I’m very excited about this week’s What’s Next Solo, From Lawyer to Legal Tech feature about my co-author and friend, Nicole Black of MyCase. Niki and I met online 12 years as part of the early generation of law bloggers, and two of just a handful of female bloggers in that crowd. Nicole is a great example of a lawyer who has transitioned – she has always had a strong interest in writing and legal technology, but she was a criminal defense attorney and civil litigator for a decade prior – fields that don’t have a direct connection to legal tech. I know that Nicole has informally helped and inspired countless other lawyers looking to transition to legal tech and I am thrilled that she’s now sharing her advice with my readers.
Name: Nicole Black
Current Position, company and what your company does.
Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, which provides comprehensive law practice management software for solo and small firm lawyers.
Prior to your current position at your company, how long did you practice law and where? What was your area of practice?
I’ve practiced law in Rochester, NY since 1995. I began my career as an assistant public defender and then moved on to practice with a local firm as a litigation associate. Later I hung a shingle doing contract work for other lawyers and then became of counsel to a local DWI defense firm. Criminal defense has always been a part of my practice, as has civil litigation.
Why did you decide to move from practicing law to your position at your current company, and how did you find your current position?
I met the founders of MyCase at Legaltech in NYC in 2012. I was covering the conference as press and interviewed them about their software. A few weeks afterward, when they demoed the software for me via a screen share, I was offered a job during that conversation, which I ultimately accepted. MyCase was acquired by AppFolio 6 months after I was hired and AppFolio had its IPO in June 2015, which I got to attend at NASDAQ in NYC. It was really exciting! When I entered law school in 1992, being employed by a tech company when it had it’s IPO wasn’t even on my radar, so it was an incredible experience to actually be there when it happened!
What is your title at your company, and what are some of your responsibilities? Can you describe a typical day (if there is such a thing)?
I’m the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase. Essentially that means that it’s my job to educate lawyers about how they can use technology to make their practices run more smoothly and efficiently. So I write and speak about the intersection of law and technology, both online and off. I also advise internally at MyCase on product and marketing issues. If I’m not traveling to speak at a conference, visiting the home office in Santa Barbara, California, or covering a legal tech conference as press, I spend my days following and sharing industry trends online and writing about 600-1000 words each day for the MyCase blog and for the various outlets where my articles are published. I also spend a decent amount of time in remote meetings with members of the MyCase team.
How does your training and experience as a lawyer help you in your current position?
My background comes into play all the time. It informs all of my writing and speaking about how lawyers can use technology. If I hadn’t practiced law, I wouldn’t have a grasp of how different kinds of technology tools can improve the processes used in law firms to run their practices. And when I advise the marketing and product teams at MyCase about different issues, my knowledge of practicing law is integral to the recommendations that I make.
What are some of the differences working for a technology company in contrast to working as a lawyer, either at a firm for others or in your own practice?
For starters, I work remotely from New York for a California-based company. Most law firms would never allow an attorney to work full-time from home. And the environment at a California technology company is decidedly more laid back than any law firm I’ve ever seen. The teamwork attitude is also very different. At law firms, although you sometimes work on a team on a given case, it’s not comparable to that sense of teamwork that I experience at MyCase. Finally, AppFolio, MyCase’s parent company, is truly the most gender-equitable environment in which I’ve worked. There are women in leadership roles across the company and I’ve never felt that my gender has held me back in any way while at AppFolio.
What was the biggest challenge for you in transitioning from law practice to your current position?
Being part of a team. Prior to joining MyCase, I was essentially a one-woman show and was working for myself. Everything I do at MyCase is part of a team effort and it’s very rewarding to be in that environment, but it took some getting used to.
Do you miss practicing law? What have you done, if anything, to keep your law license and legal skills intact?
I miss jury trials and addressing substantive and constitutional criminal issues the most. I keep myself in the game by writing the annual updates to the Thomson Reuters book I co-author, “Criminal Law in New York.” It’s a substantive book on the New York penal code and every year I research my half of the cases that have come down in the past year on substantive criminal issues and then write my approximately 30-page update. I also belong to the local bar association and am involved in a few of the committees.
Do you have any formal training in technology or “hot” technical skills (e.g., programming, product development, data science) and are these skills necessary for your current position?
I took a course in college and learned the programming language, Pascal. I was also on the Internet in 1995, long before most lawyers. I actually met my husband in a chatroom (one of only about five on the Internet back then!) that same year. I also learned a lot of rudimentary programming on my own, which helped me to create the website for the law firm I worked for in 2003. I also created the website for my contract attorney practice. I began blogging in 2005, long before most people knew what a blog was and also joined most social media platforms early on. Those experiences helped me to co-author “Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier” with you, which was published by the ABA in 2010. After that I wrote “Cloud Computing for Lawyers” which was published by the ABA in 2012. Formal training in technology has not been necessary for what I do, but the knowledge I’ve gained informally over the years about technology is certainly important to my work.
If a solo lawyer was interested in following your career path, what advice would you have?
Learn as much as you can about technology, specifically legal technology. Attend a few legal tech conferences each year, such as ABA Techshow, ILTA, and NY or West Coast Legaltech. Attend the sessions and network with as many people as you can in the legal tech space. Finally, start blogging about legal technology. Share your knowledge, network with others who have similar interests, and see what comes of the opportunities that you create.
What excites you most about the future of legal technology?
We’re at one of the most pivotal times in history when it comes to technology. Technology is advancing at an incredible rate. The confluence of advancements in many areas of technology are making it possible for us to do things that once seems impossibly futuristic and unattainable. Between cloud computing, mobile tech, advances in AI and more, the sky’s the limit! There are so many possibilities for legal technology and many of them will come to fruition within the next few years. It’s a great time to be enmeshed in this space!