There’s little question a real legal tech movement is underway world-wide — and one that’s accelerating at much faster clip than ever before.

It’s different than from just a year or two ago. Being in Amsterdam a couple weeks ago for the Lexpo legal tech and innovation conference and a Dutch Legal Tech Meetup the feeling was palpable.

A combination of things appears to be accelerating the movement.

  • Pressure from consumers of legal services (corporations or consumers) who are not going to accept work from unaccountable law firms who are not driven by data and predictions.
  • Legal tech companies with much lower costs of tech development seizing an opportunity.
  • Use of data is being demanded by smart consumers of legal services – don’t tell me what you think, but what you should know based on the data in your hands.
  • Younger professionals (tech, law, business, finance) who abhor inefficiencies and see how humans + machines are better than humans alone.
  • No longer accepting from law firms an attitude (intended or not) that this is the way we do things because we’re a special group exempt from the sound business practices of 2017.
  • The demand for access to legal services/access to justice no longer accepting lawyers, state bar associations and the American Bar Association saying they care and that they are acting when in fact the number of people without access to legal services continues to rise, and are likely protecting their own, the lawyers.

Professor Daniel Katz did a great job at the Dutch Legal Tech Meetup driving a debate about this movment with law students, practicing lawyers, in-house professionals and legal tech entrepreneurs. I told him afterwards it would be great to if we could scale him to drive such debates world-wide.

Seeing his drive and the others driving this legal tech movement, who knows what’s coming.

The popular publishing platform, Medium announced last week that it was laying off one third of its employees and closing two if its three offices.

As expected, the news has generated a lot of discussion. Particularly interesting for LexBlog and I is the discussion of the need for an eloquent and easy to use blog publishing platform.

Frederic Filloux (@filloux), veteran journalist and Knight Journalism fellow at Stanford, wrote yesterday of the need for a Medium-like platform because of the complexities of WordPress.

For elegant text-based publishing, there is a need for a simple, easy-to-use, well-designed platform such as Medium. WordPress was supposed to deliver just that, but it took a geeky turn, saturating its ecosystem with scores of third-party plugins — more than 48,000 at last count — whose quality can charitably be called uneven. Most WordPress sites end up using dozens of plugins, each one bound to create its own set of problems: slow page-loads, crashes, random behaviors or update cycles that don’t match WP’s platform agenda. Unless you have sizable tech resources at your disposal, WordPress is a nightmare. Switching to Medium gives you the impression of going from MS-DOS to iOS.

Veteran blogger and technologist, Dave Winer (@davewineragreed in part.

I think it is fair to say WordPress is to Medium as MS-DOS is to iOS, but for different reasons. To be fair you have to compare Medium to the hosted version of WordPress. There are no plugins there and none of the complications or management hassles he describes.

However the user interface of WordPress is large and spread out, the commands you need are organized in a way that makes them hard to find. A lot of the problems I have with WP could be solved by reorganizing its command structure.

Rather than a ‘Medium-like’ alternative to WordPress, why not a managed publishing platform based on WordPress coupled with a sound business model? One that offers more than WordPress.com, the hosted version of WordPress software.

WordPress has any number of advantages over starting from scratch or building on top of other systems. It’s open source software, customizable and offers a “community” of API’s and plugins making it integration friendly with other solutions and services.

LexBlog, perhaps not the answer for all publishers, is proving that offering publishing software as a service can deliver an eloquent and easy to use blog publishing platform so long as it’s founded on a sound business model.

We’re providing a fully managed publishing platform based on WordPress where a subscription provides one a license to our software as well as services including design, ongoing hosting, updates, features, email notifications, SEO, support and network.

When you assemble the software and services we provide (such as hosting, email service providers, premium plugins, site update services) from leaders in the marketplace the cost can be quite significant, not counting one’s time in managing and connecting those services. Pricing becomes attractive when selling publishing software as a service.

Rather than a free service relying on advertising like Medium, we’ve found blog publishers will pay for the value of a comprehensive publishing platform. A platform where the publisher has an independent branded site and domain, obviously owns their content and feels comfortable that their content is safe in the hands of a profitable SaaS provider.

The cost of the LexBlog solution, though relatively inexpensive, could be a factor to some publishers. The onus is then on us to bring greater efficiencies to the delivery of our software, something we’ve been able to do over the last year — enough so to start offering our solution at no cost to academia and librarians.

To justify charging a subscription Filloux believes a platform must include things a newsletter system such as good as MailChimp, good analytics, a “commercial cluster” aggregating around topics, SEO tools, and various layouts. LexBlog is offering such items or working on them.

