Kevin speaks with Stephanie Walker of Continuing Education of the Bar (CEB) on the company’s transition of transforming their legacy print business model to a digital first model.
Kevin O’Keefe: Who am I talking with?
Stephanie Walker: I am Stephanie Walker from CEB.
Kevin: Okay. And what are you doing with CEB, Stephanie?
Stephanie: I am the product strategy and innovation manager.
Kevin: And what, what’s that mean? Can you have an innovation manager at an older traditional company? And tell me why.
Stephanie: Well, I have to say when I first took the job and I saw the job title because they actually, and I’m the first person to hold this position at CEB. It was a newly invented position and I said innovation manager “come on, guys. no pressure”. But basically what it means is that, um, I work on new product development for CEB and specifically kind of new, uh, digital research solutions for attorneys. And most people know, like you said, we’re 70 years old and we’re an older company and we needed to kind of figure out how to move into the 21st century and what the kind of next iteration of CEB was going to be. So I’m lucky enough to be a major part of that.
Kevin: (1:01) CEB, for people that aren’t in California, is Continuing Education at the Bar.
Stephanie: Right. Continuing Education at the Bar. And the first question we get is, “so you just do CLE, right?”. And then we have to explain, no, we do a lot more than just CLE. We do, um, well now we do a daily kind of case alerts and articles. We do primary law research including a case law citator and we’ve got 140 California specific practice guides and we do CLE.
Kevin: I’m just going to ask a bunch of naive questions.
Stephanie: Yeah, sure.
Kevin: So you have 20% of the lawyers in the United States are in California?
Kevin: Are they customers of CEB? Do they subscribe to CEB? How does that all work?
Stephanie: Yeah. So earlier I would have probably said customers, but now I think I’d say kind of subscribers or members. We’ve moved to really having this online membership model where you can subscribe to various levels of content.
Kevin: What you want. It’s a smorgasbord.
Stephanie: Yes, it is. And depending on what your firm is and what you’re most interested in, what fits your needs, you can get different pieces or subscribe at different levels.
Kevin: Okay. And then is that going up by firm? per lawyer? How does that, I guess it goes out by email? I mean, I don’t mean delivery by email, but by identification, by delivery, by email. When it goes out by email, right?
Stephanie: (2:19) Everyone logs in. So there’s an actual online research platform. Everyone’s got their own login and password.
Kevin: Okay. Um, how did you get started there? What were you doing before you joined CEB?
Stephanie: So I was a lawyer. I was a litigator. I worked at like a 14 attorney, um, general civil litigation practice. And it was, I thought I was going to end up at another firm, maybe a little closer to home. And I saw a job description for CEB that was actually not this. It was to manage a team of attorneys that work on our practice guides. And I thought, okay, that sounds like a fun change of pace. Let’s give it a shot, get some management experience. Um, and then about six months after I got to CEB, Kelly Lake or our executive director came on as the executive director and kinda just changed everything and started these really great, um, kind of digital transformation initiatives. And that’s kinda how this all happened.
Kevin: (3:15) Yeah. And the reason it’s interesting for me to chat with you, I’m talking with a lot of entrepreneurs. Now, you know, you’re not starting a company that didn’t exist before on an idea that didn’t exist before. You’re not trying to figure out how to, you know, pay the rent inbetween, but you’re doing something that you’re part of something that hasn’t been done before at CEB.
Kevin: Hey, tell me a little bit about that because you’re saying her name is Kelly?
Stephanie: Kelley, yes.
Kevin: So she comes on board, she wants to do things differently. She wants to leverage technology, wants to leverage digital. And you’re right in the middle of it. When was that? And then what’s been going on?
Stephanie: So that really happened I think in the spring of 2016 and I think the kind of first step was just assessing our company and assessing what CEB was and whether we had any gaps. And one of the really interesting analyses that came out of it was, “Hey, look, we, we really don’t have any designated function for R and D or product development. It needs to be someone’s job to do that”. So, um, that was kind of one of the initial steps. And because of that determination, my department and my position were created. Um, and then grew from there. Hired outside, people from outside the legal industry who had product development skills and it just kind of moved from there.
Kevin: (4:34) How’d you learn who to hire and what they did and what skills and traits that they should have in order to be successful?
Stephanie: I wasn’t in charge of that hiring, but for me personally, I mean just, I’d never done product development before. It was, um, it was really learning by doing and I have to, I mean, I’ve been having a blast. I’ve been having the time of my life. And the variety of it has been hugely interesting. Getting to, you know, use the law degree in use the knowledge of the industry, but also marketing and business development and the finance side and design and all of that has been just.
