Ernie the Attorney Launches New Company Dedicated to Lawyer CLE
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Enrico Schaefer: Welcome to GAL Radio. My name is Attorney Enrico Schaefer and today we're going to be talking a little bit about CLE. We're going to be speaking with Ernest Svenson, also known as Ernie the Attorney. How are you doing today, Ernie?
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Ernie Svenson: I'm doing great, Enrico. It's great to be here and great to welcome in the New Year with a nice radio podcast.
Enrico: Exactly. You sent out a Facebook post announcing that you're about to embark on something really new for you. You are a licensed attorney; you've been practicing law for how many years?
Ernie: Twenty-two, twenty-three. I lost count. Somewhere in there.
Enrico: A lot of years. Now you and a couple other folks have launched a website, digitalworkflowcle.com, and you are starting this as a start-up business, essentially, with a couple other folks. Tell us what you're doing.
Ernie: Actually, we had started this website, Digital Workflow CLE, about three years ago. It was an outgrowth of something that was happening in the law technology world, namely, that lawyers were trying to figure out technology. Of course, 20 or so years ago when I graduated from law school lawyers didn't have computers and they weren't required to know anything about how to use them.
Over time it seemed that, very quickly for many lawyers, all of a sudden these computers were something that you needed to know something about. You needed to know how to work with people who understood a lot about technology. I think it was by virtue of going to a TECHSHOW, which I think is where I first met you . . .
Enrico: Exactly. ABA TECHSHOW in Chicago.
Ernie: Yeah. When I went there, I realized, "Wait a second. There are all these lawyers and these people who help lawyers understand technology, and they're doing a really good job of speaking. They are really good at explaining all this stuff. Gee, wouldn't it be nice if back in Louisiana where I practice law there was something like this?"
That was really where Digital Workflow CLE, the company and the website, started. I and another lawyer friend of mine decided that we would undertake to bring that flame back to Louisiana since we were trying to figure this stuff out ourselves. We started providing CLE courses usually at the end of the year because that's when lawyers in Louisiana need their credits. It's kind of like the pari-mutuel windows at Churchill Downs right before the horse race goes off. They're scrambling to get in under the wire and get their CLE. So it was easy for us to attract the attention of lawyers who were looking to get just any kind of CLE. But we were really trying to pitch the message. What we were trying to do was to teach lawyers about technology because that's what we knew and we felt was most needed.
Every time we did one of these CLEs we got a lot of great feedback. Lawyers said, "My God, this is really great. We wish you would do this more often. We wish there were more CLEs like this." Then another year would go by and we'd wait until the pari-mutuel windows were about to close and then set up our shop and deliver our message. So the reason that I am changing from practicing law to doing this full-time is that I realize there's a huge demand for this, and the only way for me to meet that demand and do what needs to be done to grow the company is to figure out a way to deliver this information at times other than when lawyers are scrambling to meet their last-minute obligations.
Enrico: The demand for this, Ernie, is endless because lawyers and technology haven't necessarily gone together through the years. As lawyers are billing their hours they tend to focus in on just that. Every once in a while a new little piece of technology finds its way into the office complex, but now everything has changed. A lawyer who doesn't understand how to use technology may not only have some malpractice issues that they're going to be looking at because they're messing something up that they should know about, but they have to compete and figure out how it is that they are going to keep up with their clients.
Ernie: Right. It's a challenge for everybody. It's a challenge for the lawyer who, like me, graduated in the mid '80s and didn't expect to have to know technology. I was a little ahead of the curve because I was messing around with computers, but I was doing that just because I thought they were cool. I didn't really anticipate that it would be something that would take root. I guess I sort of did, but I didn't realize how quickly and how firmly and widespread that root would be.
Most lawyers were just kind of thinking, "Well, I'm not going to use email. I'm not going to use this, I'm not going to use that." Then all of a sudden they have to know how email works, not just so that they can get their email but also because that's a component of e-discovery. If you don't understand how email works, it's very hard to know whether the other side is really giving you what they're supposed to be giving you or how to object if you feel like they haven't.
All of a sudden, seemingly overnight from the perspective of lawyers, you're suddenly required to know all this technology that you didn't expect to have to know. What's the best way to learn this kind of stuff so that you don't drive yourself nuts, but you get the benefits where there are clear benefits? How do you get those as quickly as possible without disrupting your life?