LexBlog is just one example and our offering is not perfect. But with funding from our subscription revenue, we’re constantly working to make our publishing platform more eloquent and easier to use. The publisher’s content is safe as well.

Perhaps publishing software as a service is a good model for others.

Medium, a web publishing platform used by a number of lawyers, announced in a blog post that it is making major changes, laying off a third of its employees – 50 people and closing its offices in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Ev Williams, their CEO and founder, said in his post that the company is “changing our business model to more directly drive the mission we set out on originally.”

Ev doesn’t say what the new business model will be. He does say that ad-driven media on the Internet doesn’t serve the publishers or the public.

…[I]t’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for — directly or indirectly — by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get…well, what we get. And it’s getting worse.

……

We believe people who write and share ideas should be rewarded on their ability to enlighten and inform, not simply their ability to attract a few seconds of attention. We believe there are millions of thinking people who want to deepen their understanding of the world and are dissatisfied with what they get from traditional news and their social feeds. We believe that a better system — one that serves people — is possible. In fact, it’s imperative.

So, we are shifting our resources and attention to defining a new model for writers and creators to be rewarded, based on the value they’re creating for people. And toward building a transformational product for curious humans who want to get smarter about the world every day.

I’ve never liked a publishing model driven by eyeballs as a measure of success. Publishers, particularly professionals such as lawyers, will publish (blog) to build a name for themselves. The money they’ll earn with their name will be far greater than what they could ever earn through traffic, ads or selling their content.

When you’re building a name for yourself, you’ll even pay for comprehensive publishing software. LexBlog has proven it with thousands of lawyers paying to publish on professionally tailored software offered as a SaaS model.

Ironically, some lawyers chasing traffic, versus building a name for themselves started to use Medium over the last year. I have not heard from the lawyers, but I wonder how it’s worked out for them as a revenue generator — that is through legal fees.

This is quite a fall for Medium. The company raised $130 million in venture capital, most of it in the last year. The valuation for the latest round was $600 million. I always wondered if the investors were betting on Ev than the business model. Appears so.

Ev’s a talented and caring guy, giving us Blogger, Twitter and now Medium. Medium, as publishing software, also appears to be pretty good. It will be interesting to see what becomes of Medium.

One lesson for lawyers and law firms is to control your own publication. Not only do you control your content, what gets highlighted and how things are syndicated, but you don’t have to worry about your host’s business model when so much is at stake.

A couple months ago, a marketing consultant to a major law firm pooh-poohed my suggestion on Facebook that he consider WordPress for the law firm’s digital publishing needs.

He called WordPress simplistic publishing software used only for blogs that’s inherently insecure and innapropriate for a major law firm.

Well, according to Nelio Software, 62 percent of the 100 fast growing companies in the United States (@inc5000) are using WordPress to power their sites. This is up more than 20 percent from just a year ago.

We’re talking well beyond do it yourself here. Whether blog, website or application we’re talking about sites developed by experienced WordPress developers versus something set up with WordPress off the shelf.

From Marie Dodson (@Mdodson12) of Torque Magazine, my source:

From ecommerce and apps to business websites, personal blogs and beyond, WordPress powers online experiences for startups and enterprise companies alike.

……

It’s quite clear that WordPress has in many ways broken free of the “just for blogging” stereotype, which can be seen by the fact that 27 percent of all websites use the CMS to power their websites.

While WordPress is still a leading choice for bloggers, it’s also become the solution of choice for brands like Mercedes Benz, Samsung, Nikon, NASA, and more.In recent years, open source has taken the internet by storm. In fact, companies like Microsoft, Google, Tesla, and even the US government have embraced open source as part of their digital practices.

Perhaps the biggest reason for WordPress’s growth is the fact that it’s open-source software. Per Dodson:

[O]pen-source foundation has positioned it at the cutting-edge when it comes to innovation. For example, when Google Glass launched in 2014, the very next day there were plugins already available, which enabled users to leverage and integrate the new technology with their sites.

Compare this to proprietary or closed solutions, where this process is often long and grueling. Open source software is more customizable, scalable and agile, which is invaluable in today’s era where businesses need to move faster to stay competitive.

Open-source software benefits from the collective knowledge and collaborative work of over a hundred thousand developers worldwide, in the case if WordPress. Proprietary software can simply not keep up with the speed of improvements being done of open-source.

Law firms often turn to proprietary software for their websites, blogs, micro-sites and other digital publishing. Doing so they could be vendor-locking themselves into often outdated/expansive software and limited and expensive future upgrades.

