Are you a law blogger in Houston? Or a Texas law blogger who will be in Houston for the bar’s annual meeting. It would be my honor to tell your story.

I’ll be in Houston from Wednesday evening through late Friday afternoon. I’d welcome meeting for coffee or a pint for a Facebook Live Interview.

Nothing daunting. Nothing to prepare for. I’m just interesting in how you got started blogging, how it has gone for you, what blogging has meant to you and what you’ve learned along the way. Maybe learn a little about you and what you do as a lawyer.

I find the stories inspiring and so do other lawyers out there blogging or considering blogging.

Text/call my cell phone (206-321-3627) or email me.

Thanks and please spread the word, Houstonian – and Texans.

Why don’t more small legal tech companies use bank loans to fund their companies? Most are chasing angel and venture capital when funding may be down the street.

I was over to LexBlog’s bank this afternoon for what feels like an annual checkup. I am happy to report, all good, the bank was impressed with the bottom line from last year. I asked that they come over and tell Mrs. RL.

We do a line of credit with our bank that was turned into a term loan a few years ago that’s renewed annually. We pay interest monthly and make regular principal payments throughout the year to reduce the balance.

I have always liked banks. Straight talking and down to earth people who are in business to make loans to business people. Today, the home loans are gone to the large aggregators of home loan lenders it seems.

Small banks matter. I sat down with the CEO, in addition to our loan officer, today. Our bank is a $100 million bank, not a $900 billion one, like Wells Fargo.

Why small bank loans for legal tech companies?

  • Keeps you focused on business (producing and selling), not raising capital.
  • Keeps you lean and mean. You’ll not spend money on things you don’t need – you won’t have the money.
  • Keeps you focused on developing cash flow. Banks need to see you can cash flow payments on a loan. They cannot lend on collateral or a guaranty alone. Until you get cash flow, or least a forecast of cash flow based on a history of revenue, ie growing subscription revenue, scrape buy. Don’t quit your job. Or as one lawyer I know did, work in large law for a number of years and save what you can. He has accumulated enough savings to survive for two to three years in his new venture.
  • You learn to build a small business. Venture capital companies may call it a “lifestyle company,” but a small company doing millions a year and feeding twenty to thirty families is something to be proud of. It’s the stuff that this country is made of.
  • You have a ready source of capital for hiring or small acquisitions.
  • It’s cheap. You’ll pay as little as three to four percent interest.
  • You build a real relationship with real people in the banking industry. You are going to want those relationships over your business lifetime.
  • Many lawyers have a history of working with small banks for working capital or the funding of cases. Borrowing from banks is in your comfort zone.

You’ll need to collateralize the loan. For most people, that’s a second mortgage on the house or condo. That can eliminate folks without real estate. You may need turn to a guarantor.

The amount you are borrowing needn’t be a large sum, it probably should not be. It could be $50,000 to $200,000. In today’s world, with open source solutions, cheap hosting, people working on contract and the like, such sums can go a long way.

I get to a fair number of legal tech conferences. Good people with decent ideas sound like they are in the HBO show, Silicon Valley, rather than in real life when it comes to funding companies. Rather than talking like you are in the funny papers of tech startups, why not just build a business with funding down the street?

Swing on over to the LexBlog website and you’ll see that our marketing website has been replaced by the contributions from law bloggers from around the world.

Gone are highly profiled slogans, packages of services, testimonials, profiles of team members, our values and the history of the company. All of things we’ve come to expect of corporate websites.

In their place, insight and contributions from legal professionals. Blog posts representing a conversation – what legal professionals have read, oberserved or heard and their accompanying engagement.

As my COO, Garry Vander Voort says, we’re not so much about what we say we are, we are about our bloggers. Legal professionals who are blogging tell our story.

Almost twenty years ago the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto wrote that markets are conversations.

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter, …and getting smarter faster than most companies.

These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.

