The Recorder’s Karen Sloan reported this week that an attorney-discipline blogger and a blog network owned by Pepperdine Law’s dean were hit with a defamation suit.

“The lawsuit was filed against Michael Frisch, adjunct professor and ethics counsel at Georgetown University Law Center, who is also the primary author of the Legal Profession Blog, which highlights attorney discipline cases across the country. The plaintiff in the suit brought in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is attorney John Paul Szymkowicz, who also named Law Professor Blogs LLC, a blogging network owned by Paul Caron, dean of Pepperdine University Rick J. Caruso School of Law. Frisch’s Legal Profession Blog is a member of Law Professor Blogs.”

The complaint alleged that Frisch “engaged in false, defamatory, public, and vile personal attacks against J.P. Szymkowicz, culminating in their most recent accusations of legal misconduct, ‘elder care abuse,’ and ‘horrific elder abuse.’”

The last blog post ran in 2018 after all discipline charges against the plaintiff were dismissed.

I’ve seen very very few law suits brought against legal professionals as a result of their blogging. I have little problem telling lawyers that the risk of such suits is de minimus.

Having said that, legal bloggers would be wise to have insurance coverage against defamation and other claims.

Not so much to pay out on a viable claim, but to cover the costs of defense. Free speech and freedom of the press go a long way in protecting bloggers from successful claims.

I doubt that anyone’s malpractice insurance will cover a defamation claim arising out of blogging – unless one is successful in arguing to an insurer it was my negligence in the course of legal services while blogging that precipitated the claim.

But a general liability business policy or commercial liability insurance policy will provide “advertising coverage.” If the policy does not, look to purchase a rider for the policy. Advertising riders I have bought did not cost much.

Advertising injury coverage is a component of commercial general liability insurance that protects you against claims of stolen ideas, invasion of privacy, libel, slander and copyright infringement related to advertising. Advertising injury coverage is a type of personal injury insurance, as opposed to physical injury insurance, and may also be called personal and advertising injury coverage.

Any good lawyer knows when they’re approaching the third rail of what to say and what not to say. Most legal bloggers are afraid to take any position, let alone take a position that could be argued to be defamatory.

I’ve always viewed insurance as cheap and if needed, it’s there to cover you and your defense.

When practicing, I was sued for defamation by an insurance company as part of my investigating the company’s history of denying claims. Good counsel was hired by my general liability carrier who beat the insurance company through the trial and appellate courts.

Blogging, I had a lawyer tell me he was going to sue me for defamation and that he was going to ruin me and my family. I nicely explained that when he lost his suit, all he will have proven was that what I said was true. He went away – after a year or two.

I have also blogged about the shady practices of multi-billion companies. Though never threatened by the companies and knowing what I said was accurate or my opinion, it was nice to know when I nervously hit the publish button that I did have coverage.

Enough talking in relation to this lawyer’s defamation claim, I don’t want to be added as a defendant.

Lesson learned though, confirm you have the coverage – and if not, get it.

When comparing methods of looking for a lawyer, 59% of clients seek a referral from someone they know or have been in contact with.

Methods such as using an online search engine (17%) and visiting a lawyer’s website (17%), though important for some consumers of legal services, trailed referrals, substantially, as a source of legal business.

This, from Clio’s 2019 Legal Trend Report released at the Clio Cloud Conference in San Diego a couple weeks ago.

Whom did people go to for a referral to a lawyer?

“Friends and family members were the most common source for a referral (32%), followed by referrals from a lawyer (16%) or another non-legal professional (9%). (A non-legal professional could include an accountant, real estate agent, or someone else working in a profession related to a certain type of issue.)”

32% of clients seek a referral from a friend or or family member. 25% seek the referral from a professional of some sort.

The report further found “Of those who sought a referral first, only 16% also looked on their own.”

Almost 60% of people seek a referral when looking for a lawyer and less then 20% of those who seek a referral look on their own, separately.

What should legal professionals take from the Legal Trends Report?

  • The report is based on sound data. In addition to its own data from tens of thousands of legal professionals in the U.S., Clio surveyed 2,000 consumers to learn how clients ultimately choose one lawyer over another.
  • When looking at the Internet to grow business, lawyers should look at ways to use the Internet that will generate referrals, online and offline.
  • Look at what other lawyers are doing when it comes to the Internet, and try something different. As one legal blogger recently told me, “I zig, when others zag.” Building relationships and a strong word of mouth reputation through the Internet is something few lawyers do very well. Perhaps a golden opportunity.
  • Of course, not all clients rely on referrals to find a lawyer, many opt to search on their own. In which case websites, SEO, local search, directories, yellow pages and ratings become more important.
  • Though lawyers may benefit most from networking through the Internet to build relationships and a strong word of mouth presence, websites, search and other items remain important. Anyone getting a referral will go the firm’s website.
  • While lawyers are looking to grow their business, they may not be using the most effective methods to grow business. In addition, lawyers are looking to grow their business where the competition from other lawyers is most heavy.

Clio’s Legal Trends Report asks the right question.

“87% of lawyers agree they want their firms to grow over the next three years—and 67% say they want to grow more than a little. And when it comes to growth, lawyers rank revenues and client base as the top two areas they want to see grow. But how prepared are lawyers to achieve these goals?”

Legal publishing has long been the province of law reviews, law journals and traditional publishers.

But with publishing democratized by WordPress, first used for blogs and now the most widely used content management system in the world, blog software could represent the future for legal publishing.

The readership of legal blogs and publications published on open publishing software (vast majority being on WordPress), in all likelihood, already far surpasses the readership of law reviews.

Bill Henderson, a widely respected law professor, innovator, and editor of Legal Evolution, makes the case that what while some legal professionals are quick to call something a blog because it’s published on blog software and not rendered in a format used by traditional legal publishers, it can still be a legal publication in every sense of the word.

”Several times this summer, colleagues have referred to Legal Evolution as a blog. A couple times I’ve corrected them and said that Legal Evolution is a publication. After all, we have a publication schedule, subject matter focus, and contributor guidelines that are targeted and specific. See Post 092 (publishing contributor guidelines). But I’m done correcting my colleagues, as a friendly conversation is not the right time or place. Instead I’ll write it here and let the passage of time work its magic.“

Henderson credits me or, better put, blames me for argument that blogs are proving to be a disruptive force in legal publishing.

”To the extent this sows confusion, we can blame Kevin O’Keefe, the founder and CEO of LexBlog.  In the spring of 2016, Kevin visited Indiana Law to share his career journey with my students.  Over dinner that night, Kevin discussed the monthly traffic of Law.com vs. the ABA Journal vs. Above the Law.  The latter began its life as a blog, yet it was proving to be a profoundly disruptive force in legal publishing. Why? It was on the winning side of a massive demographic shift in readers and reading habits. Further, it was still gathering steam.

Kevin also discussed the massive investments he was making to both automate and improve online publishing. In effect, the cost of getting into the publishing business was dropping to near zero.  The only thing missing was specialized content someone wanted to write and that another group wanted to read.“

Like most successful legal publishers (and bloggers), Henderson’s focus for legal publishing was founded on a personal passion.

”…I was very interested in exploring applied research that focused on the legal market — rigorous enough to get traction with real-world problems (we’ve got no shortage of those) but written in an accessible and congenial style.  A year later, I shut down The Legal Whiteboard (which, for the record, was a blog) and launched Legal Evolution.”

LexBlog’s managed WordPress platform proved more than flexible enough for Henderson’s legal publication.

”As editor of Legal Evolution, I am trying to fill what I perceive as a gap in legal publishing — a reliance on data and theory (like the academy) but pointed at real-world issues that we’re actively engaged in solving (like legal practice). See Post 001. The content is often much longer (and more in-depth and technical) than legal journalism but much shorter (and less technical) than academic articles. We also believe in formal citations, as we are building a new body of knowledge in applied research that’s focused on the legal industry. Finally, we err on the side of accessibility (e.g., we favor contractions and relish Jae Um’semojis and her hilarious, brilliant graphics).“

Even if the readership of a niche legal publication doesn’t become substantial, it doesn’t matter. Legal publications, such as Henderson’s, published on WordPress, are focused on reaching the ‘Long Tail’ – the concept that the low cost of publishing and distribution enable small and unique audiences to be all that is needed.

”Legal Evolution’s publishing conventions — particularly length and technical content — reduce the number of readers. We don’t care because we’re focused on serious thinkers and innovators.  Yet, even among this smaller group, the number of monthly readers vastly exceeds the readership of a typical law review. Because our applied-research mission requires a robust engagement with practice, the new world of legal publishing — the cost structure, the control of visual presentation, the proximity to readers, the connectivity with relevant sources — has been an extraordinary opportunity to try new things and to build a community of interest. Everytime I look at Legal Evolution’s growing subscriber list, I’m astonished by the breadth and quality of our readership.”

Personally, it’s an honor for LexBlog and I to serve legal professionals the likes of Bill Henderson, who are making such a commitment to advance the legal business for the people and organizations we all serve.

Like Henderson, there are hundreds, if not thousands of legal publishers, including academics whom it would seem could benefit from real open publishing (no pdf’s) on a managed WordPress platform.

The benefits being, among others, reduced costs, better publishing platform, better reader experience, increased influence of the individual publishers (legal professionals), and increased relevance of the individual publishers with general legal community and the public.

Rather than law reviews and law journals moving to WordPress en masse, a sound approach may be the approach which Henderson and Northwestern law Professor Dan Linna followed in his LegalTech Lever

Identify your niche. Look at your community of followers and and fellow publishers. Look at a managed WordPress platform to get your publication up in weeks, not months. And build an audience that’s more engaged than that of a law review’s audience.

You’ll find an enhanced reputation, increased influence and a growing body of relationships. You’ll also find your influence on the advancement of law – for people – to be greater.

You can’t get through a ten minute conversation with Clio’s CEO and co-founder, Jack Newton, without discussing Clio’s mission – to transform the practice of law, for good.

Jack needn’t even bring up the company’s mission. Talking to him alone, leaves you asking, “What makes you guys tick? What makes your team so enthusiastic and driven? What has made Clio such a driving force in legal innovation? You’re not legal professionals, after all.”

Jack will tell you, it’s the mission.

The mission is more than words. The mission, in every sense of the word, was palpable at last week’s Clio’s Cloud Conference in San Diego.

LexBlog’s Editor-In-Chief, Bob Ambrogi, may have characterized this year’s Clio Con best – as a cult of innovation.

“[T]he word cult can carry a negative connotation, suggesting blind adherence to a religion or orthodoxy. But it can also mean, according to Merriam-Webster, a great devotion to an idea or movement, such as the cult of physical fitness. Wikipedia says cults often form around “novel beliefs and practices.”

Within the stilted environment of the legal profession, the ideas that prevailed at this conference were, indeed, “novel beliefs and practices.” Within the context of a profession known for its resistance to change, having 2,000 people together at one time who share a great devotion to such ideas made it feel a bit like a cult.

But, let me be clear: this is no blind adherence. These are professionals whose eyes are wide open to the future of legal practice and to the potential for their own firms. It is a cult in the most positive sense – a devotion to the idea of being better in their practices and for their clients — a devotion to innovation.“

And we’re not talking just practicing legal professionals. There were hundreds of legal tech companies and entrepreneurs represented. Not just hawking their wares, but getting feedback and raw enthusiasm from the lawyers they met in the exhibit halls or over a beer.

Talking to these legal tech entrepreneurs, many of whom left law firms when they saw an obvious problem needing a solution, you couldn’t help but feel tech and innovation are going to bring access to legal services in ways we could never have imagined.

I don’t know if they’re scared off by Clio’s mission, or its threat, but large legal companies, the likes of which you see at every other legal tech conference were conspicuous by their absence. LexisNexis, Thomson, Reuters, Walters Kluwer and Bloomberg Law to name a few.

Unlike other legal tech companies, Clio is literally a movement, with over 150,000 users in over 100 countries.

Its CEO sees the size of the U.S. market as one million lawyers – that means solo to the largest firms. The company is armed with recent series D funding of $250 million, placing its valuation at well North of a billion dollars, and is on track to a public offering.

As strange as it may sound to some large legal companies, the fastest way to build more of a following is to hang out with the growing thousands at Clio Con. My guess is that the legal professionals at Clio are more innovative and tech receptive than legal professionals at other conferences.

