When it comes to the topic of the future of law, there are nay-sayers – those who insist that computers will never replace them and they-sayers. As in, they say that access to justice solutions are impossible with outside law firm ownership.” Or, they say that bespoke services are future proof because they’re immune from commoditization. Or they say, the only jobs available for law students today are JD-adjacent positions like legal ops or e-discovery or data analytics.
You know what? They would be wrong. Because a woman-owned cannabis law company is making all these assumptions go up in smoke (pun intended).
Meet Buddle, which describes itself as a non-law corporation that provides legal solutions for budding cannabis businesses from entity formation to employment policies, IP protection and compliance. Founded by attorneys Sarah Gersten and Julie Saltman who boast impressive employment history at big law, Department of Justice and the U.S. Copyright Office, Buddle makes high quality legal services available at affordable rates to fledgling cannabis businesses – including FREE expungement and record sealing resources.
So first – how does Buddle do it? After all, isn’t cannabis law one of those high falutin’ emerging practice areas that is supposedly immune from commoditization? Yet here is Buddle, offering a $75 (plus $275 PTO application fee) to trademark cannabis brands – which is no easy feat due to federal restrictions on patent protection for illegal controlled substances. Likewise, even run-of-the mill corporate entity selection may present twists for a cannabis business which could require a certain structure depending upon the laws of the state where it will operate. Yet Buddle has found a way to do it that’s even cheaper than Legal Zoom.
So how is that Buddle can offer bespoke on a budget? Easy. First, the company leverages technology. Second, it casts a focus that is deep but wide to take advantage of the economies of scale that come with doing the same type of work again and again. Even if you practice in an area where every case is classified as unique, over time, patterns emerge until you reach a point where you’ve handled so many exceptions that they become the new rules.
Buddle’s business approach is also unique for a bespoke practice area in that it’s making its attack by taking a few pages out of the classic innovator’s dilemma . For those unfamiliar, the Innovator’s Dilemma describes a back-door approach to incumbent markets – gaining entry by taking up a problem that existing businesses don’t want to address to gain a toehold and once inside the gates, taking over competitors’ base business. Sort of like Air BNB which started out by making it easy for poor young graduates to find a bed to crash and has now poses a threat to the entire hotel industry. Although cannabis remains an emerging industry, big law has already hopped on the bandwagon creating increased competition. Rather than face down the big firms head on, Buddle can gain stealth entrance by handling the smaller, mundane tasks that don’t interest big firms – incorporation, employment, and contract negotiations — that any small business must address. Once Buddle gains name recognition and establishes a relationship with these new companies, it can service their legal needs for years to come or expand into more lucrative cannabis work like M&A advisory work.
And by the time Buddle reaches that juncture, it will have the capital to fund an expansion. As Washington Business Journal reports, Buddle was awarded $30,000 in initial funding from the Canopy Boulder Accelerator and is currently raising a $750,000 seed round. The money will go towards development of additional software to create more automated offerings and to support new hires, including a paralegal, in-house developer and marketing professional. But stop. How can Buddle – a company run by two lawyers offering legal services raise outside funding? Easy – it’s Clearspire 101 or its seedier predecessor, the Foreclosure Mills: build a tech platform to provide automated legal services that either stand on their own or support an affiliated law firm . But the bottom line is that there are ways that lawyers bent on attracting outside investment can do so within the parameters of ethics regulations.
Is there risk? Sure. Under existing bar rules, many of the services that Buddle offers look a lot like traditional legal services – confusion that is arguably heightened by the fact that the company’s founders are both lawyers and tout their experience at the site. On the other hand, non-lawyer owned DIY companies like Legal Zoom or Rocket Lawyer are generally permitted to operate without running afoul of UPL rules – so why should the fact that Buddle is owned and created by two attorneys subject it to more stringent regulation.
The bottom line: take nothing as gospel or binding precedent. The world is changing faster than we can imagine, and opportunities are boundless for lawyers who take the time to figure it out.