LexBlog has always been about conversations. Rather than advertisements, email marketing, brochures and conference booths,  we’ve, or perhaps I should say I have blogged to grow our company,

There’s nothing wrong with traditional marketing, it just wasn’t LexBlog.

Truth be told, when sitting in my garage starting LexBlog, I asked myself how the heck was anyone going to hear about my company. The minute I thought about buying an ad in a publication such as the ABA Journal, I said “What I am thinking, I need to put my money where my mouth is, I need to blog to grow my business.”

I read about blogging, digital media (as we called it then), the Internet and legal marketing. I blogged what I read, offering my take. What it meant, how I disagreed and how I agreed.

I met people along the way. I came to realize that Winer, Searls, Weinberger and the other signatories to the Cluetrain, were right. Markets are conversations — or as I described it, marketing is a conversation. By engaging others in a real and authentic fashion you built a name and a business.

I came to strongly agree with Cluetrain.

Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.

But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about “listening to customers.” They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.

We’ve had a website for almost fourteen years. But from now on we’ll be known by legal bloggers. Bloggers publishing on LexBlog’s managed WordPress platform and now, bloggers publishing on their own platforms.

We’ll focus on curating the best in legal blogging from around the world. Where there are gaps in the network, we’ll recruit bloggers.

The current LexBlog site is just a start, admittedly a rough start. Our editor-in-chief and publisher, Bob Ambrogi just joined LexBlog this last week. He is already working with the team on improvements to the site. Our tech and products team will be developing a new solution for the curation of legal blogs that we’ll use for the site later this year.

What we do know is that The New York Times wouldn’t have a front page marketing packages for advertsing and subscribing. The Times leads with stories by talented reporters. Like the Times and other news and information sites, LexBlog will lead with stories from talented legal bloggers.

We’ll of course communicate with the outside world, sometimes using the mediums used by other companies. But we’ll not forget the theses of the Cluetrain, the first ten of which are below.

  1. Markets are conversations.
  2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
  3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
  5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
  6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
  7. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
  8. In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.
  9. These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.
  10. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.

To the conversation — and legal bloggers.

Christmas comes a few days early at LexBlog with the announcement that lawyer and leading legal journalist, Robert Ambrogi, is joining LexBlog as our publisher and editor-in-chief.

Bob is one of the better known legal journalists in the country. He served as editor-in-chief of the National Law Journal and was founding editor of Lawyers USA.

Bob’s blog, LawSites, may be the most widely followed and respected legal technology publication in the country. More than one entrepreneur has told me it was Bob’s coverage that made for the success of their comopany.

In addition to writing and speaking about the Internet, social media and legal technology for nearly 20 years, Bob is the author of multiple books about law and the net. He has also co-hosted the award-winning podcast, Lawyer2Lawyer, at over twelve years, the longest-running legal podcast.

This Fall, Bob received the Yankee Quill Award, presented by the Academy of New England Journalists “to honor extraordinary newspaper men and women for their lifetime of achievement and distinction in New England journalism.” Among other things, they recognized Bob’s relentless commitment to the public’s right to know while serving as executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association.

More important than all is the one constant I heard when sharing word of Bob’s joining LexBlog with business confidants. “Integrity. No one commands more respect than Bob.”

Bob’s a good friend. I have learned s lot from him, not only on blogging, journalism and technology, but more importantly what it means to be a blogger, journalist, lawyer and publisher. It’s not just the words you report. Integrity, professionalism, freedom of the press, hard work, passion and care come to mind.

I am excited to bring Bob to my colleagues on the LexBlog team where by leveraging innovative technology, he’ll help define a new model in legal publishing. Legal information, news and commentary from citizen journalists, blogging lawyers, for lawyers and members of the public. He’s as passionate about blogging as me, if not more.

Our blog network produces close to as any pieces a day as the New York Times. It’s time time to take that from a byproduct of a company with the most successful legal blogging solution to a force in legal publishing. No one is more capable of leading us all there than Bob.