Large legal companies may also want to look at ways to integrate some of their products into Clio’s platform. I’d be very surprised if Clio is not the largest legal platform in the world, ala Salesforce in business, within the coming years.

Best of all though about Clio Con, year after year, is the Clio team.

From Sam Glover at Lawyerist:

“The Clio team is also one of the company’s best assets. One of the best parts about going to ClioCon is hanging out with all the upbeat, friendly Clions. Clio brought 140 Clions to the Clio Cloud Conference this year, which meant someone in a Clio shirt was always close by to lend a helping hand. Just like Clio as a software developer cares about its users, Clio as event planner obviously cares about its attendees. As a result, Clio Cloud Conference feels a bit like a celebration of lawyers and lawyering, even though there is plenty to learn, too.”

There is no other legal or legal tech conference that can match the Clio Con team in its enthusiasm, drive, passion and care. Perhaps it’s their not being legal professionals that enables them to see legal services – and service, in general, from a non-legal professional’s eye.

Beyond the boots on the ground, Jack’s prolific use of social media has rubbed off on his team members.

Whether I was on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn talking about Clio Con, members of the Clio team were engaging me. Marketing, tech leads, service, project management, sales and who have you, these folks love engaging people and understand the value of relationships.

I was struck by one Clio team member’s engagement of me on Twitter. That evening at a large social event I saw him walk by. I went up and introduced myself.

I asked him what made him join Clio and how he enjoyed what we was doing. He said he had known Jack for years and that Jack had been after him to join, throughout.

But only recently had he really come to see and feel the cause and mission that Clio and the team was was on – and how that was leading to such success.

After we talked a while, I told him the more I’m around Clio, I am struck by how special it is. It’s people, it’s values, it’s mission and it’s culture.

He acknowledged it all true, and told me that he’d follow Jack Newton to the end of the world, whether at Clio or elsewhere.

Inspiring for believers in Clio’s ability to change the practice of law, for good. Scary for entrenched competitors.

Kevin speaks with Molly McDonough, former editor-in-chief and publisher of the ABA Journal, at the 2019 Clio Cloud Conference. Molly reflects on her career at the Journal, what’s next, and the role of blogs in legal journalism. 

Transcript

Kevin O’Keefe: Who am I speaking with?

Molly McDonough: Molly McDonough

Kevin: And who is Molly McDonough? 

Molly: I am the former editor and publisher of the ABA Journal. I had been there for 18, almost 18 years. 

Kevin: You just left. 

Molly: I just left in early October, after doing a relaunch of a magazine and I was very excited and proud of how that turned out.

Kevin: What are you doing now? Because your mind isn’t going to turn off. 

Molly: Well, right now I’m here at Clio, which has been a great experience. I had fun judging the launch code competition this year and, you know, meeting up with people, looking for my next direction. I don’t think I’ll be aimless too long. I have so many projects in my head spinning around. I just need to figure out which one of those to focus on.

Kevin: (0:56) Well, you’ve got great passion. I mean, you know, and I’d be talking to you about your travels or what conferences you’ve been to, and journalism, and digital media. You know, so you have a great body of knowledge, passion. It would be very valuable personally and to anybody that you’d be working with. I look forward to seeing what you’ll be doing. What do you most miss at the ABA Journal? 

Molly: For sure the staff. Working with my team. They’re such a great group of journalists. They’re mission-driven. They really care about writing and reporting on the disadvantaged and people who need lawyers more than anyone. And uh, so being able to focus projects on those topics was really an honor and a privilege, really. 

Kevin: Yeah, that’s a nice way to put it. I mean, I had the privilege of sitting in on one editorial meeting. I was, you know, kinda going, “wow, don’t get to do this every day. I’d never know what goes on”. You know, I watch them really driving the passion. The people in the room go around like, :this is what I’m working on. This is what I’m doing”. You know, somebody saying “I think we should do this or do that. Well, we narrowed it down to this or you know, what’s the kind of pain in our side thing that we have to deal with over here?”. And people have a  lot of pride in there. They’re not getting paid $1 million to do what they did. 

Molly: (2:21) They really care about what they’re working on and the people that they’re writing about. It was fun to have you there and and see kind of what you thought was interesting. I love those meetings and that’s probably one area I’ll miss is the brainstorming, the energy that comes out of those. 

Kevin: You get a peek inside and I got to peek inside the publication of the flagship publication for the law and American legal journalism, you know. It’s pretty amazing. One thing that you guys did early on and, you know I’ll confess, you know, some parts I criticized the ABA on the blog site. I probably needlessly needlessly.

Molly: Oh, I remember. 

Kevin: (3:10) There were you did various things for blogs. One, you recognized the top hundred early on, you know, and I got so mad because I go, “everybody’s got to decide what blog they want based on their interests. What’s a good blog? What’s a bad blog? It’s in the eyes of the reader”. Somebody told me that blogging and rage brings out some of the best blog posts, I don’t know whether it did or not, but you could sure key fast, when you got mad? Um, and that may have been needless, but you did things to recognize legal blogs. You recognized, you know, who were doing who were doing some of the better blogging. You brought blogs into legal news and in affect, when you had a site where you had a legal blog directory and then you’re pulling things out and you’re honoring “who’s doing what”. How’d that all come about? 

Molly: Uh, so when we first launched ABAjournal.com, as part of that project, the publisher at the time, Ed Adams, really wanted to develop a curated list of law bloggers, to kind of break away from the search engines at the time. And create a way to pull that community together, um, as a resource for lawyers. It was really one of the best resources for our staff. 

Kevin: (4:24) To get leads, ideas, sources. 

Molly: It was really fantastic. We early on, we picked law bloggers for that Blog 100, partly based on which bloggers our staff used for story leads, tips, analysis, expertise. That, you know, when they would want to understand a topic more deeply, they would go into the directory or focus on law blogs and they’d pull those into the directory or flush them out more. 

Kevin: That’s pretty cool. How many years ago was that when it first happened? 

Molly: We launched the blog directory with the site in, in 2007. 

Kevin: That’s a lot of water under the bridge and, you know, in the blog world. What do you see in legal blogging today? I mean, let me ask you this, even before we talk about today versus then, but what is the value of the legal blogger to our legal profession and to legal journalism? 

Molly: (5:20) You know, back then early on, kind of going then and now, back then there were more bloggers, at least, that we were focused on talking about general news. I don’t see that as the highest value in blogging now. I see it as a really a way for lawyers to do deep dives into their passions. Whether that’s practice areas or site interests or, you know, pro bono, whatever it is that they wanna dive deeper into. Or maybe they’re making a practice transition and they need to learn more about it. You know, to be able to do a blog and to have to be the expert in that area as you’re researching, transparently researching topic areas, it really helps develop your expertise. And I think that’s great and it’s helpful to others, especially journalists, to be able to go and see how areas of practice are developing. And I still think that’s a really high value. Uh, I mean, I will say that there was a time when we eliminated, we pulled in for awhile. We had a category for lawyers who knitted and blogged. 

Kevin: You had fun. 

Molly: (6:43) We had special categories for non-law and we were finding coal caches of lawyers who would knit, you know, that we were getting into running. You know, there are all these areas. But then we decided, you know, really the directorate of this needed to be focused on legal issues to be a value to our audience. 

Kevin: Yeah. And there’s still these opportunities I’m seeing, and I still go back to the idea of, you know, that the internet democratized the ability to speak. I mean, before, if I’m in the middle of a news thing, the reporters would find me in a minute. Um, but at other times, I mean, I’d have to go down to the newspaper and, quite frankly, pitch in a story. You know, “I think this is breaking news. Here’s what it is. Here’s what you may want to follow up on”, those types of things. All of a sudden now if you have a niche, you know that you’re covering whether it’s the  locale or area in the law or what not, you have an instant way to publish. You have the printing press, you have the distribution means. To me, it’s still phenomenal what’s in the hands of the lawyer. And the lawyer should be in the middle of that based on their role in society. 

Molly: (7:48) That’s true. And it’s also just getting back to the practical part of it though, Kevin is the, you know, when you have to articulate in a blog post what something means and why it matters, you really have to think through that. And I really think that helps build your confidence and expertise in the area. And, you know, being able to write and or type, you know, whatever your, however you, do your first draft is an important way of developing that skill. 

Kevin: My first draft goes up and then when people start to read it and share it on social media, then I go, “well, I better go back and look now cause people are going to read this”. Or they’ll take me and say, “Hey you made these typos and those typos”. But I absolutely agree with more than one lawyer. And even lawyers here at Clio have told me that the blog has made them a better lawyer. And they had to think through things, they may be learning new things, they’re processing this, they’re sensing what people may say on the outside sorts a little bit more critical analysis. And then it makes them keen to be following things, cause they feel like they’re going to share what they’re observing. 

Molly: (9:03) We used to do a survey. We did this a few times and one of the things we really focus on is that at the beginning of a blog, it would take hours for somebody to do a post and they would just labor over there and come up with the topic and research. And then, you know, the more they got into it, the more they understood how, you know, what was interesting to write about, the quicker those posts would come. So, you know, what took hours before would go down to 45 minutes, down to 30 minutes down to, you know, I could crank out in 15 minutes during a break in my day on my thoughts on a new case or a topic that was exciting.

Kevin: Dan Harris with China law. I mean, hell, you know that blog. It’s prolific and Dan swears that one doesn’t take longer than 15 or 25 minutes. And I’m going, “come on Dan”. But I think he’s serious and just gets it in any goes. I want to be able to follow up with you over time to get more of your thoughts on blogging and even, you know, from the standpoint of “what would you do in this situation, in that situation””. Cause it would be extremely invaluable for lawyers as a guide, especially the lawyers that are being pulled, you know, maybe by marketing departments or business development that it “needs to be this long, it needs to have these words, it needs to have this title, it needs to have this for SEO, and we need to have this amount of traffic coming from these places from, or we need to pay to distribute it”. And you’re looking at it from, I mean it’s not the same as a story that has editorial review and copy and everything at a publication like the ABA Journal, but you’re looking at it a little bit differently than just a marketing thing.

Molly: (10:39) Quality, authenticity, you know, “authentic” is a buzzword right now, but it’s true. It’s, you know, having that quality is job one. 

Kevin: I think you’re going to be a judge for the blog excellence?

Molly: I am. I’m very excited about that.

Kevin: Which is really cool for us. I was really excited when Bob shared the list. I saw that list and I go “leaders who are women in the law”. 

Molly: I’m actually really, really excited about that.

Kevin: I mean I looked at that and said, “this is good”. I mean it was a who’s who of people and now the onus was on us to make sure that every one of the law firms that we have knows I think we should announce the judges and say, “this is the people that are gonna be looking at this. Don’t miss the opportunity for your lawyers that have done particular posts in different areas. Get it in here and then just see what it’s all about”. Yeah, I think it’s going to be pretty cool. And I think you may have influenced Bob on an idea when we said we needed to make sure more layers are coming into the community with their blogs and you said, “you should have a contest”. I believe.

Molly: (11:43) I did. I think that is true.

Kevin: How have you enjoyed Clio? What do you think of this year? 

Molly: This has been great. I had not been to the two conferences in New Orleans. And this has just grown exponentially, but the energy hasn’t waned. Jack Newton said in his closing that he, you know, “fears how he’s going to top the next one”. They’ve really done that as a team every single year. I don’t even know it. I’m not sure it’s topping it as much as just delivering that same energy and excitement, enthusiasm, leaving with good ideas and good interactions. 

Kevin: Puts up the picture of 140 people. So I’m sitting there thinking, “how does any legal or legal tech conference compete with 140 passionate, driven people right on the ground that they’re taking pride in this thing?”. Cause they feel part of this. 

Molly: I’m sure that doesn’t even include all the folks, you know, back at their home offices doing support.

Kevin: It is really a cool phenomenon. And then to realize that these guys aren’t lawyers. I mean, Jack is not a lawyer, but he talks about the synergy in the way he looks at passion and centric and doing things and learning things from lawyers as to how he can help them and the profession to do better in a way to do things. It’s a pretty cool thing. You’ll be coming back next year maybe? 

Molly: Yes, I would love to come back. 

Kevin: You should.

Molly: San Diego is an easy choice for me. One of my hometowns. 

