2009 Review: Building a new type of law firm

January 16th, 2010 3 comments »

Over the past year, we have transformed Indigo Venture Law Offices from a traditional law firm into a prototype for the law firm of the future.  Our vision has been to create a new style of law practice that “packages” legal solutions, leverages technology, and works collaboratively with both clients and a large network of outside lawyers.  In order to make this transformation, we have had to change everything about the practice of law from its culture to operations to pricing.  The most significant change has been our development of the concept of packaging legal services.

Why package legal services?  Because we are in a new information age.  Business law firms are now competing with online services like LegalZoom and hundreds of do-it-yourself legal forms websites.  Lawyers have traditionally defined their services in terms of drafting agreements and preparation of routine documents.  These tasks no longer serve as a differentiator.  In order to compete today, and in the future, business lawyers need to provide “value-added” services that go beyond drafting and preparation of documents.  They need to streamline the practice of law and provide creative solutions to the increasing legal challenges of their business clients.  Packaging is a very rich concept that combines people, information and tools to provide new “solutions” to legal matters.

Below is a brief review of where we have been and where we are going:

  1. Packaging Legal Services.  Over the past year, we have made much progress in defining what packaging is.  In October, we released the Records Review™ service, IVLO’s first packaged legal solution.  This solution was designed to address the age-old problem of maintaining corporate and LLC records on an ongoing basis in an efficient manner and at reasonable cost.  We are now working on our second package, called the “Incorporation Advisor,”  which we plan to release early this year.  There are many other packages that are on our product roadmap, and we plan to release them periodically throughout the year.
  2. Legal Solutions Counsel.  Although IVLO is fully committed to packaging legal services, no one law firm can do it all.  Our model incorporates the concepts of both open source and continuous improvement.  To do this, we envision literally thousands of legal solutions being developed and maintained by hundreds of lawyers across the country.  To start, we have recruited three lawyers:  Jerry Pryor and Chris Farnsworth in Massachusetts and Marjorie Sant in Colorado.  We developed the title “Legal Solutions Counsel” to reflect a close, personal and regular relationship consistent with an “of counsel” type of role, and to identify the specific solutions on which we have agreed to collaborate.
  3. Multi-State Offices.   In November, I was admitted to the Colorado bar and IVLO officially opened an office in Boulder by subleasing space from TechStars.  Boulder has a vibrant and supportive entrepreneurial community and has already helped to grow our business in so many ways.  We have already established new client relationships in Boulder and are actively working on several Colorado-based projects.  Also, I continue to work with many Massachusetts-based clients.  The multi-state offices have required that we adopt new technologies for both communications and operations that enable us to effectively work in the cloud.  Ironically, John and I now talk more over the phone and Skype than we did in person when we worked together in the same office.
  4. Online Marketing.  IVLO has increased its online presence through a variety of blogs, social networks, and websites.  This is an ongoing effort that requires much more strategic planning and execution.  First and foremost, we are in the process of changing IVLO’s image online to reflect our new “packaging” approach.  We plan to release a comprehensive list of “legal solutions” with fixed fee pricing.  This will help to reinforce our new efforts to provide value-added legal services on a cost effective basis.  In November, we actively started advertising online by purchasing Google’s keyword search terms and have successfully brought in some new business in Massachusetts.  Recently, we expanded the advertising to Colorado.
  5. LEXpertise.  The core vision for IVLO requires the integration of people, information and tools.  While IVLO possesses a lot of knowledge and information about the practice of law, it needs other businesses to provide the tools and infrastructure that will support and facilitate the practice of law.  IVLO also needs an extended network of lawyers that will help develop the legal solutions and share knowledge.  LEXpertise is a collaborative website, started in Massachusetts with over 300 lawyers and related professionals.  The goal for LEXpertise has been to provide the outside resources needed by IVLO to build the law firm of the future.
  6. Law Firm Technology.  In order to efficiently develop legal services, implementation of new technology is critical.  We are committed to moving our operations into the “cloud” and over the past year we have implemented several new applications and systems.  GoToMyPC and Logmein are used to access computers and client files remotely so that lawyers can work anytime, anywhere, over the Internet.  Dropbox is used to share files collaboratively, on a “permissioned” basis with lawyers working both internally and externally to the firm.  OfficeZilla is used to create electronic corporate record books accessible to clients and their advisors.  Netbooks and Skype allow attorneys to meet with clients virtually.  We use Blogger and Feedburner to display the IVLO News.  WordPress is used to publish this iLaw 2.0 blog.  We use Drupal to create a social networking platform for LEXpertise.
  7. New Concepts.  There are dozens of new ideas that we have been exploring and incubating over the past year.  To start, we have concentrated on developing and refining what we mean by “packaging” legal services.  We believe that the packaging concept will drive our law practice and, our model of the law firm of the future.  Packaging is not something we expect to own exclusively.  Part of the model is based on open source, where we envision sharing our legal solutions with a national network of attorneys.  To fully realize the packaging concept, we need better tools.  In particular, web-based document assembly integrated to a client database and CMS-type system is critical to developing cost-effective legal solutions.
  8. Collaboration. We are in the beginning stages of launching a number of new initiatives.   Over the past six months, our team of Legal Solutions Counsel has been meeting virtually 3-4 times a week to discuss packaging legal services.  These vTeam meetings have been instrumental to developing and launching our initial packaged solutions and have enabled us to work more collaboratively.  Over the past 5 years, we created the Business Lawyers Network, that meets both in person and online.  This year we plan to extend that collaboration to clients and potential clients with a new initiative called “Lunchtime with Lawyers” that provides opportunities for lawyers and entrepreneurs to network and answer questions on an informal basis.