I am excited to bring Bob to blogging lawyers, whether on the LexBlog network or not. He’ll be shining a light on you and your work as well as guiding you on the best practices in legal blogging.

Over a dozen years ago, when LexBlog was a door on two file cabinets under a hardware light in my garage, I emailed a rockstar in legal publishing and blogging. I asked if he had time to talk some day. To my delight, he did.

It was Bob. I don’t recall the details of our conversation, other than to remember that he was a good guy that I looked forward to learning from and getting to know.

Wow. Some times you get lucky.

Stay tuned to our open discussion at Donuts.LexBlog.com about how we’ll build this publishing arm of LexBlog — or for that matter, LexBlog itself.

Every company talks about being real, open and authentic and nobody does it it, my company, LexBlog included.

Being real, open and authentic requires a a company letting the outside world know what makes the company tick, what they’re working on, what they’re learning, what they’re struggling with and so much more.

This message, communication and engagement obviously has to come from the company’s team members – its employees. It sure can’t come from marketing, communications and PR – that would be lipstick in this situation.

With technology, enabling open and authentic dialogue is a snap. A blog and Facebook come to mind.

A blog works best as it enables a company to capture this historical “team diary,” enables indexing on Google for shared research, easy subscription via RSS and email and social sharing by the team and the public across Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

So a blog it is for LexBlog – donuts.lexblog.com. Everyone of my teammates will have the capability of openly sharing what they’re working on. Tech, editorial, products, sales, support/success, operations and accounting, all are in.

No one is going to question each other for sharing too much. God knows, I am open as all get out about what LexBlog is working, what I’m excited about and where we’re challenged – on the road and, when I make the time, online. Let “being smart” be your guide.

The inspiration for donuts comes from blogging – as it was and still is – a conversation. Robert Scoble (@scobleizer) and Shel Israel (@shelisrael) authored the book, Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers, eleven years ago.

The book is about how blogs, bloggers and the blogosphere is changing how businesses communicate with their consumers and other stakeholders. Rather than marketing speak, have an open dialogue with the outside world – or at least those who listen in.

And enabling the world to listen in is what being an open and authentic organization is all about.

Thirteen years ago, Scoble and three fellow Microsoft employees created Channel 9 for their company.

Microsoft was viewed as the evil empire. With Channel 9, Microsoft customers could listen in just as passengers on United Airlines could listen in on an unfiltered conversation in the cockpit via its audio Channel 9.

Channel 9 enabled Microsoft employees to share thoughts and work via blog-like posting and other media. Channel 9 enabled a conversation between Microsoft employees and its audience of customers, developers and the media – bloggers and traditional.

Rather than public relations, marketing and its chairman, Bill Gates, Microsoft could have a real voice through its employees and listen to people as real people themselves.

Customers/developers could nurture relationships with Microsoft employees, share input and feedback with Microsoft developers and ultimately, shape future product development.

When it came time to buy, customers (often technology companies and their developers) were buying products they knew were coming, that they helped shape, and from people they trusted and from a company with whom they had a real relationship.

Microsoft employees learned through this dialogue. First they shaped their thinking through writing and by attracting people with similar interests they grew a “learning network.”

The “Channel 9 Doctrine” is inspiring and can guide our efforts at “donuts.”

  1. Channel 9 is all about the conversation. Channel 9 should inspire Microsoft and our customers to talk in an honest and human voice. Channel 9 is not a marketing tool, not a PR tool, not a lead generation tool.
  2. Be a human being. Channel 9 is a place for us to be ourselves, to share who we are, and for us to learn who our customers are
  3. Learn by listening. When our customers speak, learn from them. Don’t get defensive, don’t argue for the sake of argument. Listen and take what benefits you to heart.
  4. Be smart. Think before you speak, there are some conversations which have no benefit other than to reinforce stereotypes or create negative situations.
  5. Marketing has no place on Channel 9. When we spend money on Channel 9 the goal is to surprise and delight, not to promote or preach.
  6. Don’t shock the system. Lasting change only happens in baby steps.
  7. Know when to turn the mic off. There are some topics which will only result in problems when you discuss them. This has nothing to do with censorship, but with working within the reality of the system that exists in our world today. You will not change anything by taking on legal or financial issues, you will only shock the system, spook the passengers, and create a negative situation.
  8. Don’t be a jerk. Nobody likes mean people.
  9. Commit to the conversation. Don’t stop listening just because you are busy. Don’t stop participating because you don’t agree with someone. Relationships are not built in a day, be in it for the long haul and we will all reap the benefits as an industry.