Kevin: Maybe we can do something with inviting bloggers and having them talk about their blogs and have you talk to them. It’d be very cool. 

Molly: That would be very alright.

Kevin: Thank you. Thank you very much. That was great. 

Molly: Thanks, Kevin.

Kevin speaking with Megan Zavieh, Legal Ethics & Defense Attorney at Zevieh Law, at the 2019 Clio Cloud Conference in San Diego. Megan represents others lawyers before the California State Bar who are facing ethic inquiries, and also runs a legal podcast called Lawyers Gone Ethical

Transcript

Kevin O’Keefe: Who am I talking with? 

Megan Zavieh: Hi Kevin. I’m Megan Zavieh. 

Kevin: Okay. Well you knew my name. That’s pretty good. 

Megan: I do, I do know your name. 

Kevin: And where are you from? 

Megan: Well live in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Kevin: Okay, well, that’s what I was asking. And what do you do? 

Megan: I represent other lawyers before the California State Bar who are facing ethics inquiries. 

Kevin: Really? So how did we get to talk to you? 

Megan: I mean, did you do something wrong? 

Kevin: No, I mean, it wasn’t even that. Are you speaking here? 

Megan: Um, I was podcasting here. I have a podcast, “Lawyers Gone Ethical” and I’ve been recording with all kinds of very cool Clio people.

Kevin: How long have you been doing a podcast? 

Megan: We’re approaching a hundred episodes, so almost two years. 

Kevin: Good for you. Is that your idea and your brain child?

Megan: Sort of and Nicole Abboud’s. 

Kevin: So when you say, “we”?

Megan: Well, I have some help. So I like to give them credit, especially. I have a wonderful assistant Lee Duckworth who helps make this happen. And Nicole Abboud helped get it off the ground originally.

Kevin:  Okay, but it was your impetus to say, “okay, I’m going to do this”.

Megan: Yeah. It was like, ”Oh, nobody’s doing an ethics podcast. You know, we probably should think about doing one”. 

Kevin: (1:07) And who are the type of people that you bring on?

Megan: A lot of solo lawyers who are just doing cool things with law. Um, like building out new subscription services or like Hello Divorce. You know, things that are just a little different and innovative and we talk about how, “Hey, that’s actually okay, there’s not an ethics problem with this”.

Kevin: Well, what got you interested in doing something like that? Where, I mean, you really, it’s not like you’re saying, “okay, I want to go get ethics layers on that are in other States or different types of issues or whatever. You know, people that sit on, you know, boards for hearings with ethics brought up for hearings or whatever”. You’re not doing that. It’s totally

Megan: Yeah, not much of that. Not so often an ethics colleague.

Kevin: No, but you’re basically saying, “I want to go talk to people that are doing interesting things”. I mean, why? I mean it’s a good idea. I’m not questioning it, but I’m like, why you, who all of a sudden said, “I’d like to do that”.

Megan: (2:03) Well, partly it’s because when I got into ethics defense work, I found that lawyers throw up the ethics rules as a barrier to doing cool new stuff. You know, they’re like, “Oh this, I had this idea, but then I realized of course I can’t do that”. Why not? And they’re like, “well I don’t think the ethics rules is permit it”. I’m like, “which one? Like drill down on this. How in the world are you prevented?”. And like we use them to hold ourselves back a lot and the profession is changing, we’re evolving. The people who are going to really make a killing and help a lot more people, a lot more clients, are the ones that are going to innovate. And I like to kind of open the doors for people and help them see that there’s not actually an ethics reason not to do something new and different. And so when you have an idea, go with it and run with it. Figure out how you can make it happen.

Kevin: So what would you have told some guy in rural Wisconsin that’s trying to figure out whether you can use the internet to connect with people. He knows nothing about the internet, but knows that if you go to Barnes and Noble and you get a floppy disk, you can put it in the side of your machine. Although, that I had to find out. And then I had to find out that you had to take your telephone off the hook in the kitchen of the a hundred year old house, plug it in the side and “I think you dial the phone number?”. I don’t remember what we did.

Megan: You did back then.

Kevin: Maybe the screen came up and you push the button and it clicked. You know that there were thousands and thousands of people asking legal questions on six company sets of message boards. What if somebody came to you and said, and this was me 

Megan: (3:35) I gathered that.

Kevin: and I’d ask, “Can I answer these questions? They’re all over the country, all over different States. Um, there’s gonna be no conflict yet cause we don’t know any of their names. We don’t know whether they’re representative by a lawyer or not, but we’re going to answer. I’m going to answer their questions when I have time, maybe five or seven a day”. What could you imagine if someone in your shoes or the state ethics hotline, if I would’ve called them in 1996 saying.

Megan: Oh they would have actually absolutely lost it. You know that you can’t give advice across state lines. You don’t know who you’re talking to. You haven’t run your conflicts as you mentioned, you know, you can’t give legal advice without diving into a case and knowing all the facts. I mean, there was a time that just would have been so taboo. That’s a little later than when I was in a computer science class before I ever went to law school and it was like computer science 101 and the professor asked me why I was taking the class and I said, “I want to move to Alaska”, where I’ve never been still to this day, because that time I wanted to move there anyways. 

Kevin: Where were you living then?

Megan: California, southern California. And he goes, “okay, what does that have to deal with here?”. And I said, “well, I want to telecommute”. And he said, and this has to be like 1992 and he said, “that’s not a thing that’s never going to be a thing”. And I said, “I think it is”. He like, “it’s not right”. You know, I’m like, “well, I’m going to stay in your class anyway”. And of course I didn’t go into computer science and I became a lawyer, but now look where we are. So similar thing. And I could see it in 1996. Yeah, completely taboo. “This is craziness”.

Kevin: (5:05) You had to just plow ahead, you know, because my thought was “if I get in trouble for this, then I don’t need to be in the law”. Because all of these people are helping each other in many cases better than any lawyer would because they and their family have been through the situation more than any lawyer. They’ve lost a child with medical negligence. They know how to pick the good lawyers. They know what expert witnesses are. I mean, they knew this, many of them, but there weren’t any lawyers helping them, because lawyers don’t go out where people are and try to help them.

Megan: They still don’t always do that.

Kevin: Short disclaimer, just said, “Hey, this is legal information, general information for me to see a lawyer state”. Will Hornsby said, “You know, Kevin”, that years later “ that ain’t going to fly”. And then when he went through our site where the listserv was, he said, “you know, if this is advertising? This could be construed as advertising in your state, then it’s not”. The was the best disclaimer I could come up with at that time. Um, it’s a great idea though, what you’re saying to bring on these people that are doing cool stuff and “it’s okay”. I’m assuming in many cases it benefits lawyers.

Megan: (6:22) Absolutely.

Kevin: So it’s not taking things away from them. It’s enhancing how they serve clients and enhancing their life.

Megan: Yeah. And part of what I like to highlight for people is that when you build a practice that’s doing something, you’re not just passionate, it is an important concept, but I think it is a little overused, but something you’re excited to do and that you want to get up in the morning and be part of and this is something you’re growing, you’re better at it then doing something really boring and you start to design a life that works with your work because it’s not really a work life balance. Like there’s a blend today. There’s no such thing as like leaving work behind. So if you can build a practice you love that fits in your actual life, that’s a really good thing. And that’s very far from the white shoe law firm, put on my suit every morning, you know, punched a clock, missed all the family events. It’s a very different life.

Kevin: So you’re working with Sasha here to get set up? That’s great. So you’ve got this podcast, you invent your own radio station, because you do know.

Megan: That’s what it is.

Kevin: At dinner with Doc Surlies, incredible what he’s done with the blogging and whatnot and the former DJ in California. He lives in Santa Barbara part time and part time in New York. And we were talking about, he goes, “there’s going to be no radio”. I said, “really?”. He said, “There will be no AM or FM radio. It will be just shows on demand”. Your show will just be another show and they’ll probably be algorithms that tell me what I want to see when it’s available. Um, based on what I’ve seen before, what I’ve listened to before or seen before, who the guests are that you have and what I do like to see it. It’s cool what you’re doing from an ethics thing standpoint. Um, what do you most enjoy about it?

Megan: (7:57) It’s really fun just to talk to people who I wouldn’t otherwise probably have like this meaningful of a conversation with. I mean, there’s plenty of people who’ve been gassed that I know from outside. Like, I’ve already had dinner with them or attended a conference with them or whatever. But then it doesn’t mean that we necessarily are going to sit there and like dive into “Let’s talk about the ethics of what you do”, right? I mean that’s not necessarily dinner time conversation. So that’s part of it. And just getting to know people that I wouldn’t have otherwise have the opportunity. And then at conferences like this, I actually like get really excited that people have come up. 

Kevin: They know you.

Megan: And that they’ve listened to an episode. Like I actually had someone come to me and say, you know, and I didn’t know her from before and she said, “I just want to let you know I needed to research an issue and I found your podcast on this topic and it was incredibly helpful”. And I’m like “Yes, I made a difference”. Sometimes some of my episodes are solo. I do guest episodes and also solo episodes where I just talk about a particular issue. I laugh because I’m sitting here like, “I’m sitting here talking to myself, maybe somebody’s out there that they’re going to listen to it”. So like that episode that she came and said was helpful, it was a solo episode. I’m like, “I was just sittin’ there talking to myself and it made a difference to somebody”. So that’s incredibly rewarding and encourages me to keep doing it.

Kevin: Are you in a firm or are you working for a company or insurance company? 

Megan: I’m solo. Totally solo.

Kevin: And all your work is defense ethics? 

Megan: Yes.

Kevin: Your clients are insurance companies and firms or?

Megan: Just California lawyers, mostly solos. 

Kevin: Just California lawyers, interesting.

Megan: Yeah. So I don’t do malpractice defense. I do the ethics side. So these are all state bar inquiries. So every so often insurance kicks in because malpractice insurance does often have a component for ethics coverage, but a lot of lawyers don’t want to access it. Cause sometimes when it comes to the ethics part really does not have a malpractice component. You can have violated the ethics rules without committing malpractice. And so to avoid kicking in their insurance and having insurance problems, they sometimes just bundle it together.

Kevin: (9:56) What do other think about what you’re doing? Do they think it’s wacky or “what are you doing?”?

Megan: I have kind of a split. So more traditional old school lawyers will flat out tell me I’m crazy with some of what I’m doing. Particularly in the ethics defense world, I didn’t really realize when I first got into it that defending the ethics part of the complaints and advising lawyers on how to proceed ethically are two different things. And a lot of my colleagues don’t advise lawyers on how to proceed in their businesses. To me they just go hand in hand. So, some of my colleagues who don’t do the advice, think I’m nuts to do it. Others think I’m insane to think that the profession is evolving and that we don’t need to actually adopt different models. Um, but then I have mostly in the more innovative space, the lawyers love what I’m doing and I appreciate having a sounding board that, you know, I actually like dig into the ethics rules and geek out on them. I’m like, “I’m glad someone does”.

Kevin: Well you must, I assume you must get legal tech companies that talked to you about, you know, “should we do this?” or “how would we set it up?”?

Megan: I have definitely been consulted by tech companies. Um, the individual lawyers are the much more fun ones in my opinion. Um, the tech companies definitely are important players and they will have ethics questions because when they build something, they’re not subject to our regulation. But everybody that’s going to be impacted by what they’re doing will be and they don’t want to build a product that’s going to get their customers in trouble.

Kevin: Interesting, because the lawyers got it all on the line.

Megan: Absolutely. 

Kevin: I mean so it’s a big deal. 

Megan: Cause the companies are not regulated directly. Yeah. I found when you told the ethics people to take a hike, they got upset. I remember that, you know, in law school sitting there thinking scared out of my mind, but realizing, “okay, what you really need to do in, no matter what it is, you just do whatever the ethics body said”. You just respond and do whatever.

Megan: (11:54) And I’ve had clients say to me like, “I will do whatever you tell me”.

Kevin: I mean the plaintiffs stuff was if you didn’t get an adequate board, people would file a grievance and then people started using the political. So, if you got involved in political issues and then the opposing side would have multiple people start filing grievances against you for fraud or something you said in the media and you get these stacks. 

Megan: I’ve seen it happen.

