One part service, one part software. LeanLaw founder Gary Allen is teaching lawyers to work smarter.
Lawyers are expensive.
Gary Allen, who has been a practicing attorney for over 30 years and partner at Boise law firm Givens Pursley, understands why.
“It’s too expensive to run a law firm. The average overhead in a law firm is 35 to 55 percent of the average attorney’s revenue,” Gary says. “At the same time, you have a situation where 70 percent of Americans can’t afford a lawyer. We’ve got this huge access to justice problem.”
With self-serve law options creeping up in the market, Gary wanted to reduce the cost of practicing law by making the process more efficient. He’d been trying software programs since the 80s, each one never fully designed for the complexity of the law.
“That was one of the things that always frustrated me about legal software … ‘Oh it’s going to make you more efficient,’ but it never, ever hits the bottom line.”
Gary set out to change that by building his own legal software, UserFirst. A suite of tools to automate the administrative work done by an attorney or assistant every day.
One of those tools is timekeeping. Gary found attorneys would often forget to track time or hand off the timekeeping process altogether to their assistant to figure out. If the attorney could do it themselves, with the help of software, they could save a lot of money. And their assistant could focus on more important issues. Gary calls this inefficient behavior the “Gladys Syndrome.”
“Think of Gladys as somebody’s legal assistant in an office. You have to have a degree in advanced mathematics to use styles in Word, but legal documents all require you have very nicely formatted documents. So rather than do [it] themselves, the lawyer will call for Gladys to come and do it for them,” Gary says. This means higher operating costs for the firm and higher rates charged to the client.
To Gary, the piles of administrative work could be made manageable with software. But like the countless software programs he’d been trying, UserFirst wasn’t the silver bullet he thought it would be.
Betti Newburn, Gary’s advisor at the Idaho Small Business Development Center (SBDC) recommended he meet with Jonathon Fishman, an entrepreneur and strategist.
So he did, and they got to talking.
“[I thought] we could create software that would make this change happen, just by the power of the software, and it took me about an hour of talking to Jonathon to realize that’s not going to be enough,” Gary realized.
“We needed to own the whole problem. And that’s where we came up with a software and services combination.”
This combination would need to be more than just software. To see change, they needed to coach law firms on this new, efficient way of working.
Jonathon and Gary hit it off. “We feel like we’re chocolate and peanut butter,” Gary says. Better together.
Gary partnered up with Jonathon for the service aspect of the business and picked Fred Willerup as CTO to head the existing software side of the business (UserFirst). This new entity would be called LeanLaw — one part service, one part software.
The service side of LeanLaw is centered around resetting and rebuilding inefficiencies attorneys create day-to-day. “We call it learning to pump your own gas. If you walk around a law firm, you’ll see [a lot] of people creating paper who aren’t attorneys. It’s very expensive to do things that way,” Gary says, “The first step is for the attorney to say, ‘I’m willing to do everything that I need to make my practice work better.’ Then you have to go through a process to learn the tools.”
“[We] offer a webinar to the attorneys in the state, and they get continuing legal education credits for that,” Gary says. The webinar dives into the nitty-gritty of making a law firm work smarter, including what tools to use for legal document creation and using cloud storage for easier access and collaboration within a firm.
And Gary knows firsthand what affects a firm’s bottom line, because he works in the middle of one. The LeanLaw offices are in the middle of Givens Pursley law offices in downtown Boise.
“We’ve only really been in business together nine months, but we know so much more about how lawyers operate because we’re under the hood at law firms all day long. No other software company is in that position.”
The law firms and attorneys that are already utilizing LeanLaw are seeing it “hit the bottom line,” Gary said, reducing the 35 to 55 percent overhead to below 20 percent.
“There are a lot of lawyers that feel both lonely and lost when it comes to technology. They don’t feel like they have resources or somebody they can talk to. … I really love [having] conversations with those people. They [are] grateful for what we offer, and a lot of those people turn into our customers.”
The environment of Boise has made it particularly great for building a law startup. “We are four blocks from everything that matters in law in Boise — the supreme court, the Ada County Courthouse, the University of Idaho Law School, the Idaho State Bar, are all a stone’s throw from where we’re sitting. That would be really hard to recreate anywhere else in the country,” Gary admits.
Gary and team are preparing a full launch of their attorney-focused software suite to accompany the services side of the business. And Gary stands behind it. “We don’t succeed unless your cost of doing business goes down.”
“There are 200 million people who can’t afford lawyers in this country when they need it. One of the most critical times in their lives — when they’re going through a big problem — they can’t get any legal help … We feel like we’re in a really important place.”