Hey, donuts is just starting. One post from Garry Vander Voort, our COO is all we’ve got so far. But I am optimistic, I’ve got a heck of a talented, caring and passionate team. I can’t wait to turn their thinking loose on you – and your thinking loose on us. .

Why “donuts?” It seemed obvious, with all our products named after doughnut types from a Seattle donut chain. Maybe Josh Lynch, our CTO, can chime in with why donuts for product names.

That’s where I am headed to this next week.

Las Vegas for ILTCON, the International Legal Technology Association annual conference, from Monday late afternoon to midday Wednesday.

Disliking Las Vegas, and having been to two conferences there already this year, I was ready to pass on ILTA.

But over the last couple weeks I’ve had any number of friends, companies, PR professionals and bloggers ask if I was coming and to get together if I was.

ILTACON is one of the places legal technology folks gather each year, so with an industry based on relationships, it’s best I go.

I’ll do some Facebook Live’s with some of the people and companies I find most interesting. A lot of the tech at ILTACON doesn’t draw my interest as I don’t understand it, it’s older, it’s coming from larger companies or is only used in situations I don’t come across.

I find the entrepreneurs and their stories of believing they have something, self funding, riding the emotional roller coaster and now feeling they’re pulling it off to be the fun interviews. People and their personal stories can be as interesting as their technology.

With LexBlog growing from an agency to a software company and publisher, a few folks have reached out to meet to find out if we could work together. Whether to license our managed platform for publishing or to gain additional visibility and build their name through our growing publisher’s network.

I’ll be in Tulsa Wednesday evening and Thursday to keynote at “Professionalism Day” at the University of Tulsa College of Law.

Professionalism Day is a cool program that I understand a number of law schools put on to prepare students for the practice and business of law.

Rachel Baker, The Associate Director of Professional Development, has been following my blog and the message I’ve been delivering to law students and law schools.

The law school thought it would be great if I could come back and inspire the students as well as share some practical “how to’s.”

Not only will it be an honor to speak to the law students at Tulsa U, it will be a lot of fun. Little is more rewarding than “reaching” a law student or two as to the opportunities that await them and share how they can realize their dreams with the technology of today.

On Friday I am headed down to Norman to visit with folks at the University of Oklahoma Law School.

I was blown away by a presentation at AALL (American Association of Law Librarians) on what OU Law is doing in legal tech for their students.

We’ve since talked about OU Law beginning to use the LexBlog platform and Law School Blog Network for their students and professors. Getting to together face to face to talk more and see first hand what they’re doing will be fun.

If you’re looking for text or call, 206-321-3627.

This morning, Team LexBlog (everyone) begins its move to the WeWork – Holyoke Building here in downtown Seattle. We’ll move, in stages, over the next month from our current offices a few blocks away.

While many may view WeWork as co-working space for startups and companies with a distributed workforce, I see WeWork as something much different.

Like software as a service, WeWork offers space as a service. Health insurance, legal services and a slew of discounted services from international providers are included in a growing list of benefits.

Rather than worry about phones, Internet, copiers, conference rooms, huge display monitors, event centers, receptionists and more, WeWork has it all. Plus free coffee, cold brew and beer — all I found pretty important to the team when we viewed WeWork as a group a couple weeks ago.

Perhaps the greatest value in WeWork is the networking. Networking for team member learning. Networking for product development. Networking for hiring. And who knows, perhaps networking for business development.