Kevin: I really dislike that portion of the handling of the facts. Where people were using ethics grievances as an arrow. It was being, there was lawyers that were telling them how to do it. They were obviously they weren’t lawyers filing the grievances, but you can see who was coaching this thing behind the scenes to try to show you how getting involved with social issues. I go, “this is really sleazy deal”. How’d you get involved in this? Other than the podcast, how’d you decide to do ethics? Not everybody says, “I want to grow up to go into law school”. “What are you gonna do?”. “I’m going to do ethics work on behalf of lawyers.”

Megan: (12:53) No, that’s probably part of why my defense bar is like me and there’s another guy around my age and then we’re up to another like a 50 year old and everybody else is another couple of decades older. It feels like, um, no, it’s definitely not something you say like, “Hey, when I grow up, I want to be an ethics lawyer”. I actually came out of law school intending on going to medical school and become a psychiatrist, treating lawyers. That was my original goal. And I for went medical school to go to a clerkship and a big law firm, the debt and wanting to start a family and various factors. 

Kevin: So did you go to medical school?

Megan: I did not go to medical school. I had everything ready. I took the MCAT, I did all my premeds during my clerkship and I was ready to go. And then decided, well, I’m going to hold off and hold off and then didn’t. I was instead a big law securities lawyer, securities litigation defense. And I did that for about eight years after my clerkship. And then I moved back to California and I was finally free of the confines of big law. You know where people ask you for help and you’re like, “Oh no, I’m not allowed to help”. 

Kevin: Where were you in big law?

Megan: Um, I was at Schulte Roth & Zabel than what is now K & L Gates and then Deckert in New York and New Jersey. And so you’re on big law, somebody asks you for help, you’re supposed to say, “Oh I’m not allowed to help you because I worked for this big law firm and I can’t, you know, do anything that’s not for a client”.

Kevin: I mean that is a big difference between, “Okay. I’m going to medical school so I can help lawyers, but I decided no, I’m going to do litigation for a huge law firm in Manhattan”.

Megan: (14:21) Can you see that one was in alignment with all my values and the other is really not. 

Kevin: Wasn’t a common thread.

Megan: It was really not, right. And so I ended up, I had been asked to help on a bar defense case when I was in big law. I couldn’t help them out, right. Cause I’m stuck in big law. I’m not allowed to help you. When I got out of big law, I was like, “Oh, I can jump in and help”. So I did. And then I spent some time in this State Bar Court cause California has a separate court just for attorney discipline and I was in the court and seeing the process and seeing some lawyers just lost, absolutely lost representing themselves, not having a clue about this process and the system cause it’s not like every other court and all these things.

Kevin: “I can help them”.

Megan: (14:54) Yeah,  and I was like “I could do this. Like Oh my gosh, I could do this”. 

Kevin: There are so many issues.  I mean like different issues, mental health issues, financial issues, all of these things. Most people don’t go out of their way to say, “I’m going to do something unethical”. It arrives. 

Megan: Right. Yeah, something happens.

Kevin: You get mad. It’s not a good thing to represent yourself. It’s fascinating though to do the podcast all the way to that. What’s been the hardest thing to that podcast? 

Megan: At times, coming up with new things to talk about where I’m like, “haven’t I beaten every dead horse” and I don’t have something new and as soon as that happens that I feel like the well has run dry, something comes into my universe. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, something new or some new topic”. Because it really is constantly changing and evolving and people are constantly coming into the profession with new ideas. And so it doesn’t ever really run dry, but it feels like it does sometimes. And then I find that if I just kind of let go a little bit and relax, I will find something. 

Kevin: What would you tell somebody that’s gonna do a podcast, a lawyer? 

Megan: (15:57) To plan ahead a little bit. Um, that has made it a much less stressful process because I do it weekly and that can get overwhelming cause sometimes a week goes by, I’m like, “What?”. I write monthly for some publications and a month goes by really fast, I imagine a week does. Um, but as long as I’m on top of it and I keep planning, um, that is probably my biggest piece of advice. And then the other being just like, let go a little bit. Like if you miss an episode, it’s okay. You know, there was a time when I was like, “No, no, no, I can’t”. 

Kevin: It’s not like Monday Night Football didn’t play this week. 

Megan: Exactly. And then I have the Heidi debacle, right. No, It’s going to be okay. Yes, people might be expecting it or maybe they’re not, and if it shows up in their feed or not, it’s okay. Um, but have fun with it. You know, podcasting is really fun.

Kevin: Overall, it’s made your life, as a lawyer, more rewarding. 

Megan: Oh, absolutely. I’m, you know, and there have been times where, especially my family will be like, “are you sure you wanna keep doing this?”, when I’m yelling at them all to be quiet. 

Kevin: Mom’s on her podcast.

Megan: You know, yeah, exactly. I tried to put them in when no ones there, but every so often it happens. And like, I remember explaining at one point to my husband and he goes, “so what do you get out of this?”. And I’m like, “honestly, like, it’s incredibly rewarding”. 

Kevin: Megan: “Better than talking to myself”.

Megan: Especially better than talking to myself. 

Kevin: I know some people that actually, I can imagine my wife saying, “and their listening to you?”. 

Megan: Yes. Oh yeah. I get a little bit of blow back for that, but it’s all in good fun. 

Kevin: Thank you very much. I enjoyed it. 

Megan: Thank you for having me.

Kevin: You bet.

Kevin speaking with Richard Marvel, a Solo Attorney and founder of FirmTRAK, at the 2019 Clio Cloud Conference. FirmTRAK was created by Richard to maximize firm efficiency through reporting and analytics. 

Transcript

Kevin O’Keefe: Who am I talking with? 

Rich Marvel: Rich Marvel. 

Kevin: And what does rich model do? 

Rich: I’m a practicing attorney by day and at night I’m the legal tech guy. I’m trying to be, I’m trying to be, anyway.

Kevin: Where are you from? 

Rich: I’m from central Illinois, so I’m from Farmington halfway between Chicago and St. Louis. 

Kevin: I know where it is. 

Rich: The cornfields of McClain County. That’s what I always say. 

Kevin: I’m from Wisconsin from Lacrosse. 

Rich: I saw that. 

Kevin: And so Clio was in Illinois? I think last year, was it Southern Illinois University?

Rich: Southern Illinois is Edwardsville. Further South. Yeah. You made a good idea getting out of Wisconsin and going to Seattle. 

Kevin: Oh, somebody told me it was my first company and they said, “that’s an interesting idea, but the chances of somebody giving you the millions of dollars, you’re gonna need to do that. In Wisconsin, they put a little dot on a piece of paper”. They drew a big circle and he goes, “you know what that is?”. I go, “I’m starting to have the idea”. He goes, “yeah, you go to Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, or Boston. That’s how many people were back that idea”. So I was really became that 

Rich: strategic. 

Kevin: (1:03) Yeah, I had to do that. Um, what do you guys do? I mean, what are you trying to build at night, that’s got you away from practicing law for part of the night? So, we’re building and an analytics platform for attorneys, right. Built by attorneys. And the goal is to provide, you know, better dashboard visualization with respect to what lawyers do on a day to day basis. So really looking for those metrics that will drive their law firm. Not necessarily for top line revenue, but where they can get the most efficiency, the most bang for their buck, the most utility out of the time that they have.

Kevin: What data are you collecting? 

Rich: Well, right now we have the Clio user integration. So coming out of Clio, we use basically all the data coming out of Clio.

Kevin: Fascinating. 

Rich: Time entries, timekeepers, expenses, payments, invoices 

Kevin: All masked, you’re just viewing the data.

Rich: All of it, right? I mean we use all of it. 

Kevin: That’s amazing. So it’s Clio. And how do you draw that? Could they have an API that you’re drawing? 

Rich: (2:01) We have an API. So we’re an integrated partner and we pull their API data and we have some other integrations of course, but like basically the time or the data, the right now that we’re.

Kevin: When did you get that idea? 

Rich: Um, you know, as I was growing my firm, I had some problems with managing what I call the “spinning plates”. So I needed a way to better manage my own internal operations. So I hired a project manager and we started to play around with pivot tables and spreadsheets and CSV downloads. And then I started to think about the types of data that I’ve been collecting for 20 years within law firms and my law firm practices. And I came to the conclusion that most of the data that’s collected is somewhat similar to the 80-20 rule. So if I can take advantage of 80% of the data that’s the same and provide high level metrics based on that data, then I should be able to connect to a variety of different platforms because 80% of the data collections is the same. 

Kevin: (2:52) So when you’re drawing this information off of all of Clio’s data, which has huge amount of data that you have access to, what happens and how does that product ties back out to a firm? How do they use that information?

Rich: Right? So once the integration is made, they get a sign-in for FirmTrak, which is a separate web program, software as a service. So it’s a separate program. They open up the portal, they set up their user defined variables and targets. So at that point we’re putting in, uh, full time equivalencies. So basically we’re trying to get into team management and like what your capacity is as far as how many employees, how many people you have able to work. And then once you identify that, then we can do resource costs from costing. Then we can do billing targets and projections. And then once we get that, those parameters put into the system, there’s some accounts receivable information that we’re playing with and they can set up variables. But once we get the variables set up, then that data is and transformed and lays on top of the Clio data to provide a dashboard that we call “firm track visualize”.

Kevin: So is the Clio data some sort of baseline that they can compare to or what? I’m trying to understand how, what’s the relationship between the Clio data and the data that the firm is sharing as far as their metrics? 

Rich: (4:14) Right. Well, the data that the firm shares is the Clio data. So if you have a user base that has five attorneys and four paralegals, we’re pulling all of the metrics for the five and the four into our system. 

Kevin: Already from Clio?

Rich: Already from Clio. And then we lay our variables on top of it. 

Kevin: These are, these are Clio users that then you’re doing it.

Rich: Yes, exactly.

Kevin: You’re creating something on top of what Clio already has available? 

Rich: Correct. 

Kevin: Okay. Right. I get it. I was just thinking somehow the data.

Rich: Like our goal is to lay on top of the data providers to be the best analytics platform for attorneys, period.

Kevin: (4:51) And how do the potential customers hear of FirmTrak and the opportunity to work with you, based on the fact that they’re a Clio costumer? Do you just go out and contact them? Do you have a list of Clio customers? How does that all work? 

Rich: Well, reaching the customer is the hard part in the legal segment. So right now it’s social, social media is the way, and we’re a direct integration with Clio. So if you search under metrics and like assessment tools within the Clio space, we’re on the dashboard so they can make the direct integration like that. Um, we’re trying to develop, you know, strategic partnerships with. 

Kevin: Okay, so you’re doing it the other way. It’s not like you’ve got this list of Clio customers and you’re out contacting them? 

Rich: No, I wish Clio would give us some customers, but they’re not doing that quite yet. I’ll talk with them about it.

Kevin: I’m sitting here as one of the Clio integration partners. I’m going, “who’s this guy? What does he have that I don’t?”

Rich: “I want to get access?”.No, no, no, no. 

Kevin: You’d be telling me each one of their salespersons mentions me.

Rich: I’m trying to get that done actually. Enough incentives and we’ll see. But no, they’re not sharing their list with us. I wish, you know, but we’re following, you know, there’s user groups, just stack ways.

Kevin: It’s a good, it’s a good idea and a good product, you know what you’re creating? Um, what have been the challenges, you know, maybe it’s, you know, getting a hold of those customers and connect to customers, but what’s been the biggest challenge for you? 

Rich: I think part of the biggest problems that we have with legal tech in general is the momentum of old habits. So finding lawyers that are willing to embrace change in a way that can generate a lot of ROI for them. Without looking at the, you know, the small dollar incremental dollar costs to see what the long term value play is. So, you know, the momentum of habits, old habits. 

Kevin: (6:37) And had you ever been in the time that you’ve been practicing law, have you ever run a company or done a company on the side before this? 

Rich: No. No. I haven’t. I haven’t. 

Kevin: And so why you? I mean really like, it’s like, okay, there’s a lot of other lawyers that practice law like you did across this country and here it is, you goes, “you know, I could take the way that I do things, leverage this data at Clio and create a company”. I mean, why you, what was it in your DNA? 

Rich:  I don’t know if it was just something that I’m always a proponent and highest and best use. So, I want to try to get the most value out of the time that I have available in the day. Considering all the other balances that I had. So, so my goal honestly, was to try to produce a product that provided me less stress, more free time, more revenue. So, when I started to look at it, I had some things align with perspective people and capabilities and capacities. And I knew enough about data and statistics that I was just able to think about how I can apply it. 