The above description barely scratches the surface on the number of projects that we have initiated recently.  In addition, we are working on a book called “iLaw 2.0: Architecting the Law Firm of the Future”.  We have no shortage of ideas, but we do have constraints on time and resources.  This year we plan to do more to leverage both.

Over the past year, we have met and talked with many people that have helped to refine and flush out (literally) our ideas.  I would like to take the time to acknowledge those who have helped us, and say thanks.  I particularly want to thank those new friends we have made here in Boulder, who have welcomed us into the entrepreneurial “ecosystem” and stimulated many interesting discussions.

My partner, John Koenig, has been phenomenal.  He has allowed me to turn a traditional law practice into a laboratory for development of new legal solutions.  In his own right, John brings the knowledge and experience of a talented and seasoned lawyer necessary to building an innovative new model for practicing law.  And John embraces, expands, refines, and tests our new legal concepts with an enthusiasm that is rare in the legal community.

In January of last year, we met Jerry Pryor, a relatively new lawyer who was brave enough to start his own law firm after graduating from law school, in what he thought would be the practice of bankruptcy law.  Over a period of several months, we managed to persuade Jerry to collaborate with IVLO in building a new model for practicing business law.  Jerry was the catalyst, and at many times, the main driver for what has become IVLO’s first packaged legal service.  He embraced our very nontraditional approach and was instrumental in developing and launching the Records Review™ service.

In April, Chris Farnsworth joined our Legal Solutions team.  As a reformed litigator and entrepreneur, he strengthened our efforts to bring new solutions to the legal marketplace.  Chris is actively working on the Records Review service and is collaborating on the development of the new Incorporation Advisor.  After meeting Marjorie Sant twice (at a TechStars event and at Boulder OpenCoffee Club), I encouraged her to join our Legal Solutions team in Boulder.  Marjorie is working with us on several client matters and collaborating on the localization of our business formation services in Colorado.

Since coming to Boulder, Jason Mendelson has been the most welcoming and supportive professional I have ever met, for which I am profoundly grateful.  After reading his Law Firm 2.0 series, I brashly requested a meeting with Jason during my first visit to Colorado in May.  For those of you who don’t know, Jason and his partner, Brad Feld, are at the epicenter of the exploding entrepreneurial community here in Boulder.  Despite his busy schedule, Jason has taken the time to help me by providing feedback and suggestions for many ideas, and he has introduced me to new technology, vendors, potential clients, professionals and entrepreneurs.

In October, Jason introduced me to David Cohen, the founder of TechStars.  After I expressed interest in sharing space with other entrepreneurs in the “Bunker”, David offered to lease a space next door, which is now IVLO’s office in Boulder.  TechStars is a great magnet for entrepreneurs and provides weekly meetings called Tuesday Talks with information about starting a new business.  In November, Tom Keller, former CEO of Intense Debate, gave a talk on “How to identify great opportunities.”   I later met up with Tom for coffee and explained my ever expanding business concepts.  Tom gave me no-nonsense critical advice on the need to focus on one thing and do it well.

In November, I met with Jason Haislmaier, of Holme Roberts & Owens LLP, a brilliant licensing attorney who recently spoke both at TechStars and Silicon Flatirons on open source and intellectual property.  Specifically, we discussed our concept of open source collaboration among lawyers and the need for an industry-specific license that would facilitate and encourage lawyers to share their forms and knowledge.  This project is still in the works, but on hold for now until we can further develop our packaging concept.