The Holyoke Building, one of four (soon to be five) Seattle WeWork locations is impressive. WeWork occupies all six floors of the building first constructed after the Seattle fire in 1889. It has historic charm galore – exposed brick and stone walls, high ceilings, and tall rounded windows – with polished contemporary Northwest interiors.

The separate offices, of which we’ll occupy four or five, hold two to ten people, all include modern furnishings. There are also plenty of common areas to work from including areas akin to a small coffee shop on each floor. Downstairs there’s a huge area to hangout or hold events — it’s akin to what you’d find in an historic four or five star hotel.

WeWork isn’t just for startups. Alaska Airlines, Airbnb, Lululemon and Perkins Coie were just a few of the establish companies we ran across in touring WeWork. It’s also not just for distributed workforces (people working remote), as LexBlog and other companies have their entire company located in WeWork offices.

No question we’ll use some of the other WeWork locations – 203 office locations in 50 cities around the world. I am already looking at Chicago for an event next month.

Stay tuned, this is all an experiment and we could be back in traditional offices such as the one for which we were about to sign a lease.

Want to have some fun, put your passion for social media (Twitter, Facebook, blogging and more) to work, learn a heck of a lot and become a rockstar in your own right?

I am looking for a paid intern to work full time this summer and part-time during the school year. Who knows, maybe you become a full-time team member later on, as many interns have at LexBlog.

You could be law student, journalism student or any student with outstanding communication skills. What you will be is passionate, hungry and driven to succeed and to make a difference. You’ll bring ideas we’ve not tried before and a desire to do all things different.

You’ll be working closely with me to do, among other things:

  • Shine a light on the good work being done by blogging lawyers across our LexBlog blog network
  • Highlight innovation and technology across the legal profession
  • Highlight access to legal services and access to justice causes
  • Engage and nurture relationships with bloggers, law firms, bar associations, professional associations, reporters and other influential legal industry leaders
  • Work in an around my blog and others, as well as do some blogging of your own

Ideally, I’d like a student in Seattle. Your passion and enthusiasm would be contagious in our office, you’d get to get to know some fine team members of mine and you’d learn what working, innovating and playing in a small entrepreneurial company is all about.

But who knows? Maybe you come to Seattle for part of this summer and work from your school’s home during the school year.

Drop me an email. I look forward to talking.

PS – Maybe you’re a recent grad looking to learn, get some experience and to make yourself so indesensable we hire you.

Fastcase’s legal research solution is now integrated into LexBlog’s managed WordPress platform.

Publishers on LexBlog’s platform are now able to cite a case, code or regulation and have their citation linked to the source. Clicking on the link will then display, within the same browser interface, the case, code or regulation from Fastcase’s data base.

Here’s a visual of how a blog publisher may use Fastcase citations on LexBlog’s platform.

fastcase-search

Law bloggers have had a hard time citing cases, codes and statutes. Bloggers regularly cite primary law, but what do they link to? Bloomberg, LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters LexisNexis keep primary law behind a paywall, making people subscribe to their service to gain access to the law.

A law blogger subscribing to such services has access to the law, but their readers may not. Even those readers who do subscribe to the law will not be able to access the law linked to by the blogger as the blogger may be using a different subscription service.

Many law bloggers uploaded a pdf of the law and linked to that. Others didn’t cite or link, if they did. Both a little clumsy.

That problem is now over for bloggers on LexBlog’s platform.

Equally important was the need to integrate secondary authority with primary law – cases, codes and statutes. More and more, secondary authority is being published online and open. Such is the case with the thousands of law blogs being published by practicing lawyers, law professors, law clerks and law students.

To limit secondary authority to published journals, law reviews and treatises (usually behind paywalls) is the height of folly today.

A law professor, law student or practicing lawyer is as apt to publish legal commentary on a blog or other online publication as they are to publish to traditional publications. More so in the case of practicing lawyers.

