The Evolve the Law podcast covers the latest topics, trends and tech in the legal industry. Host Ian Connett and the Evolve the Law team interview noted technologists, thought leaders, and legal practitioners - sharing their insights about the future of the legal industry. June 2019 - Seamus Byrne of LawTap joins Ian on the Evolve the Law Podcast. They discuss how to boost client responsiveness, price transparency and overcome resistance to LegalTech adoption.
|Voiceover (VO)||Welcome to the Evolve Law podcast.|
|Ian (IC)||We're back with the Evolve the Law podcast. I'm here with Seamus Byrne, the founder and CEO of LawTap. He's dialing in all the way from Australia, where it's 7:00 AM on a Saturday, to talk to me about what LawTap is, his story in founding the company and to share that with the audience today. So, Seamus, thanks so much for coming on the show.|
|Seamus (SB)||Thank you very much, Ian.|
|IC||Well, what is LawTap?|
|SB||Well, LawTap is leading booking and scheduling software. We focus as a booking management system, only for the legal industry and for attorneys. We were founded in 2015, launched in 2016, and today, we support over 800 law firms across the USA, UK, Ireland, and Australia.|
|IC||Excellent. And tell us a little bit about your background and why you founded the company.|
|SB||My background is as a lawyer and computer forensic expert by trade. More recently, I've been the CIO for a number of leading retail businesses and eCommerce businesses. And as those two careers have sort of merged together over the time, it's led me into the legal tech industry.|
|IC||Did you have any previous experience in working with actual lawyers?|
|SB||Yes. I come from a family of lawyers, operated and worked in small law firms, which is really the focus of LawTap, and we're focused on helping small law firms and that's been where we've found our sweet spot to date. That 2 to 25 fee earner firms who are practicing common, consumer-facing areas of law.
Family law, debt and bankruptcy, employment, wills and estates, criminal and traffic. That's where LawTap focus. That's where my experience started. I did move into a more large-scale litigation and e-discovery, in my legal career, but that common areas of law and the small law firm has remained close to me during that time as well.
|IC||What would you say is the main, if you had to pick one, the main benefit of using LawTap from your customers? Would you say, is there one feature or functionality that your customers routinely cite as their favorite?|
|SB||There's actually two things. Firstly, it's the ability to quickly book and reschedule client appointments. So, for the clients contacting the attorney directly, that they can book the appointment, the client receives SMS and email reminders.
The attorney can offer customized appointment forms, conflict check, accept secure appointment payments in a legally compliant manner. And it also integrates, and in terms of the key feature, it integrates with their existing calendar and legal practice management system.
|IC||Got it, so it really speeds up that really slow and obstructive client intake process. How do you create the least amount of friction when you're looking to onboard new clients to your firm?|
|SB||That's right. Whether it is a new client or an existing client who's looking to rebook, perhaps they had their will done by the firm, two or three years ago, it's time for it to be reviewed or updated. They want to rebook. You want to reduce that friction.
Where LawTap really sets itself apart is, we live in an age where still many websites for attorneys, they're not mobile friendly websites. They might contain static contact forms to say contact us to book an appointment and you fill out a form. You might have to go through a series of phone tag or even, some websites are adopting quite robotic website chatbots.
Ultimately, what the client wants is responsiveness and convenience. They want to be able to have some certainty that they'll be able to meet with the attorney at a certain date and time and that gives them the peace of mind. Even if it is, as we see with LawTap, a large volume of bookings for attorneys made outside of business hours.
That the client is ultimately satisfied and they've got that peace of mind, they can sleep easy knowing that they do have that appointment with the attorney the next day or or the next week. They're not looking elsewhere. They are in a good position.
|IC||So, a lot of this comes down to customer service, it sounds like. What do you think the expectations are of the customer when they're looking for a lawyer?|
|SB||The expectations are changing and it's a challenge that, as attorneys, we must meet because it's changing and not in our favor. In a sense that, if I looked at the 2017 Clio Legal Trends Report that they surveyed 2000 consumers and the most important factor was responsiveness.
But then, as consumers, what the consumers and potential clients see as responsiveness, they see it as either instantaneous or at worst, one to two hours. And that's a hard challenge for most small law firms to meet.
When they run the same questions to attorneys, how do you define responsiveness? That came back as perhaps, four to eight hours or the next business day. So, clearly, we've got that gap at the moment in what is responsiveness and how, I guess the smart law firms and smart attorneys, using technology to align the gap in customer service.
|IC||Do you have one favorite customer success story that jumps to mind?|
|SB||If you asked me, a year ago or two years ago, I always had the individual stories. I think today, we've reached that point of having 800 active law firms, so not just attorneys, but law firms, actively using LawTap to make their bookings.
