Kevin speaking with Scott Kelly, President of Community.lawyer, a Launch // Code finalist at this year’s #ClioCloud9 conference in San Diego.
Kevin O’Keefe: Who am I talking with?
Scott Kelly: I’m Scott Kelly. I’m one of the co-founders of Community.lawyer.
Kevin: What, does the company do?
Scott: So, Community.lawyer, we actually have two products. Um, the one we’re here talking to, you know, the folks of Clio about, um, is our app builder. So it’s a tool that attorneys can use. They don’t have to know how to code, they don’t have to have technical experience, but they can build apps to do really powerful things. So they can build apps to automatically intake clients. They can build apps to automate a whole bundles of documents and just generate those documents at a click of a button. Um, and if they want to get really fancy, they can actually create apps that they can actually list on their own website and people can self serve from those apps. So like, think of legal zoom or TurboTax, they can sort of set up their own legal zoom or TurboTax for their area of law.
Kevin: Why do they want to build an app as opposed to just buy something off the shelf?
Scott: Yeah. So I think, I mean it depends, we see lots of different use cases. Um, so I, you know, for the DIY apps, where attorneys can actually build something that clients can use and not actually use them as an attorney. Um, you know, it’s a way to tap into a new market opportunity. So there might be consumers who either because they don’t have the ability to pay for fullscope representation, or they, you know, are really, they’re sort of online kind of person and they don’t want to talk to another person. They just want to self-serve off of website. Um, they’re not looking to hire a lawyer. They’re looking to use an online product. And so lawyers can create those online products and go head-to-head with like legal zoom or TurboTax. Um, but then there’s a lot of attorneys who use our system, uh, who just use it for, to speed up things internally.
Kevin: (1:48) Just going back, I’m just curious to this, and I’ll ask you questions more. They’re probably more interested in as to how you got started in this and whatnot. But, to the app and the delivery of this service or whatever it might be as far as legal services or not, are the lawyers charging for per use? How do they charge? They’ve got this app created, now somebody wants to do a DIY, you want to do it yourself, it’s supposed to come in and hire a lawyer and all that, how is the lawyer charging for that use of that app or that solution?
Scott: Yeah. So we, we see a lot of different ways that lawyers are monetizing these apps. So, the most straightforward way would you just have a payment block, you know, right in your app or you know, someone’s going through and at the end when they want to generate their document, they have to like type in their details and they make a payment for using the app one time, right. Um, you could also set up, what we call kind of an “app store” and people can pay to access that app store and it can be an a subscription. So it can be a monthly subscription. Maybe I’ll have a set of employment apps that a small business can use to generate kind of the bread and butter documents they need to generate in a given month, or quarter, or year. They don’t know when they’re going to need to use them, but they just want to pay to access that on a subscription basis. The third way that lawyers can monetize it is actually making it free. Um, and then just using it as lead gen so that people go to the website, they click a button and then they can get a consultation.
Kevin:(3:22) Why the name Community.lawyer? What’s the community? What’s that mean?
Scott: Yeah. So Community.lawyer, we think that there’s an extraordinary opportunity in legal, um, to sort of harness communities of lawyers, to allow them to share expertise, share referrals. Um, so right now with our app builder, it’s very easy for attorneys to actually share the apps that they built with other attorneys so that those attorneys can then plug those apps into their own workflows. That’s one of the things we were talking about our Clio integration. We’re working, for example with one of the most sophisticated, immigration, law firms in the country is Siskind Susser.
Kevin: Yeah, I know them very well.
Scott: Yeah, there you go. They’re building a whole suite of apps on Community.lawyer. And now if I’m just a solo small firm immigration attorney anywhere in the United States, I can actually subscribe to their apps, plug them directly into my Clio account and harness the knowledge and the expertise of Siskind Susser, which is amazing.
Kevin: (4:21) How’d you get involved in all of this with Community.lawyer? What were you doing right before Community.lawyer?
