The legal industry is behind most other industries in terms of technological development, in large part because the industry is so foreign and intimidating to entrepreneurs who are not attorneys. In the last few years, this technological lag has become readily apparent to those both in and outside the industry, making it ripe for modernization and disruption. As an attorney that created a legal tech start up, I gained unique insight into what it takes to start a technology company in the legal field, and set out some lessons learned and tips below.
- Skepticism Abounds
It is no secret that attorneys are skeptical by nature. As a result, whenever I discuss our platform with attorneys, their initial, knee-jerk response is to identify all the negative issues that may arise from the platform, which is the exact opposite response elicited when discussing it with non-attorneys. Very few attorneys initially recognize the benefits. Accordingly, anyone creating a legal start up needs to be aware of, and prepared for, the fact that you will need to overcome a heavy dose of skepticism before attorneys will even consider the benefits of your product.
- Change is Hard
Attorneys do not like change. In that regard, many attorneys—especially the older segment—do not like, and are not comfortable with, new technology. They hear words “disruption” and “platform” and their skin crawls. Consequently, anyone creating a legal start up needs to be able to explain to attorneys how the change will impact them positively, not negatively. In the case of our platform, I often talk about how it will create more opportunity—bringing more people and businesses with un- or under-fulfilled legal needs off the sidelines to the legal market—not result in attorneys cannibalizing one another’s business.
- Know the Rules
There are a myriad of legal, ethical, and other rules to wade through when creating a legal start up. With attorneys being as skeptical and quick to find flaws in your product as they are, typically, the first question they will ask you about your product is—“does it comply with those various rules?”. If the answer is anything other than “yes,” that is the end of the discussion. If the answer is yes, then they will want to delve deeper into your understanding of those rules to ensure that you are actually aware of, and properly addressing, them all. So if you are considering creating a legal start up, you need to educate yourself as to those rules, and ensure that your product complies with them.
- Identify Your Audience
When we launched our platform, our target demographic was every practicing attorney in private practice. We assumed, wrongfully, that every attorney that fit that criteria would be interested in learning about the platform and its benefits. After going to a number of trade shows and being ignored entirely by the same demographic(s) of attorney over and over, we narrowed our target demographic considerably. Since that time, our efforts are more properly focused, and we have seen our conversion costs decrease significantly. Avoid that mistake, and make a truly concerted effort to know your audience before you launch. It will save you a significant amount of time and money.
- Mobile is Key
Like many attorneys, I have a desktop in my office, a desktop at home, and a laptop for the road. I am almost never without a computer. Based on my experience, when we created our platform, we assumed anyone using our platform would be using his or her computer. We were wrong. Fortunately, when we built our website, our developers insisted that it at least be mobile-compatible, but we did not let them talk us into building an “app.” That was a big mistake. What we learned after a number of months is that people who use a platform like ours are typically younger and/or tech-savvy, first adopters—the same people who expect an app. If you are going to launch a legal start up, save yourself some lost customers and embarrassment and build an app.
Written by: Matthew Horn, Esq., is the president and co-founder of Legal Services Link, a leading online platform connecting those with legal needs with attorneys interested in satisfying those needs. He holds a B.S. in accounting from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and a J.D. from the John Marshall Law School.