Lawyers often think technology should always work. That's aspirational, says Sharon Nelson, president of the cybersecurity, information technology and digital forensics firm Sensei Enterprises Inc.
"People can screw up, but technology fails too," says Nelson. "You really need to recover from what the problem is, as opposed to pointing fingers and being angry."
Nelson and John W. Simek, her business partner and husband, formed Sensei Enterprises in 1997. Simek, an engineer, previously worked for Mobil Oil as a chief network designer and troubleshooter. The two met when she hired him to computerize her law practice.
"John had the technical genius, and I had the legal, business and marketing experience," she says "We figured that together I could sell his talents, and it ended up that I sold us both. People were happy to have someone they could talk technology with, along with someone who knew legal ethics."
"We didn't start out to be disruptive," says John Suh, LegalZoom's chief executive officer. "We were set up to fix a problem. The legal system was broken and too many people were frozen out of it."
For Suh, the main goal of LegalZoom continues to be providing access to the legal system for millions of Americans who can't afford an attorney and do not qualify for free legal services. "So much of our legal system is focused on BigLaw or access to justice for those below the poverty line," says Suh. "What about the 84 percent or so of people between that? For them, the system really has failed."
What Suh has done during his tenure as CEO is transform the company from a do-it-yourself outfit into one that has partnered with lawyers.
"The perception that we're an online legal company with no human lawyers is just not true," says Suh. "Over the last five years, we've embraced lawyers and become quite adept with working with them." There have been over 200,000 one-on-one consultations between LegalZoom customers and lawyers licensed in their respective states, he says.
Ernie Svenson-a.k.a. well-known blogger Ernie the Attorney-was an early evangelist for what he calls The Paperless Chase. The basic premise: "Anything you can do with paper, you can do more with PDF. Way more."
Now he spends a lot of time teaching, training and speaking, all aimed at enabling small-firm and solo lawyers with the ability "to save money, make money and outmatch bigger firm adversaries," he says.
In fact, calling Svenson an evangelist is an understatement. "The walls are closing in on lawyers who haven't adapted, with e-filing in the courts and the increased use of the PDF format by others," Svenson says. "It's here. It's good. Do it."