Scott: So I took a pretty winding path to it. I am not a technologist. Um, everybody else on our team has technical skills. So, um, but I was actually a social impact attorney. I was at the ACLU in Pennsylvania. My wife finished up in business school and we moved to New York, the big city. And I thought I was going to apply for a job at ACLU national. Which I, you know, I loved working there and I saw this like very kind of random job opportunity and it was for this technology incubator called Blue Ridge Labs. Um, and they were recruiting attorneys to come in and serve as experts, to advise, some technologists that they were bringing in. And the idea was that out of this incubator there’d be a set of either nonprofits or for profit companies that would be launched to help address the access to justice gap. Um, so, you might know of some of the other teams that have come out of Blue Ridge Labs, so like UpSolve their automating bankruptcy. They came out of Blue Ridge Labs, they sat a desk over from us. JusFix, which is automating a lot of tenant rights advocacy in New York. They also came out of Blue Ridge labs. So it’s a pretty exciting place to be.
Kevin: (5:39) Oh, it’s cool that you ran into that. What’s been the biggest surprise by getting in, you know, saying, “Okay, I’m not going to go the traditional, you know, whether it’s ACLU or other traditional law routes and now I’m involved in this tech company of which I’m not the tech guy”?
Scott: Yeah, I mean, I think the biggest surprise for me is how many of the skills I built as an attorney are applicable in this space. So I thought I was going to have to totally reinvent myself. Total fish out of water. But at the ACLU in particular, you had to think a lot about kind of systemically how would a particular case that we were bringing, how is it going to affect things? So you had to almost, you know, projected into the future and say if we do this, then what’s going to happen here, here and here. And I think product management, which is my primary role.
Kevin: (6:30) I was just going to ask you, if you were doing product management?
Scott: I’m doing all of the above.
Kevin: You do it all, but definitely with the approach that you’re ending with the product. “If we develop it this way, what are we going to get at that point? At that point, that point. If we do a little bit more development here, we won’t be facing that issue when we get over to here.”
Kevin: There’s a lot of logic applied to those situations.
Scott: There are. There is indeed
Kevin: The’re brighter people than me at my company that handle that task. What’s been the greatest joy?
Scott: I think the greatest joy for us has been, you know, so the way our product works is anyone can go on Community.lawyer and they can just create an account and start building. And so we’ll just be like totally surprised by just, you know, there’s a lawyer in Scotland who’s like automating a power of attorneys in Scotland and has built this like wonderful robust app and we’ve never, we had never had a conversation with them. We had never, there was no sales. They just found out about us, went on the website, and started building something really powerful.
Kevin: (7:32) So, you’re providing them a baseline on that platform for doing something, to do that development, and you’re then watching this thing blossom into something only they could have dreamed of because they’re interfacing with the client in ways that you maybe couldn’t have imagined and especially in another country.
Scott: Yeah. And that was our thing. We could have either set out to build these automations ourselves, you know, um, in which case we would have had to start with, you know, the federal all, you know, you do bankruptcy, you do immigration means.
Kevin: You mean “boutique agency”.
Scott: Right? But then beyond that, it’s like, how do you ever even approach all the complexity of the areas of law and all these different jurisdictions? Well you can’t, and that’s why we wanted to build tools to empower lawyers, um, to actually do it themselves.
Kevin: It’s pretty neat. How many people are in with a company now?
Scott: Yeah. So we’re a small team. We’ve been around for three years. Uh, there’s four of us in all.
Kevin: All New York or distributed?
Scott: All in New York. We believe, even though that the salary is a little bit higher, if you pay for someone in New York, it’s good to be in the same room, to kind of have your tribe and, you know, we definitely have our tribe.
Kevin: (8:32) We’re going the other route now. We started to expand. We’d gone up and down all over the board and now we’re gonna try to Matt Malweg approach and go distributed. I’m going to have my office. Melissa likes to be there and I would say very soon we’re gonna have more people working at home and around the country than in Seattle.
Scott: Well, I’m out to ask you about how that went because we’re super interested in the idea of remote work, I think. And the tooling for actually having a distributed team has really changed.