Kevin: So it was almost like, “why not?”. 

Rich: It’s was almost by “why not?”. You know, and in my presentation, I indicated that I was doing some, I looked for a solution., right. I’ve tried to find one and I couldn’t. So I went ahead and I took the time and the effort to try and put one together. 

Kevin: (7:53) It’s almost how every entrepreneur I talk to over the years, it’s the same thing. I mean that’s what it look like for me. So when somebody tells me I’m the national leader on blogs for lawyers or some speaking event in San Francisco, and I’m going, “what are they talking about?”. 

Rich: It’s crazy. 

Kevin: I’m baying $495 a month for this thing. And people come up and say, “can you help me do what you’re doing?”. I’m going, “Shit, I’m scared you found my blog. I’ve got to find somebody to help me make it look good and tell me what I’m doing”. 

Rich: I’m trying to find that “maybe I’m not doing this right”.

Kevin: I mean, cause I don’t have a clue. And the best I could find seriously the best I could find. Who was the woman in Florida, and she goes, “I could only help you via email because I got kids that are loud. So we can’t ever talk on the phone”. I’m thinking, “Well, that ain’t gonna work for these large firms that are asking me to help them”.

Rich: I completely understand the fear that you had at that time. Believe me, believe me, I would’ve have never thought that I would be here doing all of this. It’s very exciting, it’s crazy. 

Kevin: You’re speaking. There are people listening to you. Yeah, so how’d that all happen? Yeah. What’s been the real high? What’s been the most rewarding? 

Rich: Um, I guess the rewarding is some, it’s certainly the Clio launch. You know, finalists, you know when, right when you get a call from Clio and they said, you know, out of 80 integrations and you’re one of the top five, you can present. So it was a high, when I found out that I was going to be top five and it was somewhat of than a low and I’m like, wait a minute, I’ve got to get a four minute pitch. So I’ll have to come around with that. But basically the recognition that we have from Clio has been huge and really the positive feedback. I mean we get, I mean we’ve been slammed. 

Kevin: (9:23) That’s great.

Rich: People are clamoring I think for data and data analytics and trying to get deep insights.

Kevin: Here you have Jack and the team constantly talking about it. You know, and be able to use information, so that you can get more value out of your life. 

Rich: Right. Right. 

Kevin: You know, it’s the rare lawyer. I mean, I always was, so let’s find out what we’re the best at and let’s do those things and reduce all the other static from our life. Let’s not have a lawyer do what a lawyer is not required to do. Not to demean anybody, but we could have other people doing things that are more fun that other lawyers were doing. 

Rich: Right. Well, this is totally got me back to enjoying my practice. I mean, outside of what I’ve been doing with FirmTrak, my practice, I’m enjoying my practice more with it, with the balance that I’ve been able to achieve. So it’s been helpful that way. And then just the opportunity to help lawyers. I mean,  I’m a small lawyer, you know. I’m a solo practitioner and, I wanted to create a tool that provided value to other small lawyers to have the ability to use technology in ways that larger law firms are using it. I knew that there was a way that they could do it and I’m kind of passionate about that space. Um, because I never was like large law and had like huge discretionary budgets. 

Kevin: (10:37) Who did the first, you know, coding and technology work for you? Were you were able to do it or do you get you got somebody to help you? 

Rich: I’ve had someone help. So we’ve done some, you know, when you got the pivot tables and excels and then we started to think about how we could use the data in combination. So um, I’ve had certainly, you know, you stand on the shoulders of those that are around you. I’m certainly reaping the benefits of many of the talents that I have on the team. 

Kevin: And like five or 10 years ago you weren’t familiar with API and now it’s you’re calling. 

Rich: It’s funny how many conversations and I start talking about API’s, like I know what I’m talking about and I really don’t. Fake it until you make it, I guess. 

Kevin: Oh, we were just talking about that with somebody else. The nomenclature that, you know, lawyers were sitting in here using these things, which we know some basic things. The things we don’t know, we can’t. I can’t code. 

Rich: I can’t code. I cannot code. 

Kevin: So, I can’t do that thing. But that’s a great thing that you said, I mean you’re, you’re solo lawyer serving small area and now you have a technology company that you’re running while you’re still practicing, which I bet a year from now you’re going to say, “I don’t know if I can keep the practice going hard or it was closed. 

Rich: I hope that maybe it’ll open some opportunities up long term for us. 

Kevin: And you’re reaching people nationally, if not internationally. They’re your customers. 

Rich: We have users all over the country, all over the world, at this point. Hong Kong.

Kevin: Which is great. It’s very cool.

Rich: It’s super exciting. It’s crazy. It’s really crazy. 

Kevin: Thank you very much. 

Rich: Thank you so much. I appreciate the opportunity. 

Kevin: It’s a great, it’s a great story. 

Rich: I appreciate that.

Kevin speaking with Nicole Clark, Founder and CEO of Trellis, at the 2019 Clio Cloud Conference in San Diego. Trellis is a legal research and analytics platform designed specifically for California practitioners.

Transcript

Kevin O’Keefe: Who am I talking with? 

Nicole Clark: I am Nicole Clark. I am the founder and CEO of Trellis 

Kevin: That saved me cause I was going to say, “who is Nicole?”

Nicole: Sure.

Kevin: Where are you from?

Nicole: I’m from Los Angeles, California. 

Kevin: Wow. That was easy. 

Nicole: Yes, absolutely. 

Kevin: How did you get here? Drive? Take a train?

Nicole: I drove up and we were actually in San Jose earlier, so came from San Jose to LA and then drove from LA. 

Kevin: What is Trellis?

Nicole: Trellis is a legal data and analytics company. So we mine state trial court data and we make it searchable and we analyze it and we allow attorneys to basically research how their judge actually thinks about specific issues. Um, look at the case law that their judge prefers and really sort of tailor and target most of it. 

Kevin: Did you found the company? 

Nicole: I did. 

Kevin: There’s another company that I remember talking to somebody. It was like “Money Ball” or “Money Ball for Court Analysis and Judge Analysis”. 

Nicole: Interesting. 

Kevin: Also in California, I don’t know if he’s out of LA or Northern California or not. Is the idea that, you know, “I’m a trial lawyer”, and maybe it’s not getting all the way to percentages. Like, yeah, “we can do this and we can do that, we can plead this and we can plead that. This was the lawyer and was the venue and everything. You have 30% chance so we better sell it”. How are people using it? 

Nicole: (1:19) So it’s an interesting thing. I think the analytics are really helpful and in a few times in the case and really helped them, right when you get assigned your judge to make a decision. You know, are you going to ding the judge? Are you going to request assignment to a different judge? That’s great for some hard data in analytics. The way that our clients use our products.

Kevin: I laugh because, I’m thinking like before. When I was practicing, we had email. Somebody would send out a memo asking about sticklers.

Nicole: ”Anyone hear about judge so-and-so?”

Kevin: “Oh they seem okay.”

Nicole: My favorite for the response is like, “Oh, he’s a stickler for the rules”. You don’t say the judge is a stickler for the rules. Well that’s actionable data I can make a decision on. So yup. And I experienced that at every firm that I was at that email going around. I was often the associate that was tasked with sort of collecting the anecdotes and then making a recommendation to the partner. And it just blew my mind that we were relying on antidotes and there’s so much data out there and there’s such great resources and here lawyers are sending out internal emails. You know, God help us.

Kevin: Where were you practicing in LA? 

Nicole: I was I practiced in LA and also in Orange County.

Kevin: (2:26) How is the data mined from the courthouses as far as scraped or gotten so then you can turn around and present this information? 

Nicole: Great question. I have engineers that are far smarter than I am. 

Kevin: Basically one of the most difficult aspects of what we’re doing is at the state court level the data is so fragmented. So every single court is separate. Los Angeles County separate from San Diego County. It’s all, you know, they host their data separately, they maintain it separately. So it requires a ton of work for us to integrate into, to get the data coming in. And then the most difficult work is really structuring the data cause it comes in messy, raw, unstructured, and we have to structure it so that we can actually make meaning out of it. 

Kevin: Oh, same thing man. We’re bringing RSS feeds of content, and you have to make sure that authenticates to be able to pull it through, you got to structure it. You can call metadata. You can call it organizing or whatever. 

Nicole: Yup, yup, absolutely. 

Kevin: How do the judges feel about this whole thing today? 

Nicole: It’s an interesting thing. I’ve had both responses. I’ve had some judges that I think are a little bit concerned about that level of transparency. I’ve had other judges that say we want access because we’re actually reinventing the wheel more than we need to be. We can rely on some of our past decisions, use those, and our opinions and do our job better. And then also maybe it would be helpful for them to actually see areas where they’re an outlier. Um, they basically want to be able to see what the attorneys are seeing, which you can’t blame them. 

Kevin: (3:54) Right, knowing a few judges over the years that can hold grudges, that can be spiteful.

Nicole: Absolutely. 

Kevin: “I’ll show you that’s not what you expected to happen”.

Nicole: It’s true. It’s an interesting question whether the sort of observer bias might change anything. It’s a great philosophical question that we’ll continue to to figure out. 

Kevin: If somebody told me this is what you usually do in that situation. I’d, back in my mind and running around all over. When did you start the company?

Nicole: (4:23) So we started collecting data about four and a half years ago. 

Kevin: Who’s we?

Nicole: A team, so started with co-founder technical. Someone who’s the, you know the engineering brains of the operation. I’m domain expertise. 

Kevin: Why you? I mean you’re practicing law. I mean you didn’t go to law school to say, “I’m going to be running a data analytics company from data from courthouses and present it back to lawyers on a subscription basis”. 

Nicole: That is true. That is definitely not what I went to law school thinking that. You’re absolutely right. The reason that we started Trellis was really, I was complaining to a colleague one night about, I was writing an MSJ. I was just a day. It was a complicated issue. I wasn’t sure how to structure the motion. I was saying I didn’t know anything about the judge and my colleagues said to me that he thought he had appeared before my judge previously and he thought he might have a ruling and we went and we checked and there was a ruling in the file that was on my motion, on my issue by my judge. 

Kevin: In the firm? 

Nicole: (5:20) In the firm, internally with the files. For me it was just this light bulb of, “Oh my God, there is”. 

Kevin: “What’s at the courthouse?”

Nicole: Exactly. There’s this incredible practical data and here we are relying on Lexis. We’re relying on Westlaw appellate data, sort of academic legal research, but what about all the untapped data about how judges are actually ruling? 

Kevin: And you just talking about it. An MFJ, motion for summary judgment, can decide the case. 

Nicole: Absolutely. 

Kevin: Somebody’s saying, “do get the right to have a trial or you don’t”. The judge says, “you don’t. You’re done go home”. You can appeal and you’re sitting trying to read tea leaves as to what the appellate court would say. 

Nicole: Exactly. 

Kevin: This judge who’s never been an appellate lawyer, nor do they even want to be an appellate lawyer. They’re gonna rule on things in front of them based on the briefs and their analysis and we’re going to try to do the right job. 

Nicole: Exactly right.

Kevin: But why you? You have to read and everything, but why was it you you said, “okay I’m going to do this”?

Nicole: The way that it worked was, my first step in was recognizing that this data was out there. Nobody was tapping. And my first step was “let’s start collecting and aggregating it. I’m going to use it in practice and I’m going to see if it’s really valuable”. And for a number of years while we were collecting a super meaningful data set, I just continued practicing. And during that time I had such a successful motion practice, it changed the game for me, because I sort of had the answers to the test. Right? I could see the way the judge thought.

Kevin: Did your clients know they were getting a lawyer that was more? 

Nicole: It was my secret weapon. I didn’t tell the firm it was my secret. They were like, “why do you think the judge is going to deny that?”. “I have a feeling I just have a strong feeling”. Um, but it was such a game changer for me and my practice. 

Kevin: Where were you storing this information?

Nicole: (7:02) Well at that point we had created a separate hosted database, but I was customer number one, so it was really me using it, giving feedback, and the database grew. It definitely got better over time. 

Kevin: Did you contact somebody that you knew that did tech or what? 