Kevin: What’s been the biggest surprise and maybe it’s that you like it so much? But I mean, what is the biggest surprise?
Stephanie: (5:15) You know, I don’t know actually. I think, I think one of the biggest surprises has been, um, well not to pat ourselves on the back a little bit. We’ve managed a lot in a small amount of time. And so I think for a split second there was a little bit of surprise that I’m like, “Oh my God, we did it. We did it”. We managed this last year to get it out the door and have a good response. Um, and I think that other, the thing that’s really been surprising is, um, the extent to which you have to put aside own personal experience about how you practice law and about how you did things. Um, and just the extent to which you have to absolutely set your ego at the door and listen to the customers because what you think doesn’t matter.
Kevin: (6:11) Yeah, it’s right. I mean you heard Jack talk today and you just start these things cycle through your head and you go, “man, we’ve got to get our act together for the customers”.
Stephanie: Yeah. You know, I think lawyers aren’t the best active listeners in the world as a group.
Kevin: It’s tough. I mean, we’re skilled and we’re paid to be suspect cause that’s what we’re supposed to do on behalf of our clients.
Kevin: You know, and, and you know, be very suspicious of different things. And that’s somehow assumed that we know things that we have no idea. When I started LexBlog, I mean these people would tell me what they wanted on their blog or how they wanted their blog run. I said, “have you ever done any blog development or blog writing or publishing? No”. I’d answer, “Why would you ever think that you know what you’re talking about?”. Now, I wasn’t afraid to ask lawyers that, you know, cause I wasn’t going to do their work the way they wanted it to be done, but you really do need to get outside of what you thought things should be and whatnot. What’s been the greatest challenge and that made you go, “God, that’s frustrating”, or “that was a surprise”? And it could be for you personally or just viewing it?
Stephanie: (7:18) Well, I think one of the things, and I’m sure lots of entities have that. I mean we’re over 70 years old and we’re a legacy print publishing company and so trying to basically stand up a new business or kind of transformed from the inside out while you’re keeping the legacy business running along the same way, along the same time, is challenging. It’s a big shift for a lot of people who have been at this company for a very long time.
Kevin: No. And you have that challenge. You have have salaries. You have health insurance. You have benefits and all these different things. For a startup, it’s just saying “we don’t have any paper and it’s going to be digital”
Stephanie: It can just go.
Kevin: And we don’t have to worry about all the benefits people have, cause they ain’t getting it. They don’t have any. And so they’re just going a million miles an hour. With people willing to work for less and crazier hours and they don’t have the infrastructure to support. So I laud you for what you’re doing.
Stephanie: We could not pay people in stock options.
Kevin: (8:08) Maybe not in stock options, but they’re willing to do something for a cause so they don’t have, um. I mean Mondo went out of business doing that, all in about four years. You know, when I got acquired by Martindale was, seemed crazy to me what was going on. Five years later they’re out of business. Uh, I was taking a hundred and some year old legacy print product and how do we get it to be digital in a way that will work?
Stephanie: Well, we’ve been very lucky for a couple of reasons, I think. And I think you’re also positioned very well for a few reasons. The first is that really the center of what we do as the content and we have really good content to start with. Part of it was just a matter of “how do we make it more accessible? How do we expand the content? How do you do a better job of making it usable and more efficient for people?”. The other piece of it was that we’ve had, we’ve worked with really excellent other companies and we have an outside development web engineering firm that we’re working who’s amazing. We’re also, um, working with did Judicata. Another of the area start-ups to really power our
Kevin: They’re good guys.
Stephanie: (9:16) They’re great guys. We love working with them. To power the primary law search and our legal search in general. So we’ve had, we’ve had a lot of really great people working with us..
Kevin: What do you think, just out of curiosity, what are you doing with blogs as a secondary resource. Are you bringing those into the environment at all?
Stephanie: We are actually, so we used to have kind of a free standing blog, but what I wanted to do is, um, so it’s interesting depending on the attorneys that you talk to, sometimes “blog” is a little bit of a dirty word. And what I mean by that is they, some attorneys think that if you say something is a “blog”, what you mean is that it’s “lightweight content”.
Kevin: Yeah, that was not what everybody thought ten years ago.
Kevin: But now all the marketing companies would just come in just to create keywords. So I know what you mean.
Stephanie: Yeah. So what we, what we ended up doing and what was actually really important to me was, we know how important it is for lawyers to get kind of daily updates on what’s going on in their field, what’s going on in their practice area. So when you log in to our new platform, the first thing you see on the home page is legal news, articles, and law alerts. So we’ve kind of incorporated it into the same ecosystem as our primary law research and our secondary sources so that they all live in the same universe. They cross reference each other.