It changes almost a few times a week, that there'll be an attorney, or a practice manager on behalf of the attorneys, signs up. They connect their calendar. They're up and running within 10 minutes. They start booking a couple of appointments.
But, the most important thing, I guess, for me and for LawTap is, and also for their clients, checking in a few weeks later, a month later, again a few months later.
And seeing that booking volume continuing to increase, that they're getting, receiving verified reviews from the clients - "I had a fantastic experience" - and the lawyer's coming back with their feedback that LawTap has become a tool, didn't realize that they needed (LawTap) when they first signed up, but it's freed them up and given them much more time.
And I remember one of our first attorneys, who is still an active user today, said it saved him 15 minutes for each new client and he'd calculated it was saving him five hours a month. And that's the trend that we continue to see.
And ultimately, it's using technology in an intelligent way to save time and focus the attorney on what they enjoy doing. Which, for the most part, is delivering a great legal service to their clients, instead of managing appointments or managing their books and things like that as other practice management system features assist with.
|IC||I think we're seeing more legal technology and adoption, certainly more than we were seeing five years ago. Are you still encountering resistance, in your geographies where you've rolled out LawTap, to change in how law firms are onboarding new clients and effectively using technology to run a practice? Are you still seeing resistance in the market? And if so, how are you overcoming that?|
|SB||The resistance has certainly reduced over the past three or so years, which is fortunate. But, the key resistance that we still see today is the resistance to change. There might be a failure to find appointment setting process or client booking process, in the firm today.
That it may have been entirely appropriate, five or ten years ago, and met the client's expectations, five or ten years ago. And in that time, the clients have become accustomed to receiving that instant gratification when they book with a doctor, book with a dentist, even book their hair and beauty treatments.
That's where it's educating and it's often not the attorneys, but it's their support staff. It might be the receptionist that's quite resistant to change, and they are resistant to change, for the most part, because they're uncertain as to what technology, what impact it will have on their role.
They're very comfortable with answering the phone or managing the attorneys' calendars, and this new technology comes in and it says, oh, we'll assist you to make that booking process more efficient. What that means for the receptionist, or the practice manager or that front of house team, is that they're also needing to adjust or upskill to deliver a high level of personalized service as opposed to just doing the manual repetitive tasks.
|IC||And so, what would you say to an attorney who might say, well, I can book my clients through any old software like Zoom or Calendly? What would you say to a client who may think they have a solution for this, but maybe they don't?|
|SB||We've won a lot of work over from, I guess, the more generic appointment booking systems and that, so I would say they've done us an exceptional favor, the likes of Calendly. And I think Calendly, and similar tools, that they done a great job for the purposes of generic booking.
For the legal industry though, missing the compliant appointment payment processing. Missing the integration with the legal practice management system, so integration with Clio, with LEAP, with others. And the ability to have conflict check and other functionality, that LawTap has, which is tailored for the legal industry, specifically.
In terms of Zoom, I'd say watch this space. We're about to announce and launch our Zoom integration as we've recently done with Skype and Skype For Business. So it's-
|SB||So, it's not always about a direct competition. Obviously in the case of Zoom, we don't see ourselves as say, what they've done in video conferencing, the technology that they've developed. It's something that I see and we see, is something that we should integrate because they're doing such a great job and that's a way forward for everyone.|
|IC||Does LawTap have any ambitions to expand possibly further into Europe or even here into the States? What does the expansion plan look like?|
|SB||Well, for us right now, our law firm base is split almost equally one third between the US, Australia, and in the UK and Ireland. The future plans for us in the short term is, I find myself in the US every two months or so, working and helping the law firms using LawTap.
And the next step for us is to avoid some of these timezone issues that we have. It's setting up a US office because in terms of the US market where, previously, my last legal tech startup, my customers were in the US and having to support them from Australia, I realized quite quickly, that a US office is very important. That's where we'll be going.
|IC||As it pertains to legal technology, do you think the challenges are different in the US versus in Europe or in Australia?|
|SB||I think that there's a lot of similarities. Particularly, with the small law firm, as I said, the common consumer areas of law. There are more similarities than there are differences.
The key difference I would say right now, and since over the past four months since December, the key differences being, in the UK, which is, still at the time of our recording, part of the European Union, is that they have introduced regulation around price transparency for common legal services. So, in terms of specific legal services like debt and bankruptcy, like conveyancing or divorce, law firms having to publish publicly their price for those legal services or-
|IC||So, for those of our US audience who may not be aware of this, this is a new regulation that's been passed with respect to price transparency for legal services.|
|SB||That's correct. By the UK Solicitors Regulation Authority and that's why we've found a lot of traction, because we assist lawyers in the UK with LawTap, to have their profile which publishes those price ranges. So, a lot of traction there.