LexBlog moved to WordPress years ago. I am glad we did.

We’ve been able to develop a software as a service business empowered by a custom WordPress solution that provides law firms with a better, faster and cheaper product. A product on which we can push regular upgrades and feature enhancements.

This would have been impossible without open-source and WordPress.

After talking with Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress, a summer ago, I walked away thinking this guy sees WordPress dominating website development in the years ahead – growing from today’s 27% market share to 90%. It’s not that crazy — and we’re all likely to benefit as a result.


Are your law firm’s blogs running on a proprietary CMS (Content Management System), or for that matter matter, any CMS other than WordPress? If so, you may want to think again.

Marie Dodson (@Mdodson12) reports for Torque that Microsoft just migrated 20,000 blogs with more than 1 million posts and 1.2 million comments off its own proprietary content management system to WordPress. Most of the blogs were running on the same proprietary ASP.NET and SQL Server based CMS.

The result?

  • Sites have experienced an uptick in speed
  • Major SEO improvements
  • Improved site navigation on desktop and mobile browsers

Brian Messenlehner (@bmess), head of WebDevStudios, which worked with Microsoft on the blog migration, told Dodson that as part of Microsoft’s push into Open Source Software, versus proprietary/closed systems, they researched the best CMS to use and decided on WordPress.

You’d think that the largest software company in the world use their own publishing technology to run all of their websites, but like a lot of other companies they wanted to save time and money by going Open Source.

The adoption of Open Source software for publishing, with WordPress leading the way, isn’t going to slow down any time soon, per Dodson.

It’s free, flexible, and easy to use, maintain, and update. It provides companies with the agility to move faster without breaking the bank.

Per Messenlehner, it makes little sense for a company to continue to publish on proprietary software.

Lots of enterprise companies still pay a lot of money with licensing fees and maintenance on outdated proprietary software. These companies could dramatically cut their costs by switching to an open-source solution like WordPress.

Law firms do continue to publish on outmoded publishing software for blogs and other content, all of which could — and probably should be published on WordPress.

In addition, website development companies and consultants are advising law firms to use an underperforming and expensive proprietary CMS. In many cases, a CMS that the website development company built and that is exclusively maintained by the company — things which increase short and long term costs and limit innovation.

Look at Microsoft. An Open Source CMS, probably WordPress, is likely the best publishing software for your law firm.

In an ABA Benchmark Study on Law Firm Website Costs, Legal marketer, Conrad Saam reports that “WordPress has become the de facto website platform for most commercial websites.”

Saam’s right. WordPress for so many reasons has become of the software of record for publishing. Whether it’s a law firm website, a blog, or good portions of the New York Times, WordPress is the right fit. Commentary that WordPress is only for blogs and is inherently insecure come from the unknowing.

But I don’t agree with Saam in his comment that those software and development companies charging law firms ongoing subscription fees for WordPress sites are reaping pure profit after they’ve recouped their initial costs. At least not in the case of the good companies.

Any law firm using WordPress for publishing, whether for a website, blog, micro-site, magazine, or whatever, needs to be paying for upgrades and feature enhancements. Ideally they’d be working with a company doing research and development so that the law firm is receiving never ending improvements to their publishing platform.

Think about it this way, says Mike Duncan, CEO of the marketing agency, Sage Island, in a story in Wilmington Business Insights:

You buy an awesome new car, one with a killer paint job, leather seats and a state-of-the-art sound system. That car is your baby and because you want it to last a long time, you take care of it with regular oil changes, repairs and weekends spent waxing it until it shines. Well, your website is the same way. No matter how good it looks, there’s a back end, much like the engine of a car, that needs to be serviced regularly. If you fail to take care of your website, you’ll quickly run it into the ground.

You need to on the latest version of WordPress for any number of reasons, per Duncan.

  • Security. WordPress is immensely popular, which makes it a target for hackers and data thieves. By updating to the latest version, you’re able to reconcile known security vulnerabilities. If you ignore the updates, you’re putting your website – and your business – at risk.
  • New Features. Each WordPress release comes with new features and improvements. Taking advantage of these features is an easy way to improve the users’ experience and keep your site looking and feeling modern and relevant. It sends the right message to your clients, and shows them that you care enough to offer them the best experience possible.
  • Speed. Faster is better, especially online. Each WordPress update improves the speed of your website, which is a huge factor in SEO. If you don’t update WordPress, it could take minutes for a simple page to load, and today’s online user doesn’t have the patience to wait that long, nor should they.
  • Bug Fixes. Nobody’s perfect, not even WordPress. The platform is, however, constantly improving. In fact, any issues you experience on your website can usually be solved by updating WordPress, as each new release fixes bugs that managed to slip in. If you don’t update your site, these fixes won’t be available.

