Chatting with Kristin Tyler, co-founder of LAWCLERK, a nationwide market for legal services, at Clio Cloud Conference 2018.
Kevin O’Keefe: Who am I talking with?
Kristin Tyler: Kristin Tyler.
Kevin O’Keefe: You do what?
Kristin Tyler: I am one of the co-founders of LAWCLERK.
Kevin O’Keefe: And what does LAWCLERK do?
Kristin Tyler: I’m so glad you asked. LAWCLERK helps connect busy attorneys with our nationwide network of freelance lawyers that we call law clerks that the busy attorneys can hire on demand, when they need an extra set of hands around the office.
Kevin O’Keefe: How’d you come up with that idea?
Kristin Tyler: Great question. So the idea for LAWCLERK came out about three years ago after myself and two of my fellow co-founders, who are also partners at my law firm. We had left a larger regional firm where we had 50 plus attorneys with all different areas of expertise and skill level, and we loved the ability to walk down the hall and ask an employment law attorney a question that came up on a different litigation matter, and be able to tap into their knowledge bank and get instant answers. And so when we left and went to the smaller firm, the idea came about, well, you know, isn’t there a way with technology that we can do something similar to still tap into that subject matter expertise and make it easier for all attorneys to find experts, or to find help in general, when they need it?
Kevin O’Keefe: So are you still practicing law or not?
Kristin Tyler: A teeny, tiny bit, yes. I love being a lawyer. I’m an estate and trust lawyer. I love my clients and it’s a pleasure to get to help them.
Kevin O’Keefe: So you’re practicing law, but are your other two co-founders still practicing law too?
Kristin Tyler: A little bit, yes. LAWCLERK just launched in January.
Kevin O’Keefe: Now I get it. The idea came around earlier, but just launched.
Kristin Tyler: Yes.
Kevin O’Keefe: What did it take to get it launched? So you’re sitting there practicing law, and obviously it’s not going to be done on a legal pad. What did you have to do to get it launched?
Kristin Tyler: So, after I had the idea, I spent a considerable amount of time reviewing each state’s ethics rules and the ABA model rules to figure out a way to build the system to be fully compliant with the rules. Because that’s, obviously, the number one question we get off the bat – how is this compliant? And we love to tell people the answer and if you want to know more, we have a 105-page white paper on the site that goes through it in nitty gritty detail. So that took about a year to really think it through, how it could work to be compliant. Once that was done, the next task was defining the right technology partner, the right developer, to help us build it. And so we spent at least another six months trying to find that person. And we did. We found a great team.
Kevin O’Keefe: How’d you find them? Because everybody has that question, because they’re lawyers, business people, accountants, not tech people, but they’re going to start something that’s founded on legal technology.
Kristin Tyler: So, luckily one of my cofounders had had some experience with a couple of different tech companies, through some bankruptcy cases and learned some do’s and don’ts. And so we applied that in our own search. We’re an outsourcing company, so we outsource, we work with people remotely all the time, but we did require a developer that would be in our office, in person, at least two days a week to talk about it and monitor the build process. That was a key factor. So once we found that person, we raised some money and built the site. Luckily we had our own test kitchen, with our firm, where we could test out some issues and work out some kinks. We obviously had some moments where it was like, oh my gosh, why didn’t we think of that? So we’d go in and improve it. We’re constantly adding features to try to improve it and make it a more streamlined process.
Kevin O’Keefe: Who funded it?
Kristin Tyler: Self-funded – friends and family.
Kevin O’Keefe: What do you like about that? Or what do you dislike about that? Or maybe you have no feelings about it, just had to get done.
Kristin Tyler: I think it’s really exciting that the people that invested in it, they said they believed in us, they believe in the idea. That of course was very humbling and also gives you a tremendous sense of responsibility of “we got to work really hard to make this thing become a real company,” and that’s what we are doing every day.
Kevin O’Keefe: So you just launched in January, but you’ve been working on it for a period of time before that. What were the high points for you? Was there a moment where you go, this is gonna work for sure?