Nicole: I went to the smartest engineer that I

Kevin: That you knew

Nicole: Exactly, I said, “can you do this?” And at first he said, “I don’t believe you that every data is utilizing a, I mean every industry is utilizing data, right? What do you mean law is not effectively utilizing data? I don’t believe you”. And then he went and started doing his own market research, saw the opportunity and was like, “Oh my God”. 

Kevin: I love that story about, “I’m using it really well”.

Nicole: And that’s what it was for me. For me, I ended up feeling at that point like I was compelled to start the business. Like I no longer had a choice because the data was so powerful that the opportunity to start a business this big, this scalable that’s helpful to attorneys was something I wasn’t going to in account out in my life.

Kevin: Remind me again, how long ago was that? 

Nicole: About 2 years ago is when I jumped from practice and we probably were a effectively working on it the last three and a half years.

Kevin: So yeah 3 and half, four years. You were going through this process your saying, “Okay”. Did you tell the firm? “I’ve got this now”.

Nicole: They became customer number two. 

Kevin: You had left before you went back to the firm with the information.

Nicole: Well, they actually, when I told them that I was leaving and I told them what I was going to do and they knew that I had been winning for quite a number of years there and so they were able to place it together and say “Oh the product and the legals win. Yes we want the product”. And in fact they actually gave us office space onsite at the firm. 

Kevin: That’s cool. 

Nicole: We had the engineers be able to iterate with the attorneys onsite and so it was our very first sort of launch into and to real customers.

Kevin: You had a firm with a little bit of foresight. As opposed to “Get out of here” if you don’t like our model. 

Nicole: That’s totally what I was expecting. I tell you when I went in there, I was fully expecting them to say, “you know, addios, good luck with that”. But they were really receptive. 

Kevin: How’d you figure out, okay, how much am I gonna charge? Is it a subscription? Do we charge by the firm? Do we charge by the user? Do we charge, you know, whatever? How’d you figure that all out? 

Nicole: (9:19) So I think, and for particularly for startups, it’s an iterative process. I think it’s a journey to figure out exactly what revenue model is gonna work best with the customers. And you basically watch it and then tweak and then watch and then tweak. Um, my original plan was “I’m going to be like Lexis and Westlaw. I’m going to sell to the entire firm enterprise. If one person wants it, the whole firm has to it”. Right? Then I got into the sales cycle at large law firms. 

Kevin: Yeah, that’s tough.

Nicole: And so that sort of hit me pretty hard and I recognize that what we really need are internal champions. When we get people using the product, they’re super excited about it, right? 

Kevin: Champions is the right word.

Nicole: And so we need those folks saying, “yes, I use it. Yes, it’s helpful.

Kevin: One at a time.

Nicole: Exactly, and we’ll take them one at a time to take over there. 

Kevin: We used to get the checks in the beginning, I’d go, “wow. A check, from a lawyer at Wilson & Sonsini, but it’s from her and her husband’s checking account”. They were coming like that and so you realize this person really likes what we’re doing. They’re not even bothering their firm about it. They’re willing to pay the $2,500 a year or whatever they’re going to be. They’re going to be champions. It’s going to do good stuff for them, and they’re going to share the word to other people over time. What’s amazing, now we’re sitting here talking about being a lawyer and you’re being a lawyer, and to think that three and a half years ago or four years ago, you’d be winging things off revenue model, iterative changes, the sale process, champions, insights, how you sell, how you do tech. How you do all this.

Nicole: Become an expert in marketing an expert in sales an expert in managing people. Right? And it’s mind blowing. 

Kevin: But it just happens.

Nicole: It just happens. When you get really excited about something, you figure out how to make it happen. 

Kevin: All of a sudden you’re listening to other people and go, “yeah, that’s what”, I mean. I remember what scaling is. Okay, that’s right. That scaling. Or people say “we want to do this or that”, and I go, “if you think we’re going to start putting people to that problem, that is really unlikely”. When we see the opportunity, we’ll change the product and and add some features.

Nicole: (11:19) Exactly. 

Kevin: Cause we’re not going to go broke. 

Nicole: We can’t, we don’t have the resources. Right. It really is a study in prioritization, right. 

Kevin: How do we maintain it? We got engineers that are going to work on one platform. They’re not going to work on two or three. I learned all of those problems over the years. Obviously you’re having fun. 

Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. 

Kevin: Um, what was the biggest thing you learned? That you said, “wow, didn’t know that. Didn’t know that was gonna happen”. 

Nicole: In terms of the business itself, I honestly, I feel like I get one of those every day. It’s just, and it’s a regularly feel like, “wow, how did this happen on a regular basis?”. 

Kevin: When was the biggest moment where you go, “Oh my God, it shouldn’t be this hard. I don’t know. I don’t even know if we’re gonna make it after. I thought it was perfect”? 

Nicole: I though the down moments are this or this, the slowness of attorneys to adopt. So you get people and they’ll be super excited about the product and they’ll be an internal champion, but then they’ll say, “help sell it into the firm? Oh, we don’t know how to do that, but I’d love to invest in your company”. And you’re like, where’s the disconnect?  You’re willing to invest, but you can’t help us become a customer. So it’s very confusing sometimes with attorneys. 

Kevin: Do they paid per seat? Did they pay for a period of time? Do they buy us a subscription? 

Nicole: It’s a subscription. 

Kevin: That’s what it is. 

Nicole: Exactly. 

Kevin: What do people pay per a monthly subscription? 

Nicole: (12:50) $100 a month. 

Kevin: That’s really really reasonable. It really is. And we’re right now, we’re not trying to nickel and dime people. We’re trying to give them serious values. And they can go and tell their friends we were making a great product and we want them to be champions. 

Kevin: It’s totally, I mean you know already, but it’s totally the way to go. You want them as raving fans, not moderately satisfied, but somebody that brags about it to their friends. 

Nicole: Exactly. They, each one of them become a little marketers for you. 

Kevin: You can never let go of the fact that we’re customer centered like we’re 15 year in. Sometimes, it’s hard. Then everybody realizes that you came to work for the company in the company or even existed and they, and they came. Some people came for the job through the passion and the experience of everything.

Nicole: It’s an interesting thing to recognize, right that your employees don’t, you know, they share, they’re there cause they share in the vision. They don’t have the same level of buy in as you do. They don’t have the same amount on the line. 

Kevin: I’ll be telling people, “well why not? We all don’t get this excited?”. 

Nicole: I hear you. You are preaching to the choir. 

Kevin: With somebody that was in my company for seven or eight years with me and he goes, “Kevin. Just so you know. Not everybody here is going to be as excited as you are” and I’m like, “Well, why not?”. 

Nicole: Totally agree. Totally agree. 

Kevin: What’s been the most rewarding for you? I mean to look back and say, “I was went to law school as your lawyers doing a good job. I enjoyed it”. What’s most rewarding about this? 

Nicole: (14:19) I think it’s having actually built something that people love, right? So we were, we were at a conference recently and someone came up to me and I said, “I heard about this. My friend was raving about it”. It’s a recognition that, you know, we started from nothing and we put the pieces together to really build something that people love and use. That’s huge. 

Kevin: To have them come up and thank you.

Nicole: Come up and thanking me, right? I never in my life as an attorney did I expect that and it’s incredibly rewarding. 

Kevin: It’s totally rewarding, because the people that are out there and get seen and come up and say they’re a customer, “great to meet you”, may have talked with you sometime but never met you face to face and how much you did to help them. I mean, you know, you will occasionally, I used to tell the lawyer, so you get a letter from a client, you keep it in the drawer. On a bad day you open it up and read it, but you don’t have a lot. 

Nicole: But it’s a little bit of a thankless job there because you’re just pushing forward on deadlines and when you win they expect it and when you lose, they’re not happy.

Kevin: So if you’re out there talking to law students today, or maybe you already do. 

Nicole: We do.

Kevin: To you that the sky is the limit for opportunities for a lawyer?

Nicole: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that we need to get out of the mindset that you’re stuck in, you know, the way that the profession has sort of, um, generally been established and “I have to work at a private practice firm” and “I have this number of years before I can jump to my next job”. And you know, there’s all of these things that we expect when we go in. And I think I was under that mindset for a long time. 

Kevin: Or we were educated that way. 

Nicole: Absolutely. 

Kevin: You go into law school and tell them that they gotta change what they’re doing and they’re thinking, “we’re going to screw that up. That’ll screw up our ratings” and “we’ve got to get these kids out of here. I’m not going to go to major firms and make them”. 

Nicole: That’s funny, that’s interesting.

Kevin: They do. They actually say that. “That’s okay, but we can’t do that because we got to get the kids in the major firms in the major cities and I’m going to get them clerking in the right spots because if they don’t clerk our ratings will all go down”.

Nicole: Or there may be only one way to go forward, cause that’s what we’re told. And then it turns out that’s not the case at all. 

Kevin: There’s always opportunities. Look at you. Look, you’re here today. 

Nicole: Exactly, it’s a wide open universe out there. 

Kevin: It was great talking with you. This was great. 

Nicole: Absolutely, you too Kevin.

Kevin: Thank you very much.

Kevin speaking with Erin Levine, CEO and Founder of Hello Divorce, on making the divorce process both easier and more affordable through her company’s web-based application. Erine was also a guest presenter at this year’s Clio Cloud Conference, speaking on “The Win-Win Legal Services Model”.

Transcript:

Kevin: Who am I talking with?

Erin Levine: Erin Levine

Kevin: Who is Erin Levine?

Erin: I’m the managing attorney of Levine family law group and the CEO and founder of hello divorce.

Kevin: Where are you from? Where’s Levine Family Law Group)?

Erin Levine: It’s in Oakland, California.

Kevin: Question: So you didn’t have so far to go.

Erin: No, in fact, I was in San Diego just a few weeks ago with my family and to take the kids to Legoland. I love being here. I was so excited when I heard that it would be here.

Kevin: How many kids do you have?

Erin: Two

Kevin: Oh that’s not so bad.

Erin: Well, they’re little. They’re wonderful. But this is kind of a nice break.

Kevin: I have five total (laughs). That’s the reason I ask. They’re older though. I

Erin: Five kids!?

Kevin: They’re older though. It goes by fast.

Erin:I can’t even imagine. I mean two (kids) feels like ten (kids) so…

Kevin: Like Guy Kawasaki always said when you go from two to three then you start playing a zone. And that’s when it all changes. It’s a whole new game.

Erin: Wow, that’s impressive (laughs).

Kevin: So in addition to, you know, practicing family law, you have Hello Divorce, what is it?

Erin: Hello Divorce is a web platform that offers legal, health and wellness supports people who are going through divorce. So it’s a web app. Well, let me back up a minute. It’s kind of in between legal zoom or rocket lawyer and a full fledged law firm. So I had done a survey of hundreds of people who were either just starting the divorce or had just finished their divorce and asked them what they needed or what they wanted or what could have been better. And as it turns out, most of them really wanted technology. They wanted the opportunity to do things on their own, but they also wanted a helping hand if they needed it.So our app not only takes people through the divorce process, but if at any time they need some extra help, they can click and access on demand lawyers.

Kevin: So, and (does) the “on-demand lawyer” mean different lawyers around the country or in California? Where’s it being used?

Erin: Yea, we’re partnering with different firms, because hello divorce itself can’t offer the legal advice right now. We tested it in California with my firm, and some contract attorneys that work with my firm. We wanted to make sure that it was a sustainable option for lawyers, we wanted to prove that lawyers would actually make money even though they’re charging less because their overhead is like none. And it’s worked. And so next, we’re going to Texas.

Kevin: Good for you, I mean stay with the large states with where you’re going. But I think that’s right. It’s a hard mindset. I used to practice law (but) I didn’t bill by the hour, it was contingency fees so I didn’t worry about that stuff. But it’s a hard mindset to get lawyers to realize that being more efficient can actually be better, and for the clients, that’s what they want anyway. They’re not looking to be spending the most time with you, they necessarily don’t like you, they don’t love you like their families to spend more time to make it more efficient. How’d you go about the process of saying, okay, we’re going to build this thing or have this app. What’d you do? Where’d you go? Where’d you go get the developer? Where do I start?

