If you’ve been around the blogosphere as long as I have, you can’t help but recognize Ernie Svenson (or “Ernie the Attorney” as he is belovedly known in blogging circles.) Ernie must have been one of the very first law bloggers, launching his eponymous blog on a product now so old that I’m not sure it exists. At the time, Ernie was at biglaw; but like many blogging pioneers of that day ( Howard Bashman and Denise Howell, blogging opened doors to positions outside of biglaw. In Ernie’s case, he opened his own law firm , and soon was sharing his experience in his talk, Little Big Firm . Today, Ernie has left his practice and opened his own company that helps lawyers go paperless and automate their practices. Ernie is an inspiration – particularly to more seasoned lawyers because he never stops learning and evolving – and that’s why I’m thrilled to have him in this week’s What’s Next Solo edition.
Current Position, company and what your company does.
PaperlessChase.com helps solo and small firm lawyers streamline their practices by shedding paper (which also makes them instantly more organized, and less stressed out).
LawFirmAutopilot.com helps solo & small firm lawyers make their practices exponentially more profitable and easier to manage by harnessing the power of modern technology.
Prior to your current position at your company, how long did you practice law and where? What was your area of practice?
Before I started working full time helping lawyers improve their practices, I had a solo practice doing commercial litigation cases. I did that for 7 years, after having worked for a large firm for 18 years doing the same kind of work but in a high-overhead, high-stress, high billable hour environment.
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 left the high-stress world of BigLaw when I realized I could use technology to practice in a simpler, more satisfying way—and yet make plenty of money. I traded mindless committee meetings for walks in the park because in my solo practice I could work as much as I wanted to, when I wanted to, from pretty much anywhere in the world that I wanted to.
I shifted to helping lawyers full time (and gave up practicing) when I discovered the joy of helping fellow lawyers achieve the same blissful practice and lifestyle that I enjoyed once I learned to leverage technology properly.
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 don’t have an official title, because…what’s the point? It’s just me, and some virtual assistants. I focus on work, which mostly involves creating content for my online course, which is called LawFirmAutopilot. I do webinars and sometimes do a live event. I’m often asked to speak to groups of lawyers who have small firm practices.
How does your training and experience as a lawyer help you in your current position?
Yes, definitely. There are plenty of non-lawyer tech consultants who can (and do) help lawyers use technology. But my focus is on helping busy lawyers connect the most important dots, and I draw on my 20+ years of experience as a practicing attorney to zero in on the most important things.
Busy lawyers don’t need more hodgepodge tech advice or tips on the latest gadgets. They need a clear roadmap delivers reliable results, i.e. actually making one’s practice easier to manage and more profitable.
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?
Well, I don’t work for a technology company. I work for myself and sometimes partner with knowledgeable people that I trust and like to help me better serve the lawyers I am trying to help.
What was the biggest challenge for you in transitioning from law practice to your current position?
Figuring out how to run a non-law business, and realizing that small firms need to market effectively or they’ll struggle. I’ve discovered that 90% of people who profess to understand marketing and sales are either fools or charlatans. And avoiding the charlatans is the easiest part. The real challenge was realizing that most of the nice, well-intentioned people that claimed to know marketing really knew very little.
Do you miss practicing law? What have you done, if anything, to keep your law license and legal skills intact?
I don’t miss practicing law at all. I loved practicing law when I felt like I was really helping people. But, sadly, the legal system is a bog of inefficiency. So helping people within that system requires the grace of an angel.
I now feel like I can more easily help more people, and get a great sense of satisfaction from doing that. Plus, in helping small firm lawyers make their practices smoother running and more enjoyable I’m doing a small part in improving the legal profession as a whole.
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 was a Philosophy major and had little aptitude for science or technology. I played around with learning to program, but it wasn’t that interesting to me. I’m more interested in the strategic aspects of technology, and how to get the most out of software and tools that already exist.
If a solo lawyer was interested in following your career path, what advice would you have?
Learn how regular businesses work. Learn how direct response marketing works. Ignore people who don’t themselves have thriving businesses or anyone who doesn’t know what direct response marketing is.
What excites you most about the future of legal technology?
I’m excited when regular, non-techie lawyers (i.e. “dinosaur lawyers”) discover how to make technology finally work for them instead of against them. If robots one day show up and prove to be helpful to lawyers that’ll be a pleasant surprise.
Today, I’d say we have 95% of the technology we need to make our work lives better. The trick is connecting the most important dots to get immediate practical benefits. Anytime a lawyer can use some of the tried-and-true technology like scanning paper, and thereby improve their practice, I’m completely THRILLED!