Beyond these reasons, you have feature enhancements that ought to be regularly added. There are constant and never ending improvements that can and should be made to a publishing platform that go beyond core WordPress upgrades.

There are unique publishing, education and support features sought by law firms. This requires ongoing research, development, testing and regular upgrades to those features.

A law firm would never use software that is not regularly updated. Unfortunately, law firms often only look for upgrades to websites and blogs when they are looking for an updated design.

But design is only the surface. Launching a nice looking design on an outdated version of WordPress with outdated plugins, which version and plugins are only getting more outdated over time is fraught with peril and something that can easily be avoided.

Moving from an agency model to a publishing software business model has enabled us to focus on our underlying publishing platform built on WordPress. Like other SaaS providers, it’s enabled us to provide law firms and other professional services firms with a publishing platform that’s better, faster and cheaper.

So, yes, do pay for regular upgrades and feature enhancements. But me smart in the way you do so. It need not cost a lot and probably ought to be paid on a monthly or annual subscription.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Cristian Labarca 

 

A lack of innovation, high operating expenses and complacency have resulted in less than cutting edge technology and efficiencies from the big boys in legal technology and publishing. The problem has been made worse because of law firms’ acceptance of the status quo as they don’t know better and bill by the hour.

The result is an explosion (relatively speaking) of legal startups over the last six or seven years. Some good ideas, some with new technology/software, some making money, others not, some third party funded, some bootstrapped, some well run and others not.

Lawyer and veteran legal blogger, Carolyn Elefant (@CarolynElefant) asked a darn good question over the weekend, “Can these legal startups survive an economic downturn?”

TechCrunch contributer Bastiann Janmaat (@BastiannJanmaat) pondered this question: Are startups selling to startups building a house of cards? Bastian observes:

“B2B companies whose customers are other early stage B2B companies put themselves doubly at risk: Not only are startups failure-prone by nature, but an early stage company with strong fundamentals can still falter if its client base is vulnerable to market corrections.”

Bastiann goes on to describe that startup-centric companies most likely to weather a recession offer services that provide meaningful cost savings and are sticky – meaning that they’re so ingrained in the company’s infrastructure that they’re as painful to remove as a sticky band-aid. Bastiann offers some examples of companies that meet this 21st century version of Darwinnian survival of the fittest test — Amazon Web Services (AWS), a cloud-based provider that is both cheaper than a company owning its own servers and to much of a hassle to change or Gusto and Zenefits, payroll and HR platforms that are integrated in many startups’ operations and therefore harder to eliminate.

Both Elefant and Janmatt reference UpCounsel, an online marketplace to find lawyers, as being at risk bevause of the possibility of being circumvented by other services.

Getting sticky sounds like getting to the point where you are part of the “plumbing  of the Internet.” Up or down economy, there’s always something flowing through the net – people need your pipes. While most dot-com companies failed 15 years ago, Cisco stood strong.

Take my company, LexBlog, as an example. We’ve long been viewed as an agency providing custom design and development with deep expertise in blogs and social media. Rightfully so, we positioned ourselves as this.

But over the last year we’ve made a heavy investment in software by building a new publishing platform with WordPress as its core. Rather than our designers and developers developing custom sites over two or three days, we can provide custom user interfaces in two or three hours on publishing software that receives regular upgrades and feature enhancements. Better user experience at much lower cost.

This pivot puts LexBlog into the “plumbing category.” Whether a law firm, public relations agency, marketing company, website developer, media player or publishing company, you need software on which to publish, whether for yourself or for your clients and customers. Publishing and its software are not going away. We’re getting closer to the plumbing.

I’d add to Elefant’s and Janmatt’s comments that those companies operating at profit are much more apt to survive an economic downturn. A large initial investment from a financial partner or not, measuring success with traffic and users proved fatal to Internet companies the last time we had heavy venture capital investment followed by a declining economy.

Startup entrepreneurs and their investors are not the only losers in such a downturn. Lawyers and law firms who start using a product billed as successful because of money raised and traffic/user numbers (often inflated) take a hit. Incorporating what turns out to be a failed service or product into one’s practice management, marketing or professional development efforts can prove to be a waste. A firm’s clients can even be effected.

Don’t get me wrong innovation in legal technology is a good thing. Human and capital resources flowing into the area is driving real innovation benefiting lawyers and the people we serve. But as history has shown us, not all of the legal startups will survive.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Peter Abrahamsen