Kevin: We’re a hit, which I was very skeptic. I wanted, we need to be in the room, we need to talk, we need to see each other. And then we lost a really talented person. I mean, you can’t keep people for 10, 10-11 years is a long time when they’ve developed and honed some skills. I’m was just like, “how are we gonna find people?”. And all of a sudden we’ve got three really talented people, you know, one in Austin, one that lives in a trailer with her husband. They both have really cool jobs that they pull around with a red pickup truck around the country. I really want to get her because she’s really talented. Believe it or not, there’s a lawyer here that has a good law practice. Her husband and her live in a motor-home with two kids. We just hired a head of products, um, moved from Denver to Austin and I’m really excited. I’m not going to meet him until Thursday. He just started two weeks ago and I couldn’t believe we were hiring him. That’s so it is, it’s the challenge. Your prices are a little bit higher than ours, but ours are pretty damn high. So when people come to town, we can’t, you know, they start to shop even though they may want to do certain things. So, I’ll let you know. What are you guys working on now? What are you guys most excited about now? So even before I ask the question, how’d you find each other as a team? I mean obviously you joined after was something there. Who was the first person that was working on this?
Scott: (10:25) So the interesting thing about the incubator that we’re a part of is you actually come in as individuals. So they bring in 20 people.
Kevin: So it’s like a hack thing?
Scott: Yeah, I would actually, the best way to think of it, it’s sort of like the bachelor for startups, right? So, you know, they get 20 people, you spend about five months talking people across the legal industry, court system, administrators.
Kevin: Who funds that? Who runs it? Who provides the space? Cause this is a great story.
Scott: In New York, it’s the Robin Hood foundation. They’re one of the largest nonprofits in New York. I think they, they’ve got an annual budget of like $400 million and a very small part of that budget goes to their technologies incubator. Um, which it just so happened the year I joined was focused around legal tech.
Kevin: So you come in and then get a salary?
Kevin: And then basically try to showcase, “I’m capable of doing things that merit a salary”.
Scott: Come in, we all get a small salary.
Scott: (11:38) Stipend, yes. That’s what they call it. So we’re, you know, we’re all contractors, but yeah, everybody comes in on little stipend, but everybody’s probably taken out a little bit of a pay cut coming in. Um, you spend about three months, you know, exploring the space and then coming up with ideas and then you formed into teams. And so there were four teams that came out of, uh, this particular program. Uh, I think three of them are still operating to this day. Um, and yeah, you know, I feel very fortunate that it worked out the, you know, uh, Michael and Tomo are the two folks that I co-found and Community.lawyer with. I didn’t know them at all before we started. We didn’t have an idea at all before we started but you know, we’ve been at it for three years. Uh, we have a great working relationship and we’re really excited about our product.
Kevin: Who interviewed you guys? Like when you apply you got interviewed and you’re going through this process cause I find this really fascinating. It’s the idea that you guys arrive, you have no idea what you might be working on, somehow formed this group. How long did it take from like, okay, “we’re here to where we formed the idea and we’re going to work on this”, what was that like?
Scott: (12:31) There was about three months.
Kevin: That’s 90 days.
Scott: Then we got two months to prototype and then we do a showcase of the prototype and then they give a little bit of follow on funding to the teams that they think are particularly promising.
Kevin: What was the interview process like?
Scott: So, the interview process is pretty smart. The folks who run the incubator they each have kind of a domain that they’re masters of, right. So, they’ve got a great tech lead. His name is Bill Cromey. And so he, he interviews all the kind of, you know, the techies who are coming in. So our CTO was interviewed by Bill. I was interviewed more by sort of like the design, and like, industry expert kind of track lead for the Blue Ridge Labs. Uh, and then, uh, they also have someone who used to be a consultant at Bame who kind of like, you know, more does the interviews with like the business minded folks.