Courts have recognized law blogs and open online publications as secondary authority by accepting blog citations in briefs and citing blogs in their decisions. Courts will now be able to seamlessly examine the authority cited by a law blogger.

Somone doing online research pulling up an open publication or blog will be able to readily review the authority cited by the blogger. Courts and lawyers citing such publications and blogs will know that the source will carry links to primary law.

The second part of the Fastcase-LexBlog integration will incorporate LexBlog Network blog posts in Fastcase’s libraries. When a law blogger cites primary law, the blog will annotate the case, code or statute. Those doing research will have immediate access to the insight of other legal professionals.

Fastcase, through a partnership with HeinOnline, already annotates primary law with an extensive collection of law reviews. Law blogs curated by LexBlog will be a natural fit.

Expect to see this next phase of the integration within a few months.

Ed Walters (@EJWalters), the CEO of Fastcase, and I have talked about this integration for years. Ed is a big proponent of open law and law blogs serving as secondary authority.

As way of background, Fastcase is a leading legal publisher focused on smarter legal software that democratizes the law.

Founded in 1999 by Ed and Phil Rosenthal, Fastcase is one of the fastest-growing legal tech companies, with more than 800,000 subscribers from around the world and is licensed by the majority of state bar associations for their members.

I turned 60 years old last Sunday. There, I said it.

I told my good friend, Bob Ambrogi, that unlike other birthdays, number 60 really hit me. He told me it was the same for him. Bob also told me he had his best year ever just the year before.

It’s not that I can’t do what I did before (except stay out until 2 AM drinking beer), it just registered that I have less time to change the world for the better. It’s a what if I can’t get it done type of thing.

When it comes to running businesses, Walter Frick (@wfrick) asked in Harvard Business Review today if older CEO’s should be asked to retire.

More than a third of S&P 500 firms have a mandatory retirement policy for their CEO. Their aim is to drive out executives who are past their prime. But are such policies a good idea?

Frick cites a study that firms with firms with older CEO’s tend to perform worse than those with younger ones. He concedes that younger CEOs are attracted to faster growing companies. Most 65 year olds are uncomfortable in hoodies.

Older CEOs also trend to be less innovative, per another study cited by Frick. It turns out, per Frick, that this is because they tend to hire older higher research talent.

Much of my research is coming from a 28 year old CTO and a 29 year old product manager. I told Frick on Twitter that CEO’s who hire younger innovative leaders like these guys have no problem in staying the course.

My personal research comes from Twitter, Facebook and the religious use of a RSS reader to stay abreast of the latest developments and to network with innovative people I’d never have met otherwise.

Even studies that found a mandatory retirement age helpful conceded that executive experience is important for a company’s financial success. Many a board of directors have found the same per Frick.

Robert De Niro, playing the role of a retired executive now interning for a young CEO in a thriving startup in The Intern, said “Musicians don’t retire, they stop when there is no more music in them.”

I still have some music in me, and I suspect many 60+ year olds feel the same.

I found great inspiration in what Jack Nicklaus, now 76, told Paul Gittings (@paulgittings), writing for CNN, a few weeks ago about working harder than he ever has and still enjoying it.

Most people work all their life to retire to play golf — I played golf all my life to retire to work.

It’s not about money for me, I think I passed most of my part of the company off to the kids years ago. I don’t mind dying penniless right now — but just not right now.

I’ll probably die with my boots on.

Sure, publicly traded companies will make statistic driven decisions void of emotion. But those decisions can be short sighted and don’t apply to 60 year olds with heart, drive and a dream.

​As Frick said, in October 2000, Jack Welch did his biggest deal in his 20 years as head of GE, a $45 billion merger with Honeywell. Shortly afterwards the company forced him to retire because of GE’s mandatory retirement policy for CEOs turning 65. Wouldn’t most businesses take a Jack Welch?

I’m no Jack Welch, but like Nicklaus and many others, I’ll probably die with my boots on.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Chris Lewis