How The Internet Has Changed The Practice Of Law
ABA Gives Permission to Drop the LSAT Requirement.

The Greatest American Lawyer: Looking Back at the Beginning

Regurgitation Thursday: Damien Allen and Enrico Schaefer discuss the changes the past five years have brought in the practice of law by way of technology, the internet, and new business models.

That’s right, it’s Regurgitation Thursday where we look backwards, backup some history, and reflect on the past so we can better understand the present and future.

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Damien Allen: Today we are talking to the creator of the Greatest American Lawyer Blog, Enrico Schaefer, who’s also the founder of Traverse Legal, PLC, a law firm built on the internet, technology and innovation. Good morning, Enrico. Welcome to the program.
 
Enrico Schaefer: Good morning, Damien.  How are you doing today?
 
Damien Allen: I’m doing fine. You doing well, sir?
 
Enrico Schaefer: Absolutely.
 
Damien Allen: Well, it’s been five years since you’ve founded Traverse Legal, PLC with just you and a secretary. You’ve now grown to eight attorneys, offices in Michigan, California and Maryland, and have become one of the most recognized internet law attorneys in the world. Did you anticipate this level of success?
 
Enrico Schaefer: No, Damien. You know, seven years ago when I started blogging, people were not blogging for business. Like everything on the internet, everything starts out altruistic and non-commercial. I saw the potential to actually blog my expertise online and to establish myself within my internet law niche, and at the time, I really didn’t anticipate that anything beyond, hopefully, getting enough business to keep myself busy and my secretary busy and had no real goals beyond being a solo practitioner. That first year that I was in business we did a couple of cases off of our blogs, a couple of clients came in off of our blogs. But by enlarge things were still fairly traditional in terms of origination, people who knew me around town, my business was more local. And then in 2005 and 2006, things really started to change, and people really started to use Google to search their legal issue and when they would come to my websites, they happened to be cybersquatting or domain disputes or internet law, they would come to my blogs and quickly see that I was addressing the very issue that they were grappling with and from a fabric of social societal level people just started to think, “yeah, ok, this is the guy that I want for the job and it doesn’t matter to me that he’s located in Traverse City and I’m located in Los Angeles, California.” So, I knew that I...I thought I knew that I could make a run of it with an innovative approach to the practice of law built on organic search returns sharing my expertise online and getting clients that way. But I had no idea that things would be as successful and explode like they have over the last five or six years.
 
Damien Allen: Your firm is deploying extranets which made your law firm transparent. Web-based digital dictation tools accessible to the clients and other innovative tech tools while most lawyers are still talking about how it might be done. What technology has made the biggest impact in your business, Enrico?
 
Enrico Schaefer: Well, that’s a good question, Damien. We really built the law firm on technology, and we were completely digital right from square one. We built a process on top of our paperless environment. We use a secure and encrypted extranet system, which we use as our case management system which made us completely transparent to our clients. The clients can log in at any time and see exactly what was happening in their case, all the internal discussions concerning their case, etc. We use digital dictation, which we use to drive the extranet as well as traditional letters and things of this nature, but with our digital dictation, we are able to dictate from anywhere using our cell phones, etc. and routing that to staff, which allows us to dictate 24/7. I would say that the most interesting technology deployments were certainly the extranet system, which is basecamphq.com extranet system. I think that the digital dictation tools that we use, including we have a web-based dictation system that we can send to clients, so we might send a client 50 questions, and instead of having them type up a response, they simply dictate the response and we’ll type it up. I think, certainly, our blogging software, which has provided us with online marketing. The way that we’ve used that has been very innovative. Certainly, these Vertio Greatest American Lawyer Radio shows have been extremely innovative. All of these things have had a huge impact on our business, and we’re very proud to have actually deployed and incorporated those into our business model from the floor up well before anyone else was really doing it. And we actually proved that it did work. For instance, on a single issue of transparency, when we were talking six years ago about being completely transparent to our clients, people said that we were crazy. How could you invite clients that deep into your operation? They’re going to be second-guessing you, we were told. They’re going to be second-guessing you all the time. Well, it turned out that it was exactly the opposite effect. They weren’t second-guessing us at all. They knew exactly what was going on. Their expectations were managed. If we got off track even the slightest bit, they were able to see it in real time and say, ‘hey, you mentioned that our primary goal is X and really our primary goal is Y’, and so, it resulted in almost no second-guessing. And one of the interesting things is that the number one complaint against lawyers is that the clients don’t know what’s going on, lawyers don’t return their calls, etc. We, in six years, have never had a single client, and we’ve represented well over a 1,000 people, have ever complained that they did not know what was going on. They know exactly what’s going on day in and day out and the extranet spitting it out into their email inbox every single day. So, it was one of those things where the traditional thinkers believed that it was going to be disastrous, and it turned out to be exactly the opposite, not surprisingly to me.
 
