Everybody loves the story behind the founding of Facebook in a dorm room, Apple in a garage — they inspire and provide ideas on how the next great business will start.
While a law firm may not scale to be the next Apple, learning from how others got started is invaluable. No one does everything right. The key is to learn and adjust, while keeping an eye on your vision. Your path may wind and get bumpy, but that is part of the process. That is what makes the entrepreneurial gig fun.
This is the story on how technology played a role in the start of Burton Law — the current iteration.
Technology and mobile devices have always fascinated me. I had a mobile phone before many of my friends in undergrad. When I started in the bigger firm practice and was issued a BlackBerry, I was buying every add-on, app and accessory to try to make the device actually usable.
In 2009/2010, I left the big firm world and ended up starting a solo practice. (This concept alone is not special since there is an ongoing exodus of lawyers doing the same.) When I had my head around the fact that I could define my path and choose the tools I wanted to use, that was very exciting. Especially because I was in charge of choosing the technology for my firm.
There’s a decent argument that an impulse buy — documented here — led me down a technological path that helped shape the infrastructure of our multi-lawyer, multi-jurisdiction virtual law firm.
What was the impulse? I bought a MacBook Pro.
I got sucked in by this shiny object and could not have been happier. I loved the simplicity of the operating system. Small problem. My big firm roots led me to look for traditional practice management software. There was a void of that in the Mac market for lawyers.
Enter, the “cloud.” In 2010, at least in the legal space, the concept of going web-based was relatively new. Lawyers and bar associations were still trying to get their head around what it meant to securely store client data in the cloud. It was also apparent, though, that using cloud-based platforms could allow smaller operations to use sophisticated platforms in a more cost-effective manner. The device upon which the application was used became less relevant.
I ended up using Clio, Google Apps, Nextpoint and Dropbox (later switching to Box) in 2010. It was at this time I decided that, while being a solo was invigorating and fun, I liked collaborating with others. I began looking for ways to grow a firm in a nontraditional manner. I didn’t want the brick-and-border infrastructure and on-site staff that was the typical way of expansion.
The cloud-based technology provided a scalable infrastructure to make this happen. Our team didn’t have to be under one roof to access information for our clients. Expanding into another city or state involved a different analysis — we could focus on the human talent compared to the physical logistics of expansion. This is pretty powerful when looking for new ways to deliver legal services.
Today, our technological infrastructure includes the same core platforms mentioned above. This allows us to focus on client service and culture as we expand our footprint. While we have remained steady with the platforms, each has advanced rapidly with new and improved features that provide more opportunities for us to collaborate as a team in a mobile environment.
What’s the take away from the Burton Law start? Not to beat my Apple bias too much into the ground, but look at the old Apple tagline — Think Differently.
While a simple, strong technological infrastructure does not replace legal skills (completely), it allows for a firm to develop in a manner that makes sense for its clients and lawyers. Firm infrastructures can now vary greatly as the legal technology space evolves. It also allows for firms to try new ideas that may or may not work without throwing away tons of money and time.
Of course, all of the ideas and technology in the world cannot create a new firm model. Action is required.
Featured image: “Power tower in the sky background” from Shutterstock.