In December, I met with Jason Mendelson during his “office hours” at the bunker to talk about LEXpertise and the need for better tools in the legal profession.  Jason suggested that we may want to build a CMS for lawyers using salesforce.com and introduced me to Kevin Kelly, CEO and founder of App-X.  Kevin provided tremendous insight into the benefits and challenges of building a tool based on the Force.com platform and suggested that I consider developing an integrated billing system.  Kevin even gave me a lead on a local law firm actively looking for a CMS.  Although I was immediately excited about the market opportunity, over the holidays I realized that building a sales and marketing tool is not a passion and does not directly tie into my vision for IVLO or LEXpertise.  Although I recognize that a CMS for lawyers is a great market opportunity, I must pass on that for now and, as Tom suggested, stay more focused.

Brad Bernthal, a member of the faculty at Colorado Law, heads up the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic and is very active in various organizations (e.g., Silicon FlatironsNew Venture Challenge, and the NewTech Boulder Meetup) that provide a collaboration of law, entrepreneurship, and technology in Boulder.  Brad is putting together a Law Firm 2.0 “summit” in May and has indicated that he would like me to participate; I am looking forward to the event.  Rodney Dowell, Director of the Law Office Management Assistance Program in Boston, invited me to be a speak (virtually) on innovative law models at Western New England Law School on February 26th.  The discussion of new models for law firms is heating up.

Jim Hassett, the founder of LegalBizDev, is on the forefront of changes in the legal industry and is actively assisting BigLaw to improve their marketing and sales capability.  Generously, Jim has shared with me his books, blogs, webinars, and most recently his groundbreaking survey on alternative fees that provide a window on how quickly the legal profession is changing.

I would be remiss not to mention how indebted we are to clients, without whom we would have no measure of success.  We are changing our business model because clients not only want it, they demand it.  The legal profession is changing because all of our clients’ businesses have changed.  The Internet, open source, social networking, and the global economy have all dramatically changed the landscape for doing business.  It is the legal profession that is the laggard, and we recognize that.  As I have often said, lawyers embrace “trailing-edge technology” and are damn proud of it!  Let’s keep the profession moving forward.

I’m sure there are many persons that I have not mentioned because of my advancing age or general overload of information and ideas.  I reserve the right to amend this list as my recall emerges.  In addition to those specifically mentioned, there are many others who have helped us during 2009.  And to all I would like to say a heart-felt: Thank You!!!

Roger Glovsky is a founding partner of Indigo Venture Law Offices, a business law firm with offices in Lexington, MA and Boulder, CO, which provides legal counsel to entrepreneurs and high-tech businesses. Mr. Glovsky is also founder of LEXpertise.com, a collaboration and networking site for lawyers, and writes blogs for iLaw2.com and The Virtual Lawyer.

Integrative Law: Helping People

October 9th, 2009 4 comments »

What inspires me the most about practicing law is helping people.  In many ways, it is a lost art.  Coming out of law school I was too focused on doing “big deals,” like venture capital financings and initial public offerings.  The glory and excitement of working on major transactions and the rush of getting them closed within tight deadlines made it easy to lose perspective on what is important and why I went to law school in the first place.  Deep down I had a feeling that I could make a difference, that I could change the world, and that, in a nut shell, I could help people.

Over the years, I have discovered my true passion.  As a business lawyer, what I enjoy the most is solving problems that have a positive impact on people and their businesses.   Raising capital to help an entrepreneur develop new technology.  Advising a  start-up on how to allocate equity among founders.  Structuring a distribution agreement that facilitates a strategic partnership.  Helping business owners to structure the sale of their company to ensure a comfortable retirement.  Helping parents to secure a commercial loan to enable the succession of their company to their children.  It is not about the money.  It is not about the intellectual challenge or complexity of the transaction.  It is not about winning or losing.  It is about the people.

The greatest satisfaction I get from practicing law is helping people.  It is not that I’m willing to work for free or that I don’t care about money.  Money is a measure of success (not the only one) and enables the continuation of my work.  But the importance of my work as a lawyer is the impact that I have on people.

I don’t think I am alone in this feeling.  The best lawyers that I know are not the ones focused on the money or power or legal knowledge.  The best ones are those that are focused on the people.  It is with this philosophy in mind, that I founded Indigo Venture Law Offices.  As we say on our website: “people first“.

When I first tried to explain our firm’s philosophy, a fellow lawyer, Frank Maniscalco, called it, a “law firm with a heart.”  I liked that description.  It is a nice sentiment.  However, just having a good heart is not enough to be a great lawyer or solve problems for clients.  There has to be something more.  And with that we started to explore what this new firm would be or should be.

Although the Indigo Venture firm was started in 2006, it was not until my partner, John Koenig, joined me that we started to really develop our “Indigo Venture” concept and what it means to put people first.  This new approach led us to develop a new business model for our firm.