Kristin Tyler: Our big official launch was kind of at the ABA TechShow in Chicago in March and I will never forget – we had a ton of attorneys sign up and register because there’s no sign up fee, there’s no monthly fee, so it’s super easy to become a part of our system. But we had one attorney in particular, he immediately on his own proceeded to post a project from the floor, from our booth in the middle of ABA TechShow, and we were like, oh my gosh, this is so cool. And that was one of those moments where it was like, this is gonna work.
Kevin O’Keefe: Have there been times when you’ve had that low point, and wondered if you were going to be able to pull it off?
Kristin Tyler: Oh sure. I think every company goes through those those days where you’re just like, oh my gosh, you know, we never thought of this challenge. I mean we have a really good success rate on our projects – over 98 percent, but you have a handful that go wrong because life happens, and a freelancer gets sick, or a freelancer has a death in the family, and you’ve got to hustle and scramble at those. And those are stressful times because we’re committed to getting good work product for our attorneys.
Kevin O’Keefe: What are your responsibilities? Obviously life has changed from being a practicing lawyer.
Kristin Tyler: Yeah. Yeah. So I get to do a lot of super creative work. I kind of help oversee the, I guess you’d call it marketing and sales functions, so for me, my number one favorite thing is to go out and talk to lawyers about LAWCLERK, and so I love being at these events. I love meeting new lawyers, helping introduce them to a new way to practice law, and get things done, and it’s super exciting for me.
Kevin O’Keefe: So you’re handling the marketing and business development side?
Kristin Tyler: Yeah, that is my responsibility, yes.
Kevin O’Keefe: What is your hope? Where do you envision yourself two years from now, three years from now, four years from now? What’s your hope? What’s your vision?
Kristin Tyler: I guess my non-financial hope is that we really can help a lot of lawyers, you know, this is a tough profession. It’s stressful. And by helping build our lawyers, I mean both sides of the spectrum. So the people who maybe, for whatever reason, need to pick up some extra work. We have people that are government lawyers or work for nonprofits and they need to pick up some extra money to pay for kids’ braces or something. This is another way they can moonlight, pick up some extra work to do those things. I mean, unless a lawyer wants to go drive Uber, what else are they going to do? I love that we can help people who are maybe stay at home parents or are caring for elderly parents that are sick, or are military spouses. We have a lot of amazing freelancers that have extra capacity to do work and we’re helping connect them with people they would otherwise never meet, to get that done. On the flip side, the busy attorneys who are staying up working until two, three in the morning, burning the candle at both ends. Some people want to live life that way. I don’t. And so we’re trying to give them more resources
Kevin O’Keefe: What’s the business model? So the lawyers can come in, sign up, put in a description of what they do, what their availability is, and that costs them nothing?
Kristin Tyler: Correct. No fee to be a part of the marketplace, and put yourself out there and market yourself being available for work.
Kevin O’Keefe: Like you said, what are your alternatives for doing other part time work? The last study that came out said that the number of lawyers doing part time work in Chicago was about a third. Now with LAWCLERK they can be called upon to do various types things.
Kristin Tyler: Doc review – I mean, any lawyer can do that – general research, any lawyer can dig into an issue, and research it, and give you a memo, and analyze the issue.
Kevin O’Keefe: Now on the other side a lawyer that’s working until two in the morning, or the firm with 100 lawyers, but they need some particular expertise. So they come into the system. What’s the business model and the relationship with you and them?
Kristin Tyler: So they sign up, create their account. Again, no fee, no monthly fee. Let’s say they post that they need a motion for summary judgment and they’re willing to pay a thousand dollars. They pay that flat fee price, because it’s all done on a flat fee, and the hiring attorney names the price. We take a commission on the transaction as our payment, and the net amount goes to the freelancer.