Enrico: Yeah. How many of the people that come to your seminars, Ernie, do you think end up coming away from it motivated to change their business model in some way in order to incorporate a piece of technology which is going to help them compete, help them deliver value, and help them make their lives easier?
Ernie: From what I can tell in the past couple of years, they're all motivated to make the change. It used to be that in the early years I would proselytize and say, "Oh, everybody should be paperless and everybody should pay attention to technology," and a lot of lawyers would say, "Yeah, that's true. I probably should, but I don't really have to and I don't really know how to, and I'm kind of busy. Thank you for the CLE credits and I'll be moving along now."
Now when we do the seminars, or at least for the past couple of years, people are energized. At the end of the seminar they come up and shake our hand profusely and say," My God, this is just the most amazing thing in the world. We really want to do this and we want to be paperless." But the trick, I think, is to stay motivated and to stay connected to that idea that you're going to try to bring all this stuff in and figure it out.
That's where I think the challenge is, both for the people who come to the seminars and for us. For us, we need to figure out a way to deliver a constant stream of information, because it's just too much to come to a seminar that lasts six or seven hours and expect to do a lot of things with all that information. You might pick one or two things and if you're motivated you might press forward and connect the dots to make those things work.
A lot of lawyers really need help connecting the dots, and that means constant reminders or webinars. That's another thing we want to get into. Instead of just doing CLEs that are live, we want to do webinars where we can say, "Okay. You're at your computer, we're at our computer. Now we're literally going to show you how to connect these dots while you're at your computer so that you can follow along and do it."
There's a huge demand for that. It's a latent demand. A lot of people don't know that that's what they want, but if you deliver it and they can figure out how to see it, they'll say, "Oh, okay. That's a much easier way for me to plug in some of these things. My computer, your computer. You show me how to do it, I do it, and now I've actually made it work."
Enrico: Exactly. I see on your website you just completed a CLE in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the topics are Digital Case Management, Acrobat and PDF Tips, Email Efficiency and Practice, Social Networking for Lawyers, Information Gathering, Little Firm, Big Firm, and these types of issues. This is kind of the stuff that a lot of lawyers are having to do every day in any event, such as PDF. It's very practical information in a lot of ways.
Ernie: Definitely. What's interesting is the PDF aspect. I've had a blog called PDF for Lawyers which I started shortly after I started my Ernie the Attorney blog. The PDF for Lawyers blog was really just my effort to take this blog experiment and say, "Okay, let me focus on something that's practical and basic." It was a little niche, but I thought this was something I can deliver some information on.
I've been doing that blog for a long time. In the beginning there weren't that many lawyers that paid attention or knew what all that meant. It grew over time, so now when I give these seminars about PDFs, lawyers are paying attention. Instead of blitzing through the material in an hour because nobody has any questions, suddenly I find that what would have been an hour-long presentation takes me three hours to get through because people have lots of questions, which is good. But I learned from the questions how basic the lack of information is.
Lawyers don't know how to use Acrobat, or a reader for that matter, to search. They don't know how to do bate stamping, they don't know that you can redact, and they don't know how to create bookmarks. There's a lot of stuff to know. The challenge is to just be very patient and spit out a steady stream of bite-sized morsels of information.
That basically means sending out an email once a week. What I tell people is to go to the website and sign up for the email. That way you won't have to figure out how to pull it in or whether we post, or to remember to do anything. You'll just get an email once a week that will contain whatever we posted on the website. Usually it will just be little tips. A lot of them will repeat, but that's okay because you may have forgotten how to do it or you may have forgotten that it was something you should have paid attention to. That's the way for people to learn. Steady, bite-sized, regular delivery of little chunks of information that they can say, "Aha. That's useful. I'm going to do that now."
Enrico: When I give speeches on technology to lawyers, it's always interesting because sometimes I find that their heads are spinning by the time I'm done with them. I always tell them it really is the journey and not the destination. It's not like you're going to know all the things that I know, but in this age you have to keep learning. You have to keep getting another step up the ladder at all times. You don't have to be the best, but if you want to be competitive, you need to keep up the learning curve. You need to keep understanding what the next level is; getting more efficient and being better able to process and work with the data and information that you're trying to analyze. That's really what it is all about.
Ernie: Absolutely. When I first started going to TECHSHOW I would experience this information overload feeling that we all have, the feeling that you're trying to drink a little bit of water from a fire hose. So I tell people when they come to these seminars, "Look, the first step, especially if you're coming to one that's all day, you're not going to process all this information."
