public or garner a large market share.

Venture capital, by my definition, is for all practical purposes, institutional money. Venture capitalists raise money from others, hundreds of millions dollars, in rounds of investment. The money invested with the better venture capitalists will come, in part, from pension funds and large organizational investors.

Venture capitalists invest in enterprises with a strong team and that will offer a big return – North of ten times. VC’s will be looking to invest a significant sum – enough to babysit with board members and advisors.

Procuring and managing investments in smaller sums from a good number of people is no easy chore either. A lot of time, legal fees and juggling other’s views.

Once you’ve generated some sales and can see you’ve got something real you may need to hire some people and incur some expenses. Look to debt to fund you.

I used credit cards to first fund LexBlog and a previous company. In LexBlog’s case, we never hired another employee until the credit cards had a zero balance. At times I ran them up to over $50,000.

Once your business can demonstrate it can cash flow a loan, head to a small bank. Yes, you will need to sign a guaranty and yes, you’ll need some collateral – second mortgage on your home or a lien on your non 401k/pension savings.

Small banks are looking to make loans and will lend you $25,000 to $250,000 or more. Small banks are also good financial partners to have in that they’ll be looking to see that you’re running your business prudently — something I’ve found helpful with all the crazy business models out there.

Going into debt and pledging your own assets is scary. But as my best friend, a small town banker in Wisconsin told me, “The bank isn’t looking for you to pledge your assets, they are looking to see how confident you are in your business. How confident are you?”

Sure, there are exceptions to the need for raising capital from investors. Pinching pennies, holding two jobs and borrowing money may not work for everyone.

If you can pull it off though, there’s nothing more rewarding for you and your family than knowing you’ve built something from scratch — the old fashioned way.

As of this morning, I’ve run 192 days in a row. Now I’m shooting for 200, then one year.

I run for my brain. Running each morning relieves stress, enables me to sift through matters and generates ideas.

Hey, it’s not just me, The New York Times’ Gretchen Reynolds (@GretchenReynold) reports that science sees working out, or running, to be “quite beneficial” for your brain.

I started running each morning in April, 2015. I was embarking on a retooling of LexBlog. The decisions that needed to be made would effect people, products, customers and finances. I knew it would be stressful. I knew I needed to stay mentally healthy.

I’ve found running to be the greatest stress reliever in my life since I started running after college. If I wasn’t running marathons with my friend and now my lawyer, Tom Pedreira, during law school, there’s no way I would have graduated. When you’re not that smart, law school is awfully stressful.

I missed a handful of days in 2015 and a couple in the beginning of 2016. After missing a day when I flew to the Bay Area and back in June I thought why not see how many days I could go, maybe even to the end of the year. Knowing myself, it was easier to run each morning than to skip a day a week — I’d just skip a couple more.

Big thanks to Ben at Seattle’s Sound Sports (best running store in Seattle) who turned me onto Hoka One running shoes. In December 2014 he said you’re not chasing runners down from behind and training to race marathons – “you’re old like me and can run regularly without injury with the Hoka One.” He was right.

Big thanks to my COO, Garry Vander Voort, who said it’s okay not to get in to the office first thing. “We’re better off to have you do emails and some social media at home, have a coffee, go for a run and then take the 8:45 ferry in.” I’m an Irish Catholic who’s bred to feel guilty at all times, but Garry was right.

Big thanks to Louis, my yellow lab, who runs with me each morning when I am not traveling. We’re becoming well know by the people on our island.

And thanks to my Dad who ran more mornings than not beginning in the late 1960’s. He and his running, even with Alzheimer’s, served as a good role model.

Another 173 days until a year. All so my brain doesn’t break.

We’re always thrilled when The ABA Journal releases their Blawg 100 list, because we see many familiar names from the LexBlog Network.

For those who don’t know, each year the Journal collects nominees in one of thirteen categories, often because the staff at The ABA Journal found them useful resources for finding new sources, analysis, and insights. It’s one of the biggest awards you can win as a legal blogger.

This year we’re pleased to recognize the 17 blogs from the LexBlog Network featured on the list! Congratulations to them, and all the blogs nominated. You guys make us proud.

Solo and small firm lawyers get lost in the maze of legal products and services. Which are helpful? How do they work? Who can I trust?