But also, for the consumer. 2017 Clio Legal Trends Report, but the 2018 (Clio Legal Trends Report) one that came out last October, biggest issue or the biggest concern, and why most prospective clients wanted to avoid using an attorney in the US was because they were worried about cost and price transparency.
So, I see there's differences. The UK is probably that one market that's a bit ahead on that point, that's where it's been regulated.
|IC||Yeah, I think that's a very forward thinking legislation and I'd love to just talk about it a bit more because I haven't had the opportunity to speak with somebody who has knowledge of what's going on in that part of the world. This legislation, what were some of the drivers for the call for increased price transparency in the UK?|
|SB||From my understanding, it was driven by concerns around pricing in the market. That in the UK, over the past decade or so, the market has fragmented, and this is where it's quite unique to the US and Australian audiences. We've had the likes of Tesco, who is a large supermarket chain, (allowed to) go into legal services.
So, the legal industry has found itself quite under attack, you would say, around and questioning their existence. The increase in personal injury claims, it was growing exponentially as well. Those sorts of things, all came together as, well, as the legal industry, how do we start to reduce some of the barriers, but also increase consumer and prospective client competence? And why should they hire you as a lawyer and giving them, they're reducing that barrier which we see in the US with the surveys, that it's the barrier and primary barriers still cost.
I could look to something like a LegalZoom and attempt to do some things myself, but there's many cases where a lawyer or attorney would still say, hey, there's a lot of value I can add here. And if a client engaged my services, they'd find that they'll get a lot more peace of mind and it may be quite cost effective, but there's no way and previously, unless you were a forward thinking lawyer who was quite transparent about their prices and published it. But, that hadn't been the case.
|IC||So, does LawTap, in some way, enable compliance with the new law or enable price transparency into the market?|
|SB||Yes, that's correct. So, LawTap does comply with the UK SRA price transparency regulations. And we've also released a similar functionality, in terms of the global platform for the US and for our other markets, that optionally, if you did want to, as an attorney, publish your pricing or price ranges for certain legal services, then you can do that as well.|
|IC||Excellent. And are you seeing any trends or patterns in ways that legal services are actually being priced? Are you seeing more flat fee type of engagements or on demand? We're just curious what you're seeing in terms of payment structures.|
|SB||Seeing a lot more fixed fee for, what you'd call milestones. So, as opposed to, billing saying it's a fixed cost to run this entire immigration matter or this entire family law matter, end to end. It's more so milestone billing that it'll cost this to get you to this stage.
And that's in addition to LawTap, where we focus and can process secure appointment payments, is only per appointment basis. So, also without the marketing fees and things like that, you can accept a payment as an attorney for what might be an initial consultation and receive that money instantly, post appointment.
Obviously, introducing that feature, that traction, and seeing more of that as well. And I think with the end consumer and prospective client, they look at things like, okay, a firm might offer a free 15 minute consultation. Is 15 minutes long enough for me to even to tell my story?
But, this other attorney is offering - they might offer a 15 minute free first consultation and a one hour initial consultation in their office at a fixed or discounted price. And at least the client then has cost certainty.
There's now that fear of I'm going in for 15 minutes, and then I'll be given a letter which says it's going to cost me a lot of money to speak to the attorney moving forward. If they know that it might cost them, $200 for example, to speak with the attorney for an hour. Many consumers seeing that, would say, well, that's money well spent and they've got the peace of mind. So, that's the sort of trends that we're seeing.
|IC||Right. And that all leads to greater transparency and trust throughout the industry. Do you think we'll ever see a similar legislation like that or perhaps a state bar regulation, as it pertains to mandating price transparency here in the states? Is something that's a possibility?|
|SB||I certainly think it's possible. The biggest challenge that I saw with the UK regulation was, I guess, all the stakeholders involved in the process agreeing on which services had to be price transparent. So, which ones required pricing and what, I guess, caveats, or exclusions or notes had to be put on each of those legal services.
So, I think for many of the US State bars could look at that and the UK as being quite transparent, for lack of a better term.
|IC||There's still a lot of people, really across the world that that have no access to lawyers because, frankly, they can't afford the fees. So, I think it's about an 80:20% ratio at this point, 80% just saying I can't afford to hire a lawyer for this matter. So, it's crucially important to have tools like LawTap on the scene to drive down the cost for the broader market.|
|SB||LawTap's there, to make things like pricing more transparent, not to put attorneys in a race to the bottom or competing against each other on price alone. It's how you make the exceptional attorneys stand out and justify their price.
And at the same time, if you're a more junior or general practice attorney, then you might have a slightly lower price. But, at least the consumers informed and knowing what are they getting for their money. And that's really a key thing as well.
|IC||We've just got a couple more minutes left here, but I want to ask just two more questions. One about the product, and then just about your experience as an entrepreneur.