Kevin O’Keefe: You don’t have the bars go out and hate you, too. I mean along the way as I’ve watched this, once the bar decides to take somebody down, they’ll take them down with any reason that they can. So if I charged a fee to do that, I was Avvo, and said, okay, we charged a marketing fee for that transaction but we don’t participate in the fee, the bar shuts them down on it. How were you able to do it where you’re taking a commission on that?
Kristin Tyler: Because it’s an attorney to attorney transaction. It’s not attorney to client. That’s a big, big factor of how we haven’t had the same issues as others. And sign. Trying to play a big factor. An unofficial. Exactly. How do you keep doing those work?
Kevin O’Keefe: Does LAWCLERK keep a lawyer relationship, because you’re getting that fee? Because you’re earning a commission, and I’m just curious.
Kristin Tyler: You are the marketplace, and we really are just the facilitator between it.
Kevin O’Keefe: But LAWCLERK gets a percentage of the fee as a corporation, not as a lawyer.
Kristin Tyler: Exactly.
Kevin O’Keefe: It should absolutely be done and it’s a great idea. I mean years ago when I was practicing law, and AOL came about, and I realized that I could find law students on the message boards in AOL, and I would hire them. If you were a third year student, you got $15 an hour, for a second year student you got $13 an hour, so then I terminated our legal research at the firm, because the students had free legal research through their law schools. So if it was a large project, yeah, we handled it, but if it was a motion hearing, or jury instructions or something, students handled that and I kept thinking, this is the coolest thing in the world. And you’ve taken that to a much, much greater level, where people can do all that. How many lawyers do you have who have signed up to be the clerks?
Kristin Tyler: We have over a thousand. More and more every day, and they have the most diverse backgrounds. You know, I love the story of the one guy who is a litigator in a small town in Alabama and he had done a federal clerkship, he went to Birmingham, worked in a big firm, then moved back home to a small town. And he’s got his practice there, but he’s not always busy and so he is just a phenomenal litigator, great writer, people rave about him, say he does great work. How would you ever otherwise connect with some guy in a small town in Alabama? Or this other guy we have in the San Francisco area, he’s actually retired or semi-retired. He’s a 30 year lawyer, bankruptcy litigator, Harvard Law Grad, and once he heard about us, he’s like, this is great because I don’t want to run my practice full time, but I also don’t want to golf every day. And so he comes in, and he picks up one or two projects a month, and I’m sure he doesn’t do it for the money, he just does it because he enjoys the law that much and he wants to keep his mind sharp and help out.
Kevin O’Keefe: How many people are on the other side?
Kristin Tyler: Around 400 now, and that’s a good scale, and that’s something we’re mindful of. We don’t want it to explode on one end and not the other and so we’ve been very mindful as we grow and market to new areas, to try to keep those skills in balance.
Kevin O’Keefe: That’s very cool. You’ve been at it for awhile, because you’re thinking about the idea and you guys have been talking about it for a while. There’s other lawyers here, who are thinking about starting things. If they got to ask you, what would you tell me? What’s your advice, based on what you’ve done so far to tell other lawyers?
Kristin Tyler: I would say, life is short and if you don’t do it, you’re gonna kick yourself, so you might as well go for it. And if you don’t think you alone have the skill set to do it, then find yourself a team – whether it’s one other person, two, three, four, whatever. Find a team where your skill sets compliment each other, and work together well. And I’m a firm believer that every day is a gift and you’ve got to live it to the fullest. So go for it.
Kevin O’Keefe: If I went back to my hometown, where I practiced law in Wisconsin, that ain’t going on. They’re doing their thing as a lawyer, they’re stressed about things, and all that. Why is it these lawyers are doing it though? From everyone I’ve heard from, the last few days, the thing is: just do it. You’ve got to make the decision, because life is too short.
Kristin Tyler: Start small, you know? Find an hour a day. Everybody hopefully can find an hour a day. Get up an hour earlier, block it out on your calendar, just take an hour to work on the idea, work on the business, and move it forward bit by bit. Those little bits of effort will snowball and propel you towards hopefully achieving your goal.
Kevin O’Keefe: Thank you very much.