Damien Allen: Well, you’ve always talked about the blend process and technology. How has this relationship going hand-in-hand, how is working for you?
 
Enrico Schaefer: Well, you know, technology is not a panacea. Digital dictation, for instance, can be a very valuable thing for a law firm, but not unless it’s built on an internal process that’s efficient, that works and that is actually adopted by everyone in the firm. So, technology…going paperless is wonderful as long as the process on top of going paperless makes it work for your firm. So, for instance, are you going to scan the document when the mail gets opened or does the document get reviewed in paper form before it’s scanned. There’s a very intricate process that we use to not only route and manage the paper and make it digital, but then to drive all the to-do items that come out of a single piece of paper, the review of the single piece of paper. A piece of correspondence comes in, usually there’s five to-do items that go along with that, so we developed an internal process to go along with the paperless system that makes it work. And it’s the same thing for digital dictation. There has to be a process, it has to be documented, and everyone needs to abide by the process. Otherwise, technology can make you less efficient. Technology can make information less reliable, and that’s not the goal. So, I always encourage firms when they’re deploying technology, the first thing they have to do is figure out the process that’s going to go with it, and then they can tweak the process as they go. The end result, done properly, is tremendous gains in efficiency. And gains in efficiency allow you to offer a lot more for significantly less to a client, much more value to a client, and that makes legal services more affordable, and there may be X number of people that can afford a $10 thousand project. Chances are there are five times that number of people that can afford a $5 thousand project. So, if you can turn that $10,000 effort into a $5,000 effort built on efficiency, your market just expanded fivefold, and you’re going to make three times more money with that model. So, efficiency works well for everyone as long as there is a process to go along with it.
 
Damien Allen: Now, Traverse Legal, PLC does well in the seven-figures of revenue as a result of clients performing internet searches, seeing your websites and contacting you about representation. How common is your approach to your online marketing?
 
Enrico Schaefer: Well, it’s becoming a little bit more common but it’s still not very common. Lawyers, again, the old guard, the traditional thinkers, the ones that are hanging on to the way it used to be because that’s the way they made money and they don’t want change, they don’t want innovation, they don’t want anything to move because they’re used to making a certain level of money on a certain approach, and anything that deviates from that is a potential threat to them. And so, lawyers, in general, have this kind of visceral response to sharing their expertise online, which is why would I share my expertise online. I’ll be giving it away for free. You know, lawyers always think someone’s got their hand in their pocket, and they’re terrified of doing anything that’s going to result in some sort of free advice. Their goal is to get the client in, get them in the conference room, slide the retainer agreement across the table, and get a $5,000.00 retainer check before they leave the office. And so, we’ve been sharing our expertise online for seven years, and we have more niche information – vertical information – about issues like online defamation or Digital Millennium Copyright Act take-down notices or cybersquatting and domain disputes internet law issues than anyone in the world, so it’s not surprising that when you type in hundreds of different keywords related to these issues that our site comes back as a page one Google Result. We committed to A+ content six years ago, and as a result we dominate the internet with those search terms. So, even though we’re located in beautiful Traverse City in Northern Michigan, we represent clients all over the world, and those clients find us online. In fact, there are attorneys who want to look smart for their clients who have a particular problem with a domain name issue, those attorneys go online, and they start poking around with Google searches, and they quickly realize that they are in over their heads and so they contact us regularly on behalf of their clients and say hey, can you handle this niche issue for us. So, while we’re seeing more and more attorneys sharing their expertise online. It’s still a relatively uncommon thing, and I have never heard of another law firm that does as much business off of the internet and is more committed to A+ content within our niche practice areas as we are, and it’s worked out very well for us. We don’t try and trick the algorithm, we don’t do SEO or any of that stuff. We just put out the best content in the world and let Google come to us, and that’s exactly what’s happened over the last five years.
 
Damien Allen: Nothing but the facts, man. Thank you very much for joining us today, Enrico, for Regurgitation Thursday.
 
Enrico Schaefer: No problem, Damien. My pleasure.
 
Damien Allen: You’ve been listening to GAL Radio. My name is Damien Allen. We’ve been speaking with the Greatest American Lawyer Blog Chief, Enrico Schaefer. You’ve been listening to GAL Radio. Everyone have a great afternoon.
 
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