The trick really is to just sit back and absorb what it is that you were unaware was possible. A lot of it is just knowing," Wow, there's a way to do something that I didn't know there was a way to do." There's going to be a lot of those different things that you didn't know were possible. Many of them you don't care about or you can't implement right away, so the trick is just to learn what's possible, pick a few things that you really want to be motivated to do, focus on those things, make them work, and then move onto something else. Trying to implement a lot of them at once is crazy. I can't do that and I know you didn't do it that way, either.
Enrico: Nope. It's amazing a couple of years down the line, though, if you keep at it, how far you can come.
Ernie: Yeah, that's how we all did it. Just take one little thing at a time and move forward, and just find the next thing that you think would be useful for you to do. If you do that, in a very short period of time you'll suddenly be in a completely new place. The process of doing that on a regular basis, whether it's once a month or once a week or whatever, suddenly you find yourself having a fluency with this stuff that you didn't have before.
Part of it is just getting comfortable with it and accepting the fact that to some extent you're going to fumble around a little bit, but that's okay. You're not going to break anything. It's software. It's not china in a fine antique store.
Enrico: What's your roll-out plan, Ernie, for digitalworkflowcle.com and your business model? I take it you're going to continue to do CLEs in Louisiana and people pay to go to those. How is it that you're going to expand your business? What's the business model here?
Ernie: Well, we're going to kind of feel our way around. That's one thing. We're not going to commit to one plan that we're not sure how to execute. I've learned a lot about this kind of thing and how the Internet works and how technology works. You can only see a certain way ahead. There's only so far ahead you can see. What we see for the next year is that we'd like to do more seminars and webinars, and also create online videos that people can watch whenever they want to. We want to create more content. We want to create it throughout the year. I guess the main thing to focus on is webinars and live seminars in Louisiana. Well, the webinars can be anywhere, but we can't offer CLE credit anywhere because there's a whole challenge to that which you and I were talking about earlier.
Ernie: But to deliver content on a regular basis so that people that we're trying to reach are acclimated to the idea that we're here all year round, we can do webinars, which are great, we can do seminars, and we're going to be putting out more information in the newsletter. We want to focus on building that. On the back end, we want to focus on creating reach so that when we scale out beyond Louisiana and we figure out how to offer credit outside of Louisiana, that people are engaging with what we're doing and we don't have as big of a challenge in trying to reach them by email or whatnot.
I don't know how you've done what you do, but I'm learning that email is definitely a component to how you reach people. The problem with email is there's so much spam out there, so if you suddenly were to magically have the email list of all the lawyers in the US, and I know a large percentage of them want to know this kind of stuff, I can't just email them and say, "Hey, we're over here. We're doing this really cool thing and we're giving away a lot of free information," because the spam filters would catch it.
Ernie: So the way to communicate to people these days is through social media, engaging them and showing them, "Look, we're over here having a conversation. If you want to join in, you can." That's what I've learned from having a blog and from doing social media; is that it's really the best way to engage people. That's the other component.
That's why we brought in the third member of our team who is not a lawyer, Megan Hargroder. She is a social media expert. She consults with people and shows them how to do this and she's helped me. I know it sounds crazy to some people that you would hire somebody or pay somebody to help you to understand social media, or that I would do that, because some people say, "Well, you have a blog. You know all this stuff." But I don't, because that's not what I do all day long. There are people who do that all day long and they are on top of all the latest little things you need to do or to pay attention to. So it's great to have somebody who knows that stuff to help us figure it out because it's a key component to what we're going to try to do.
Enrico: Excellent. I would encourage everyone to go to digitalworkflowcle.com. On the right-hand side there's contact information, but more importantly, you could subscribe via email to the website or put it in your RSS reader or follow them on Twitter. There are some great blog posts here on all kinds of things that lawyers are interested in, in terms of technology and things that they really need to know.
If you don't have time to go to a CLE, you don't have time to go to a webinar, this is a great web resource for lawyers on all things technology. I love the byline, "Helping lawyers use technology to improve their law practice." That's really what it's all about.
Enrico: Ernie, thanks for coming today. I really had a great time having you on the show today.
Ernie: Same here. It was great talking to you, Enrico. I hope to see you soon, maybe at TECHSHOW.
Enrico: Yep. We'll see you soon.
Ernie: All right. Take care.
Enrico: Thanks, Ernie.