Offering a list of possible services and solutions isn’t enough. In fact, that can just lead to more confusion. Any lawyer who’s hit the exhibit floor of conferences such as the ABA TechShow or ALM’s LegalTech knows what I mean. The average lawyer is overwhelmed.

The American Bar Association stepped up to the plate last week to help solos and small firms on this front. ABA Blueprint offers lawyers a one-stop shop for legal products and services.

Rather than a compilation of providers or a bar affinity program offering discounts alone, Blueprint, with a dynamic Web interface, walks ABA members through  “Firm Builder,” chatbot-like tool that offers customized practice solutions based on members’ individual practice needs and free live consultations with practice management experts. The application can be used on desktop and mobile devices.

ABA BLueprint

ABA Blueprint

Universal Solutions, an alternative way to build your firm on Blueprint, is open to any lawyer and offers solutions and services tailored to starting a firm, getting paid, growing your firm, building a team, e-discovery and insuring your future.

From practice management solutions, billing tools, virtual assistants, insurance, and marketing technology, Blueprint offers steep ABA member discounts to over a dozen services, including:

  • Ruby receptionists, a virtual reception service
  • Clio, a cloud based practice management solution
  • Lawpay
  • Lexicata
  • Quickbooks Online
  • Microsoft Office 365
  • LexBlog (us), a comprehensive blogging solution

No question that Blueprint offers value to lawyers. The names of trusted solution providers and discounts that more than cover ABA dues make sure of that.

The ABA is making a sincere effort to help lawyers with Blueprint. First discussed this last summer, the ABA at the impetus of its current president, Linda Klein (@lindakleinlaw), moved quickly (uncharacteristic for ABA) to get Blueprint to market.

When I first heard of ABA Blueprint, I asked on Twitter how LexBlog could help. I received an immediate response on Twitter from Nicole Bradick, Chief Strategy Officer of CuroLegal, which developed Blueprint in concert with the ABA. She connected me with their CEO, Chad Burton, who quickly put together a deal with LexBlog that offered ABA members our most liberal discount.

It’s easy to be cynical of the ABA and criticize their offerings for lawyers (me included), but Blueprint is on its way to offering lawyers meaningful solutions in a method that scales – through technology and partnerships.

Last week, we held a Law Blogger Con Meetup in New York City. Though the event was hosted by the New York City Bar Association, I was concerned that not too many folks heard of the get together.

So in addition to spreading the word via email, social media and LinkedIn messages, I started a Meetup group a few days before entitled Law Blogger Con New York City.

  • I entered a name for the group, it’s location, a group description and my profile.
  • I selected up to fifteeen topics by which Meetup users in the area with relevant interests would be identified of the group.
  • I entered a description of the event, who may be interested (lawyers, law students, law professors and other legal professionals), the location and the time.
  • I approved Meetup’s announcing the group to Meetup users.
  • Meetup announced formation of the group and the Law Blogger Con.

About twenty people registered for the group with three or four rsvp’ing. In addition to others attending by virtue of other invites, we had a few come by virtue of Meetup. Some of them entered positive reviews.

The good part of using Meetup for me is that this group continues on. Users can continue to register, I’ll invite more New Yorkers to register and those registered will receive an invite to our next Law Blogger Con to be held the beginning of February.

We’re only thirty-one in size now, but I could see this group growing to two or three-hundred people.

As way of background, and I am sure you’ve received such Meetup invites, Meetup is an online social networking portal that facilitates offline group meetings around the world. Meetup enables members to find and join groups unified by a common interest, whether it be the law, business or even, law blogging.

Users enter their city or their postal code and tag the topics they want to meet about. The website/app helps them locate a group to arrange a place and time to meet. Topic listings are also available for users who only enter a location. The cost to the organizer is nominal.

Among other things, group functions include:

  • Schedule meetings and automate notices to members for the same
  • The ability to assign different leadership responsibilities and access to the group data
  • The ability to accept RSVPs for an event
  • The ability to monetize groups, accept and track membership and/or meeting payments through WePay
  • Create a file repository for group access
  • Post photo libraries of events
  • Manage communications between group members
  • Post group polls
  • Allow users to contact other Meetup group members.