Erin: Oh my goodness. Um, well I, I had really burnt out on practicing law all the time. Like I was doing a lot of litigation. I had little kids at home. I just kind of needed a break and I had always loved tech and I’d always loved access to justice. And we have millennials coming into our office on a regular basis saying that they had the information, they had Googled it, they knew it, but they were having trouble like processing it or problem solving. And so they were asking for like fixed fee services or just unbundled services. And we weren’t set up to do that in a way where we could make money because our overhead was so high. So I went to a tech firm in San Francisco, um, called Yeti. And with them we did a design sprint and we really mapped out what we wanted or felt the user journey should be. We asked people in surveys, we, um, looked at colors, we looked at how we could integrate wellness support. We put everything in plain English, which is hard for us lawyers. Um, and then we had this amazing plan, but not enough money. So I, I did a minimal viable product on WordPress. I actually took like every plugin you can possibly imagine to try to rig together what is now our divorce navigator. And there was interest.

Kevin So it’s a web based site it’s not an application per se

Erin: Right it’s a web application now, but it’s not, um, you know, available for download in the Apple store. Um, but it is an application built in Python. It integrates with some of our sponsors here. So that’s nice too.

Kevin: How long ago was that? That you were in the office in San Francisco, the tech firm mapping out the journey.

Erin: Two years. Yeah.

Kevin: Yeah. What did you learn throughout that process that you didn’t know and there might be 80 things cause I don’t know. What did you get into that? They go quite, I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that.

Erin: Yeah. Um, just for me it was like just how much the consumer has changed in the past 15 years. Even. So I’ve been practicing law for 15 years and you know, it used to be that we were like barricaded by this fortress of information and no one had access to it. And we told clients, you’ve got to trust us, like we’re going to give you the answer. You gotta trust us. And they really had no other choice. And now people expect more. They, they have the information or they want it and they’re willing to pay for a lawyer and they’re willing to pay for legal services, but they want to ensure that we know our stuff and that the user experience, um, is comparable to all the other apps that they use.

Kevin: That’s right. They have a relative or a family member that’s got a serious disease. What are they doing? They’re turning to the internet. And they’re getting great information and they may even be able to talk with somebody in that field via the internet, maybe on their iPhone and here it is and divorce that, Hey, it’s not fun, but it isn’t as serious as some life threatening diseases, but we’re going to live with a mystery cause Now I get it because I got all this information, but how do I go through it? They don’t want to do surgery, but it’s the same.

Erin: That that was a big piece of it. Like we made tons of worksheets and checklists so people could digest little pieces of the divorce process without trying to take it in all at once. So our most popular worksheet is the parenting plan when to help you figure that out. And the other most popular one actually is our self care worksheet, which surprised us, but we love it. We’ve got great consumers.

Kevin: The customers for you per se, are they the law firm, then that deploys it into their customer base or the consumers directly. Then that can go to the lawyer who is, who is the party that’s taking money out of their pocket and putting it into your pocket.

Erin 7:28: So right now we’re B to C (business-to-consumer sales), we are up until this point and October 1st we started, we launched our first ad campaign. But up until this point, we did no, like very little paid marketing and advertising. It’s all been word of mouth, social media, um, mediators, uh, just me getting out there and meeting people and whatnot. So consumers, but ultimately the goal is that lawyers will pay to use our platform, right? So that it makes divorce like that much easier for them. And we’ve had new lawyers tell us that they’ve paid for a membership, like a subscription to our app to learn how to do this stuff.

Kevin: I remember when I visited Nolo press, the was just coming about at 96 or 97 I had the idea of a virtual law community. I wanted to pull different pieces together. So, you know, I went out to Berkeley from Wisconsin and visited Nolo. Awesome. You guys got awesome stuff, you know, and they’re saying, Hey, do you understand what, this isn’t like a freebie. This is very capitalistic in what we’re trying to make as far as money from this book. And I’m realizing that those books ought to be in my library or my reception area and I should be buying them for the clients, you know? So if we want to know what’s going to go in on a trial, you one, what’s going on at deposition their A hell of a lot better than any books that the bar association.

Erin: So true. I don’t know why lawyers think that. If it gets the information, they’re not going to need us.

Kevin: And then when I told Nolo, why aren’t you selling this to lawyers, they go lawyers aren’t going to buy us. They hate us. I said, well, maybe they hate you because of the way you’re approaching it, but they don’t know. But if they had these books, it would make their lives easier. Um, think about it there was landlord tenant real estate there was divorce.

Erin: They had all these consumer facing areas of law. It was written for consumers.

Kevin: I mean, it was written for consumers so they could wade through it. See it in an entertaining way, like a dummy’s book it’s great.
Erin: It’s going to be decades before the legal system is efficient and streamlined. And until that happens, we’ve got counties with different rules. We’ve got States with different rules. People need help navigating that, but they don’t necessarily need a lawyer doing it.

Kevin: Not always no or they, or they could use a lawyer that has technology so the lawyer can access if they need to. I mean, if they paying the lawyer, they get a response back in about maybe an hour, but if the most oftentimes 10 minutes.

Erin: Yeah. I mean that’s definitely our advantage because people can click and they’re immediately, um, they can pay this all takes like two minutes. They get their, um, welcome email.

Kevin: What does it cost for someone to use this service?

Um, so the basic service, um, just to get access to the information in exchange for their email address is free. Yeah. It’s $99 a month to use the divorce navigator. And people are averaging five, six months. Divorce is a process

Kevin: And they can buy it by the month they don’t have to buy it by the year?

Erin: Exactly. They could easily, um, I hope people aren’t subscribing on a yearly basis. That would be terrible, just one divorce.

Kevin: Hopefully no one needs a lifetime subscription

Erin: Oh my gosh. Yeah. No, we need to give a discount for repeat customers or something. But what we’re finding is most people using the divorce navigator are upgrading to one time fee of $395, which allows us to do all the filing and processing and serving.

Kevin: How are you enjoying it? Are you having fun?

Erin: I love it. This is the best. It’s like, it’s so close to my heart because I always knew there was a way to lower the cost, um, and really target that 77% of people who aren’t getting their legal needs met. But I also wanted to find a way that I could earn a living because I wanted to show this to the lawyers. I wanted to introduce it to them here and say, look guys, like there’s a different way we can do this. And like, I got to do that today. So it’s like a dream come true.I’m such a nerd.

Kevin: So you spoke here today?

Erin: I spoke yesterday. Yeah.

Kevin: What were you talking on?

Erin 11:43: The win-win legal services model. So talking about passive income and how we can leverage the technology we already have to really like meet the consumer where they’re at and I’m just trying to convince people like Jack, you know the legal market is changing and if you’re not feeling it like we are, we’re in the Bay area, we’re surrounded by tech you will feel it, I mean I have had lawyer after lawyer come up to me and say I haven’t had a new case in awhile. And if you talk to the consumer, if you’re authentic, if you connect with them like a real human being, that’s what they want now look to make sure you have the credentials, but they don’t need that in their face. It’s not about you.

Kevin: No, my doctor, he said if we don’t get back to, you know, within an hour we might be tied up in something. I’m thinking hey that’s ok. I emailed an email to the office and it goes through, I think it goes through a vetting system where they can queue it as to where it goes. Because it’s only him and four or five staff and I got a personal email back know from the doctor about it. And I don’t have to go in. I pay a flat monthly fee, but so what.

Erin: Exactly, we have Kaiser out here in California. Do you?

Kevin: It’s up in Seattle, yes.

Erin: but you know, you have like a skin rash or something. You could take a picture and upload it to the app and then they’ll, you’ll talk right to the doctor or the nurse practitioner it’s extraordinary.

Kevin: Then you talk to somebody that’s this younger. They couldn’t imagine not having that. When you tell them the story of like, you know when I started to practice law, yeah, no, you make an appointment you come in you go in with a legal pad and pen, you make all types of notes and then, then you forget about half of stuff because you can’t read it. Then you dictate a summary or dictate a letter back to the client and they’re paying for the time.

Erin: The dictation. My dad was always dictating.

Kevin: I should just bring in like exactly what went on. At night I came in and 7 to 11 every night I was dictating stuff and then it was just stacks and it had numbers one, two and rubber bands around the tapes to go in the files and you copied the books and you cut them and put them in there and you had notes for the dictation. I think about how inefficient that was.

Erin: Oh my gosh. I remember my dad had, he was a trial attorney with the firm in LA. He had, we used to take the file carts and like run around the hallways and he had this huge room for a library, a huge room for the files and a huge cold room for the server. It was like a whole room. It was amazing. I mean now we’re seeing like these lawyers come out of law school and like set up shop on their computers in 2 minutes

Kevin: and never had a buy library subscription. Could you imagine every month the pocket parks come and have somebody has to pull them out of the books, put them back in and then they would sit on the library table and you’re wondering whether we should have them in the books or not. It’s insane. And amount of money we spent on, it was just, obscene so now whatever people are complaining about today is a fraction of what it was and so what you’re bringing into the environment is saying, Hey, you not only can serve people better, you might make money when you’re asleep now and that’s okay. It’s not to try to steal from people. You’re just having, you could develop subscription base businesses over time working with customers that have a better experience about the whole thing so that they’re raving about us. It’s really interesting what you’re saying about somebody who hasn’t had a call for a client for a period of time and it might be the way they’re presenting themselves and they’re inaccessible. You know, you’re right. You’re living in the middle of the Bay area and I’m living in tech, pretty tech savvy area as well

Erin: Yeah It’s, you know, I think that, you know, us gen excers, we really have this unique perspective because we saw our parents, um, and like really working in like non-tech. We didn’t grow up with iPhones like we were still on beepers and then all of a sudden we were expected to like know all this and know it quickly. I think you could probably relate to that as well.

Kevin: There were no word processors when we started and it was an amazing thing when two word processors arrived at the office with green font.

Erin: Did you love it? Did you embrace it right away or were you like, this is never going to work.

Kevin: Those I saw could work because it went I mean it sounds goofy but they went from IBM selectrix to an IBM with a mag card writer if you had a mag card writer it basically could kick things out, stop. And then whoever was keying in or typing in would stop and put in the name or whatever the information. There were only so many variables and documents should cause lawyers that were doing business and estate work and whatnot. They were making money in their sleep because they weren’t doing anything except finding five or six variables and their secretary was preparing the documents on the machines. I didn’t embrace the legal research and technology I thought it was the craziest thing in the world that we were gonna use computers to find.

Erin: I have people on my team that still won’t do it with the computer they want the book.

Kevin: Well it was delightful to talk with you. It’s great to hear that you’re having fun and you’re onto the next state Texas and then you’ll be on Florida and probably New York after that.

Erin: Yeah, you got it.

Kevin: You take care. Thank you very much.

Amir Reshef talks with Kevin O’ Keefe on how he started dealcloser, where the company is today, and what he’s learned along the way.

Kevin O’Keefe: Who am I talking with?

Amir Reshef: Amir Reshef.

Kevin O’Keefe: And what do you do?

Amir Reshef: I’m the CEO and cofounder of the legal tech company called dealcloser.

Kevin O’Keefe: And where are you from?

Amir Reshef: Alberta, Edmonton.

Kevin O’Keefe: The same place as Jack Newton that co-founded Clio. And what does dealcloser do?

Amir Reshef: Dealcloser is a transaction management platform.

Kevin O’Keefe: What does that mean?

Amir Reshef: It’s for corporate lawyers to run their deals through. The M&A process is typically very paper heavy, very manual. A lot of those tasks can be automated with our software. So, we make the transaction process better for lawyers and their clients.

Kevin O’Keefe: And how did you get involved in that?

Amir Reshef: I used to be a lawyer at a big international firm and I just lived that process and I hated it and I couldn’t understand why we were doing it. And, couldn’t understand why we were doing the things we were doing. And not just us–all corporate law does it that way. And so we–my cofounder and I–thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if there was something that did these things and just made the process less manual, less frustrating, less annoying?’ And decided to go for it two years ago.

Kevin O’Keefe: So you went out and started it. With what? Did you have savings, did you have anything?

Amir Reshef: Not a whole lot.

Kevin O’Keefe: Is your co-founder a woman or man?

Amir Reshef: He’s a guy.

Kevin O’Keefe: Lawyer or not a lawyer?

Amir Reshef:  No, he’s technical. He’s a technical guy.

Kevin O’Keefe: How did you guys know each other?

Amir Reshef: Mutual friends. He started off as a contractor, him and another guy. And then he became the CTO and the other guy is an employee of ours too. I call him a cofounder because he was there from day one, but he started as a contractor.