In terms of the specific pain points, because I want our listeners to really get a sense of how LawTap can help their day-to-day practice. What are the specific pain points or tasks that LawTap can take off the table, so the attorney can focus on doing what that attorney does best? What does it take off the table?
|SB||We take off the table, you will not lose one more billable minute on the back and forth, you get questions of, so are you available to meet at 10:00 AM on Friday. Those questions, that time, we take that off the table with LawTap.
So, that's where the average attorney can save 15 minutes per new client, five hours per month. But, we do that at the same time, by keeping the attorney in full control of their availability, so they have the flexibility to service clients when it suits them. They're not limited to only accepting appointments when they may be able to answer the phone.
We have many attorneys that work slightly unconventional hours. It might be a young mother, in some cases, who might work certain hours during the day, and then work certain hours during the evening once the children are asleep. Giving the attorney that ultimate flexibility while saving them time, having to book it and reschedule appointments with clients. That's where we add value.
|IC||And we all know that crucial saying that first impressions are everything, so if you're not acting in that crucial transactional moment when the client has engaged or is seeking legal services, if there's any friction in that process, you risk losing out on that opportunity.
Anything that helps you make the best first impression, having a technology platform to do that, is very important for all types of law firms to keep in mind. You as an entrepreneur, how long ago, I'm just curious, when was LawTap founded?
|SB||LawTap founded in late 2015. Soft launched, mid 2016.|
|IC||And have you hired since then? I'm just curious, how big is the company now?|
|SB||Company now, it's a team of three. So, still very small, but focus more on quality as opposed to quantity, at the same time.|
|IC||Yeah. What has been the biggest challenge for you as an entrepreneur in the legal tech space?|
|SB||Biggest challenge, I think for me, because this is the second legal tech startup that I've founded. The first one was five years of hard work before a successful exit.
And it was really through that process, that inspired LawTap. And I guess, each time I've thought, what's the problem I'm trying to solve? With LawTap, it's making the booking process much easier in a way that it is for doctors and dentists. Why isn't it as easy to book an attorney?
Second question is, why is it my problem to solve? And I guess that's the identity crisis that we have at different times that there's certainly that problem there, but why it my problem to solve. And the other part is, do I have the persistence and, I guess, resilience for five or so years, to solve that problem and to make the solution to that problem, a success.
That's really the biggest challenge that I've had in my legal tech entrepreneurial journey, to date, is and where I've found the greatest reward is just in the persistence and resilience, continuing to keep on going. You see a lot of flash and a lot of-
|IC||A lot of slide decks, a lot of panels, presentations. There's a lot of, right, surface.|
|SB||Yes. That's right. And you see a lot of flash and it's just focusing on the, if you stay focused on the solution, if you stay focused on the attorneys, on the end users and making sure they're happy, and they're paying for the service and you're prepared to stick it out, then make sure it is a success.
I think your odds just increase that little bit each day, that it will be. Ultimately, you want to create a business that, at least I know in my part, if you create something, you want it to be a legacy. Something that grows beyond just you and your efforts.
|IC||You had a successful exit with your prior legal tech venture, so there's no reason to think that LawTap will not be anything but a success. But, is there anything different in your approach? Anything that you learned in your prior experience with your prior venture that you're now applying to LawTap?|
|SB||I think you find that from the first time around, you took a lot of the hits, you took a lot of the scars and you might've taken some things, some of the knocks and that, quite personally.
And I think the second time around, you just approach the journey, and you might have the ups and downs. I think you try to normalize that, and knowing that that's just part of the journey and stay focused on what you need to stay focused on. You don't get distracted by the shiny things and keep focused on looking after the attorneys.
Ultimately, it's not about a startup, it's about running a good business that delivers value to the attorneys, to the end users. And anything that comes, that's all that will happen in its own time, as long as you stay focused on what you're doing and don't get distracted.
|IC||Awesome. Seamus, I think we'll leave it there. I think you've selected an excellent pain point to focus on for your latest venture and we wish you all the best in your journey to building a great business, in addition to having a great startup that many, many lawyers will draw benefits from.
Thanks for coming on the show and before I let you go, please tell our audience how they can learn more about LawTap and possibly give it a go.
|SB||Encourage all lawyers and attorneys to visit LawTap.com. That's L-A-W-T-A-P dot com, and you can learn more there and thank you very much for the time today Ian. I'd also like to thank you and the Evolve the Law team. We certainly enjoy, from day one, we've been an Evolve the Law member and certainly enjoy being part of the community.|
|IC||We are very appreciative of those kinds of words. We want to thank you for coming on the podcast to share your story with us. Seamus, thank you so much.|
|VO||Thank you for listening to the Evolve Law podcast.|