Sure there are CRM’s and other organizing tools, but Meetup pulls in people with relevant interests you’d have never met. I met a lawyer from Merril Lynch and a legal marketing professional I would not have otherwise met.

Meetup also gets you out there, as the event organizer, as someone or an organization as a little more innovative in nature. After all, Meetup is a fairly new phenomena. But with over 28 million users and 261,000 groups, it’s impact is growing.

LexBlog is going to start Law Blogger Con events around the country. We’ll use email, LinkedIn and social media to get the word out. My gut tells me though that a Meetup Group for each city will be key in growing attendance and camaraderie.

Stay tuned.

Thursday will mark the 13th Annual Small Law Firm Practice Management Symposium for the New York City Bar Association.

From the Bar:

Whether you are just starting out or have been in business for decades, the Symposium is tailored to meet everyone’s needs. Workshops cover starting your own firm, growing your existing practice, law firm entity choice, optimizing your practice management software, social media, blogging and online best practices and more. Most importantly, network with colleagues throughout the day at the Exhibit Hall, “Seasoned Solo” Drop-in Center, the complimentary breakfast, luncheon and reception.

I’ll be participating on a panel regarding blogging and social media. I hope to see some of you there.

The symposium will run from 8:30 to 5:00. The cost for a good lineup of presenters is pretty reasonable, $65 for bar members and $100 for non-members. Walk in registration is of course accepted.

You may view the brochure here.

I have the pleasure of speaking at the Oklahoma Bar Associaton Annual Meeting in Oklahoma City this afternoon.

The topic as billed is “Client Engagement and Marketing – Everything is Different Today.” My talk will be on why evertyting is the same, at least from when I started practicing thirty plus years ago. It’s all about building a name for yourself and relationships.

Smart lawyers are just taking building a name and building relationships to the Internet. Facebook is more powerful than the Chamber of Commerce. Blogging is powerful than publishing a book, writing an article for the bar or using press releases to reach reporters.

Here’s a copy my Oklahoma Bar Association Presentation (pdf) I am using today. It’s in mind-map form as well as in a word doc which bullets out the items in the mindmap. You’ll need to stretch out the pdf for the mindmap, but it may get a little fuzzy in this form.

By the way, I moved away from using mind-maps for presentations because “everyone” thought a PowerPoint was better. But a mind-map is easy for free thinking and then organizing your thoughts.

For presentations, branches of the mind-map can be open and closed. Your audience can also get more detail, in an outline form with links, than you had time to “open up” and discuss in your talk.

I used a mind-map at the National Association of Bar Executives meeting a couple weeks ago and everyone liked it. So mind-maps may be back for me.

In New York City? Have an interest in blogging? Want to learn more about blogging? Want to hear how lawyers have built a name for themselves and a good book of business through blogging? Looking or a little inspiration?

The New York City Bar Association is hosting Law Blogger Con, a discussion and meetup involving seasoned bloggers and non-bloggers about how law blogs can be used by practicing lawyers, law students and other legal professionals for learning, networking and building a strong word of mouth reputation.

Law Blogger Con Details

  • Wednesday November 9 from 6:30 to 8 at the NYCBA, 42 West 44th Street
  • Free to members, $10 to non-members
  • Who should attend? Legal professionals including lawyers, law students, law professors who blog or dont’ blog.
  • Introduction to law blogging (Me, 30 minutes)
    • What’s blogging all about?
    • How can I start blogging?
    • How do you build a name for yourself from blogging?
    • Can you build a book of business (or get a job) as a result of blogging?
    • How do you learn from blogging so as to become a better lawyer?
    • How do you build a network from blogging?
    • Who are role model lawyers, law students and law professors who are blogging?
  • Panel discussion of legal bloggers
    • Peter Mahler, publisher of New York Business Divorce, myself and other law bloggers to be added (let me know if interested)
    • Their experiences: What’s worked? What hasn’t?
    • Their ideas
    • Inspiration
  • Open discussion throughout

A “Beer for Bloggers (and others)” hosted by LexBlog will follow around the block at the The Perfect Pint.

Law Blogger Con and Beer for Bloggers is the evening before the New York City Bar Association Solo and Small Law Farm Practice Management Symposium which runs all day on Thursday, November 10. A big thanks to the NYCBA and their sponsoring association committee, Career Advancement and Management, for hosting Law Blog Con.