Kevin O’Keefe: So you had this idea in your head, ‘Hey, better way to do this. This is way too painful.’.

Amir Reshef: Yeah. 5 am, night after night, I didn’t want it anymore.

Kevin O’Keefe: Yeah and obviously if you’ve talked to other entrepreneurs, you are exactly from the road that people come from. They’re working in some type of issue, and they’re past it–there’s too much pain. So when you hired him as a contractor, how’d you pay him? Where’d you get the money to do this thing?

Amir Reshef: We made a terrible PowerPoint to explain what it’ll do. And I showed it to some lawyers at my firm and one was like, ‘oh I’ll invest in this.’ Wasn’t even expecting that, but he gave us our first investment. It was now what seems to me like a small amount, but back then was a lot of money and that’s how we started. That was what we started to pay contractors with.

Kevin O’Keefe: How’d you go get the customers?

Amir Reshef: We built out an alpha, basically. Completely nonfunctional, but it looked way better than our terrible PowerPoint. And we went to firms in Edmonton and I said, ‘when this exists, would you be willing to use it?’ And we even asked for a small fee just to show people are willing to put money into this. And that’s how it started. It started with local firms in Edmonton and then as we started to grow, we expanded our reach and now we’re all throughout North America.

Kevin O’Keefe: How many firms are using dealcloser now?

Amir Reshef: We’re at over 25.

Kevin O’Keefe: They’re of all sizes? Or tend to be a little bit larger because of the nature of the deals that you’re doing?

Amir Reshef: Actually, even small firms. Simple sales–like the sale at a gas station–it’s not a big transaction, but it’s still happening all the time. Our smallest firm is one lawyer and our biggest firm is 400 lawyers.

Kevin O’Keefe: So somebody can go in this interface–it’s reduced to an interface as opposed to document by document by document. I assume you see where they are on the stage of getting everything done. And by putting information in, it’s then producing the documents based on the input of information as opposed to filling in blanks in a word processor. I’m just guessing. I don’t know.

Amir Reshef: Yeah. It’s not quite that. Document automation–we are actually going to build that. But typically lawyers are using their own documents. We are really a process tool. They upload their documents, they can invite–most deals are two sided–the other law firm. They invite their clients of course. They can invite the accountants. Everyone involved on a deal comes together in one true digital version of the deal instead of having separate closing rooms and emailing documents, then the clients have their own portal where they can securely review and then sign their documents and as they’re signing documents, that’s all tracked back so the lawyer can see exactly who signed what and who hasn’t. It’s funny because most people think of signing a document: It’s very quick, it’s one contract or whatever and maybe two people signing.

Kevin O’Keefe: Oh no–you could have page after page

Amir Reshef: Yeah, so when you have a thousand documents, the problem gets huge when it’s on a deal.

Kevin O’Keefe: Did you go directly from college, law, to: you’re in the large firm, and now you’re an entrepreneur? 

Amir Reshef: Yeah, exactly.

Kevin O’Keefe: What’s been the biggest surprise? Or let me ask, before even that–why you? When you’re sitting there working at large firm, you’re not working with a lot of people that are ready to quit and start their own companies. What made you as somebody that was willing to do that?

Amir Reshef: It’s funny, I never had heard of entrepreneurship until I did a joint JD MBA. And so in my MBA I had always just assumed every company has always existed. I don’t know how I never thought of it. Facebook was always Facebook. I’d never thought about the people behind the company who started it. Somehow I missed the boat on it completely, but then I started learning about it more during my MBA and I was like, ‘this seems amazing.’ And I decided–I gave myself a maximum of five years.

Kevin O’Keefe: So you had a plan?

Amir Reshef: Yeah. After five years, I was afraid the golden handcuffs would kick in too strongly. So I said ‘five years at most,’ but then after practicing–and I always thought I’d join a startup and be employee number 30 or whatever. I got–what I see it as fortunate enough–to live this problem and actually quit long before five years. I practiced almost three and then decided to take the plunge and co-found a company.

Kevin O’Keefe: Who were the mentors that allowed you to do that, that you were talking to ‘I’m going to do this thing and different things’ because obviously you’ve got an MBA–you’re learning something, but it’s nothing like learning it on the ground.

Amir Reshef: No, it’s nothing at all. I’m really lucky. Edmonton has a really great tech community and startup community. I have a lot of friends in that community. So when I was thinking about it, I was able to talk to other co-founders and founders and ask questions like, ‘When should I quit? Am I crazy? What’s it going to be like?’ And you can’t actually prepare for what it’s going to be like. I’m lucky that I have a lot of mentors in my community that I bet are always willing to give me some time of day, even from some of the really big companies. Edmonton’s a very supportive and collaborative community. So that’s how.

Kevin O’Keefe: What’s been your biggest surprise?

Amir Reshef: Honestly, this is going to make me sound very naive, but I thought it would be like a red carpet unrolled for us. Like it’d be so easy. Customers would be flocking to sign up. And I just didn’t expect how hard it was going to be. Also it’s been super rewarding. But I was completely naive–thought it’d be like, ‘here’s some money.’ It’s obviously not that easy or else everyone would be doing. It’s been extremely rewarding. But that was the big surprise–just learning the reality of what I decided to undertake. Maybe I should have done better research.

Kevin O’Keefe: Were your parents or relatives, asking ‘what are you doing?’

Amir Reshef:  They’ve been extremely supportive. I’m lucky. I don’t have a lot of risks. I rent. No kids. Not married. So this is the time to try this kind of thing. My parents are happy that I did and I would not have been able to do it without them and the level of support they’ve given me.

Kevin O’Keefe: I started my first law firm and I haven’t practiced in 20 some years and I traveled 200 some miles to see my mentor in Milwaukee and I’m telling him I’m thinking about starting my own firm and he goes ‘you don’t have any risk.’ I go, ‘I have five kids and we just bought an old Victorian house. We’re going to restore it.’ He goes, ‘if it doesn’t work out. You just fall down and get back up and do it again and it will probably work out anyway.’ and I’m like ‘are you nuts?’ But I think there’s a lot of truth to that for people to really step back and say, what do I really have at risk? And if I’m really confident in an idea that I believe in, if I don’t do it, that might be the greater risk.

Amir Reshef: That’s the risk, yeah.

Kevin O’Keefe: It’s your first company and your vision of how it’s going to be so easy and so obvious–it’s going to work. But there have to have been moments where you go, ‘this is going to fly. We’re going to do this. I know it. Now.’ Are there occasions where that’s happened or do you remember particular events or you got this client?

Amir Reshef: Yeah, exactly. I still get that feeling when something good happens, but I guess what’s interesting is, and what’s changed is it used to be at the early days, there wasn’t a lot of good news and there wasn’t a lot of bad news. So good news really stood out and bad news was crushing and now there’s more of both kinds. It just averages out to be ‘a day’ now. But yeah, there’s lots of moments where I’m just like, ‘this is awesome.’ Even at our booth, someone just signed up just earlier, like an hour ago so I was, I was happy about that. That was cool. I was like, ‘this is working, this is validation.’.

Kevin O’Keefe: Do they pay a subscription over a period of time or they pay per use?

Amir Reshef: It’s a per person per month cost. $79 month to month.

Kevin O’Keefe: Pretty good.

Amir Reshef: Yeah, we’re pretty competitive for pricing. They can pay for the year and then it’s cheaper. It ends up being 69 a month.

Kevin O’Keefe: How did you figure out your pricing?

Amir Reshef: We looked at a lot of other companies, including Clio and we saw the range in legal tech and in SaaS. But pricing is something we have to continually revisit. I read an article that said most startups, they basically set their price in their first days of existence and then never go back to it. And it’s one of your most important things so we don’t talk about it often. Maybe not as often as we should, but we do talk about it and we’re ready to try different prices out. Startups are like tons of experiments that you’re running.

Kevin O’Keefe: Yeah you’re trying to figure out: can we add greater value to validate this price or increase the price? Do we need to go down in price as we’re becoming more efficient?

Amir Reshef: Or do we have a new feature that is going to be a different tier. There’s lots of things you can do.

Kevin O’Keefe: How many people are working?

Amir Reshef: Eight. Five of them are here today.

Kevin O’Keefe: That’s impressive. How’s everybody feeling like coming here?

Amir Reshef: I went last year as an attendee and loved it and I like talked it up on how much fun they’re going to have and it’s been awesome.

Kevin O’Keefe: Do you find that having your people at Clio and you being at Clio, in addition to meeting lawyers and you can sign up customers, just the inspiration–the client centric, ‘we can do this stuff,’ just rubs off?

Amir Reshef: It does, it’s very inspiring.

Kevin O’Keefe: You go home and you’re ready to do more and conquer the world.

Amir Reshef: I mean Jack’s keynote yesterday was super interesting from all those stats. They’ve led us to think about what directions we can take on our next features. That was super valuable for us to hear those thoughts. He did all the research for us.

Kevin O’Keefe: I’m going on Twitter and I’m giving messages to my team. ‘Why can’t Lexblog do this?’

Amir Reshef: Yeah, my developers too when I started making feature requests, they tried to like calm me down.

Kevin O’Keefe: Yeah. Because sometimes you know, Hey, you haven’t thought about what we might be able to do with this if we work on this to do that. And that will be a real art on your part to be able to step back and power these people to do great things and they’ll come back and do better things that you couldn’t have envisioned.

Amir Reshef: That also has evolved. It used to be everything I said got built because I was a subject matter expert. Right. And now I asked for something sometimes that my developers will be like, well did a customer tell you that? They question me now about it. Like ‘why should we do it? What’s the priority?’

Kevin O’Keefe: But sometimes you know, I tell our team, man, customers don’t know what they want.

Amir Reshef: That’s true too.

Kevin O’Keefe: Nobody was waiting on this thing when we just introduced it to the marketplace. But yet they’re buying.

Amir Reshef: That’s why we also track how they use the app cause tells a different thing.

Kevin O’Keefe: What do you tell somebody that’s sitting at a firm whose maybe thinking like you thinking, I only want to be on it for a period of time. What do you tell them?

Amir Reshef: Go for it. That it’s not easy.

Kevin O’Keefe: What’s the most important thing they need to have when they leave [a firm]?

Amir Reshef: In what sense?

Kevin O’Keefe: Not talking about money, but what did they need to have? What has got to be in your DNA?

Amir Reshef: Risk tolerance. Enjoying situations where there’s no instructions. When you’re an associate at a firm you do what you’re told. You don’t have to think too hard about what you do next or how you do it, but there’s no manual for what we’re doing. They have to be prepared for the unknown really and be comfortable with that.

Kevin O’Keefe: It’s great what you’re doing, it’s a cool idea. And what i’m amazed is I go to different conferences, just set up shop or go on Twitter and say, ‘I would like to talk to legal tech entrepreneurs,’ and meet people like you and they just keep coming. It’s going to be the lifeblood of the law because as things from large law begin to change in the way they deliver legal services, it’s going to take that tech and that automation for people to look at things differently.

Amir Reshef: It’s coming whether they like it or not.

Kevin O’Keefe: That’s right. But actually you can help individual lawyers maybe make more money, they might be able to do more sales.

Amir Reshef: We we have stats on that in fact so that we’re starting to collect it with some of our customers. So we are trying to build an ROI calculator cause nothing is more compelling than just the numbers. We’re working on that now.

Kevin O’Keefe: And you can be empowering individual lawyers are a couple lawyers to go out and be their own law firm.

Amir Reshef: Yeah and they can punch above their weight. We like to tell them that.

Kevin O’Keefe: I told Jack [Newton] that. I said ‘you’re punching above your weight, way above your weight’ at Clio. It just continues to get higher and higher. You’re doing it, and you’re helping those lawyers do it. It’s pretty cool.

Amir Reshef: Thank you. It’s fun to do this. It’s stressful, but I find the stress better than the stress I had at a law firm. It’s like a less toxic stress.

Kevin O’Keefe: That’s a really good way to put it because people are stressed by it. ‘Is this what I want to do. this isn’t rewarding. I’m getting paid a bunch of money. It this all that’s going to happen to me in my entire life? You wake up in the night, probably more with that than you do with things that people would think you should be scared about in a Startup. Congratulations. Great to chat with you.

Amir Reshef: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Thank you.