Kevin: (10:28) We should talk some time, because we just transferred, you know it’s not all applicable to California, but we just transferred about a half a million posts on a thousand different feeds into VLex.
Stephanie: Oh, wow.
Kevin: Then we’ll talk to the other legal research and AI companies, cause we can attach metadata to the content to serve up what people may want and maybe even provide the environments for them to display and distribute.
Stephanie: We would love to talk about that actually. That’d be fantastic.
Kevin: Because you could take, you could say, “okay, let’s go grab, you know, the authoritative and credible blogs from California” and then have them come into one environment and then have them served up. So we should talk some time. Going back to your story. I mean, you went from, “okay, I’m in a law firm” and either one night or one weekend or just out, you’re thinking, “is this exactly what I want to do forever?”. Or you maybe saw the description you started saying, “maybe that gives me my out”? What would you tell other people, you know, going through that mental thing that, you know, a law degree can be extremely valuable, but you don’t necessarily have to be in a law firm practicing law forever.
Stephanie: (11:33) Yes. I think what I would tell people is that you have to be willing to take that knowledge base and that skillset and leverage it in other ways. And there’s certain other skills that you have to have. One of which is an ability to kind of be very adaptable, which is hard for a lot of lawyers. Even though we’re always dealing with ambiguity in the law itself, we don’t really like ambiguity and that we don’t know how something’s gonna turn out.
Kevin: You have to tell somebody, “Hey, if you’re looking for this certainty, probably not going to be around here”.
Stephanie: But if you tell us, “you have to start working differently” or you have to totally change the way you think about things”, I think if you’re interested in learning different things, I think if you’ve got kind of business acumen, I think if you’re willing to kind of dive into statistics, I think if you’re, if you’ve got a little bit of an artistic eye, I think all of that, and in legal tech and legal design, there’s a lot of opportunities for you. You don’t have to have an MBA, right. You just are willing to kind of nurture those skills.
Kevin: But a law degree is invaluable. I mean, what to do, what you’re doing, you wouldn’t be able to do what you’re doing without that law degree.
Stephanie: Certainly not as quickly, I don’t think. That’s a really big learning curve for the people who come in from outside the legal industry. It’s actually, it’s a huge learning curve for them to understand how this works and all other pieces of information fit together. A lot of it’s, I mean, I’ve had hilarious conversations try to explain to people the California court system and they’re looking at me like a crazy person.
Kevin: (13:12) “Who wrote that up? This is just the state. Let me get to the federal industry”.
Stephanie: Yeah, yeah, basically.
Kevin: Oh, it’s a great story. What you’re doing, and I mean, the reason we met was I’m out on the internet saying, “Hey LexBlog is going to be interviewing. Real lawyers is going on the road” and you responded to the email on what a, I don’t know what night it was. “Why not CEB?”
Stephanie: I saw the tweet.
Kevin: So, yeah you saw the tweet, it’s amazing how people can meet so quickly compared to ever before.
Stephanie: Yeah, it’s really nice. And especially at events like this, you get to, I’ve run into a handful of people that I’ve literally only interacted with on Twitter before today.
Kevin: What do you think about Clio, their conference?
Stephanie: It’s fun. I mean, right? So I was here, we’re sponsoring this year cause it’s here in California, but I attended last year in New Orleans and I came home and I was like, “okay guys, I have a light up tambourine and there was a second line through the streets of New Orleans”. This is really fun.
Kevin: You can’t, I was debating even over the weekend, people were saying, “well you know, Clio’s this or that” in a bad way. You know, I’m thinking “but as far as inspiring people, sustainable look at things differently, and have some fun” just by being a lawyer and being able to meet lawyers. It’s tough to beat.
Stephanie: And I think that especially from someone who now has to worry about trying to get lawyers to try new products. The people who come to this conference are the people who are more likely to be early adopters.
Kevin: That’s right.
Stephanie: They’re the people who are much more likely to try new things. They’re a little more tech savvy and they’re willing to kind of figure out how can I automate, how can I fix things?
Kevin: They pulled out a credit card, bought airplane ticket and hotel. There’s lot of lawyers that are waiting for the partner to come into the office and say, “would you like to go to San Diego? Here’s a, here’s an airplane and a hotel”. Cause it ain’t happening. No, I think it’s great. It was great to meet you.
Stephanie: So nice to meet you. Thanks for having me.