What we knew was that the practice of law was changing.  The advent of technology and the Internet made it easier and faster to produce documents and enabled lawyers to work in smaller firms and from remote locations.  The increasing numbers of lawyers made practicing law more competitive and put downward pressure on pricing and revenues.  The dotcom crash and the subsequent recession made certain areas of practice less profitable at the same time as computers and the Internet opened up new opportunities.  Being cognizant of these changes, what we wanted to do was to build a different kind of law firm: one that embraced change rather than resisting it.

It has taken about two years for our thoughts and concepts to evolve into what we now believe is a clear vision for the future of our law firm, and, we hope, for the profession.   It started with the concept of “Integrative Law”.

What is Integrative Law?

I come from a long line of lawyers.  My father, my uncles and my grandfathers (on both sides) were lawyers.  When I think back to the way they practiced law 40 or 50 years  ago, they played the role of “trusted advisor.”   This old-style approach was more humanistic.  As a business lawyer, my father had strong relationships with his clients.  He was their friend and confidant.  By developing those relationships, my father knew all about his clients’ businesses and provided expertise and wisdom that went far beyond the letter of the law.  He was not only their advisor; he was also their friend.

Over the years, lawyers have moved away from playing the role of trusted advisor.  This is partly because lawyers now tend to over-specialize and partly because their billing rates are so high that clients can’t afford the extra time (or lawyers are not able to write off the time) required to develop a trust relationship.  As a result, lawyers today spend more time processing documents or researching legal issues and less time getting to know their clients or acquiring the broader perspective necessary for solving problems.

Our firm takes a different approach:  First, we try to understand the goals of the client.  Second, we get to know the nature of their business.  And, third, we apply our legal skills in the context of the business to achieve the goals of the client.  This we call the integrative law approach.

Similar to integrative medicine, we take an “integrated” or “holistic” approach and apply alternative methods to the practice of law.  We did a google search and found relatively few references to the notion of integrative law.  openDemocracy describes integrative law as a term “used to describe a movement in the law which is also known as transformational law, comprehensive law and holistic law.”  This was not very enlightening.  We were actually surprised at the lack of usage of this term online and few, if any, useful definitions.  So, we decided to create our own.

As our first attempt, here is our proposed definition:

“Integrative Law is the practice of law that recognizes the importance of the relationship between attorney and client, focuses on the goals of the client in the context of their specific circumstances, facilitates the delivery of legal services, and makes use of all appropriate technology, knowledge, and professionals to achieve the client’s goals in an ethical and cost effective manner.”

As this is an initial introduction of the term, we are completely open to the thoughts and comments of the legal community as a whole.  What do you think of this definition?  What is your impression of the words “integrative law”?  How would you define it?

When I think of my father’s law practice and his traditional role a trusted advisor, I think of it as a more “humanistic” or “holistic” practice, which could be viewed as the original incarnation of integrative law.  This traditional-style of practice we call “iLaw 1.0″.  The “i” in “iLaw” stands for “integrative” and the 1.0 refers to the first version of the concept.

In developing a vision for the law firm of the future, we conceived of a new business model that integrates technology into the practice of law and leverages the Internet and social networking.  This new approach, we refer to as “iLaw 2.0″.  And with that our new model for practicing law was born.

iLaw 2.0 is what this blog is about.  In future posts, we will attempt to detail and develop, in practical terms, our concept for architecting the law firm of the future.   And we will share our successes and failures of building a new style of practice as they unfold.

We intend that the iLaw 2.0 model not be a “flash in the pan” or a simple abstract statement.  We have developed a very broad and thoughtful set of principles and methodologies that we will discuss in this blog.  The iLaw 2.0 concepts extend to every aspect of building and managing a law firm, as well as practicing law.  We will also set standards that will ensure the humanistic (or holistic) approach is built into the firm culture.  In many ways, much of the iLaw 2.0 model will be the opposite of traditional law firms.  Instead of building a firm based on the control of proprietary knowledge and systems, we will build a firm based on openness and sharing of legal knowledge that continually improves our practice and, we hope, the profession.

This is just the beginning…

Roger Glovsky is a founding partner of Indigo Venture Law Offices, a business law firm based in Massachusetts, which provides legal counsel to entrepreneurs and high-tech businesses. Mr. Glovsky is also founder of LEXpertise.com, a collaboration and networking site for lawyers, and writes blogs for iLaw2.com and The Virtual Lawyer.

Hello world!

July 30th, 2009 2 comments »

Welcome to iLaw 2.0, a blog about architecting the law firm of the future!

Rather than take a “bottoms up” approach, we are working on building the law firm of the future from the top down.  It is all about where do we want to go and not whether we can get there.  This blog will provide the blue print for developing a unique business model for practicing law.  Join us on what promises to be an interesting and innovative journey!