Kevin: (13:22) How come more people don’t know of it? I mean, I did not know. I mean a lot of these companies didn’t know that you’re all coming out of this one place. Um, it’s fascinating. And when you think of the relatively small sum of money that’s applied to that, the big impact that it can have by leveraging technology and bright and ambitious people. I wish more people hear about it. I intend to come to New York and talk to you guys. Maybe I should, I think, I don’t know if I’ve ever talked to the guys at UpSell or not. I talked to them not on video, but it’s all cool stuff.
Scott: (13:56) Yeah, it’s a really cool, and I actually do think, you know, you know like Tinder sort of fixed the market inefficiency of dating, right? It used to be a kind of random happenstance. “I hope I get introduced to someone”. Okay. I think there’s something to be said for this idea of the way people find founders. Traditionally it’s like either went to college with them or you both came up at the same company. Um, but that’s kind of inefficient. I understand why you’d want to sort of, those teams know each other, they can trust each other. But in our case we went through an intense process with these people so we got to know each other very well and in a short period of time. Um, so I knew about Michael and Tomo before we decided to do this crazy thing and try to launch a company.
Kevin: How long a time period was it was from when you first met? 90 days is when you actually got a prototype? I mean, at some point, or was it 90 days? Well, was it 90 days when you had to have a prototype up or something?
Scott: 90 days was to pick the team and then we had two more months to prototype. So there’s a five month time.
Kevin: So it was 90 days to say, “We’ve got to get our shit together and get an idea down of something that is going to work”. Cause you’re really, you’re working yourself into a job.
Scott: You are. Yeah. And the best and worst sort of job, you know.
Kevin: With, you know, a couple other people that you’ve never met before and what we’re seeing come out of this is some pretty cool legal tech. They’re just providing greater access to legal services. Maybe not, access to legal services in the lower end. But what you’re describing with the apps, is the ability, people that might have the money to consume legal services, but they want that ease. And the lawyers need to know that they need to deliver them with apps like these, right? Gonna be smart enough to know that “Hey, charging by the hour forever can get really old. I like to have a solution that can charge as they are being used”. I think it’s a great. I have a question I stopped to ask you, what’s the thing that you guys are working the hardest on, right now, as far as getting done?
Scott: (15:53) Yeah. I mean, I think as a general amount of work, we’re a product first company. So, we think that like if you look at the great products out there, they didn’t win because they had a great sales team or, you know, they had a great Twitter presence. What they really won by was having a product that really added so much value to their users that those users went out and told other people about it. And so, for us it’s taking a really difficult thing, which is a tool that can, you know, perform a lot of really complex things that can compile documents, it can do complex intake. And making it as user friendly as possible I think is our core focus is like, how do you make that feel like magic and not like work?
Kevin: (16:40) Talk about it. Obviously I’m biased, but that’s how LexBlog was built. LexBlog was built by, “Hey, how can we have something that people rave about so they’re not moderately satisfied? And they still tell other people about it”. Make sure you blog, make sure I’m blogging all the time so people know who I am. So when they contact with a high level of trust, um, yeah, get that word out to what you guys are doing. Cause I think it’s great. Now I understand it from the beginning, I’m going “why getting something to build apps versus getting something of this already completed?” But I get it now.
Scott: Yeah. I mean, I think, the analogy we use a lot is like “if I’m an engineer and I learned to, you know, I learned the laws of physics and I learned how a bridge holds up and that applies everywhere. Every jurisdiction I go, you know, physics apply”. But as a lawyer, every state I go into, the laws change and they can be changed again at any moment. And so how do you create a, you know, a set of tools that can adapt and allow the people who are on the ground with that expertise to make those changes in real time. And we think you have to empower lawyers. You can’t leave it up to the big national corporations to do it.
Kevin: And I was there at corporations before there was word processing. We literally cut and pasted the changes. So much was word processing, you know, my assistant or paralegals went in and changed the documents that needed to be changed, and that was about as advanced as I got. But providing the ability for a consumer of legal services to interface with an app was taking it to a whole new level. So it’s pretty cool what you’re doing.
Scott: Thank you very much.
Kevin: Thank you very much. It was fun learning about Community.lawyer.
Scott: Thanks for having us. I really appreciate it.
Kevin: You bet.