How organized would you be in the face of a devastating divorce?
For Chris Kennedy and many others, the answer is not very, and it temporarily cost him primary custody of his children. It was that painful impetus that prompted the career telecommunications sales executive and former bike shop owner to team with childhood friend and Department of Defense technology contractor Erik Lane to launch Legal Logs, an online document portal designed to make winning your case easier.
Trial by Fire
Kennedy was essentially his own first customer. Following his initial court loss, he reached out to Lane for help developing a program that would allow him to easily store and access important documents including emails, text messages and voice mails and also to track time spent with his children and volunteering at their activities. With input and advice from Laura Bearsch, the Bel Air attorney who was handling his appeal, they spent the next 18 months creating, testing and improving a Web-based portal Kennedy used to house all of his information.
While the actual service wasn’t slated to launch until March of 2013, it was put to the test early when his ex-wife filed an emergency motion to permit her to move their children out of state. Although facing the same judge in the same courtroom where he initially lost custody five years earlier, the results were very different this time: Kennedy was on the winning end, something he credits to his vastly improved organization thanks to Legal Logs.
Buoyed by this personal success and positive feedback from the attorneys Kennedy worked with, Legal Logs went live in March, with Lane handling operations and Kennedy heading up sales. But Kennedy says the one thing he didn’t anticipate was how difficult it is to get in front of attorneys. “It’s always a tough go as a start-up,” he says, “and it was made even harder by the fact that attorneys have lots of gatekeepers.”
Kennedy says the challenge just spurred him to push harder, and after relentlessly tracking down lawyers, even waiting for them at the courthouse at times, he started to make inroads. By attending, speaking and sponsoring industry events including the annual Maryland State Bar Association event in Ocean City, Legal Logs is finally seeing success. “Here we are seven months later, we already have a number of law firms using our system and we are continuing to grow,” he says.
Once he does get in front of an attorney, Kennedy says the results are invariably positive. “We’ve never had an attorney tell us ‘no.’ How we position ourselves is, if we can bring you a more organized client, you can have a better outcome in court and ultimately more referrals.” Kennedy also has to combat concerns regarding admissibility of Legal Logs in court, which they have addressed by retaining global law firm McGuireWoods as company counsel.
In terms of pricing structure, firms pay a $500 annual fee per user and then clients can sign up for just $20 per month. Legal Logs also uses public relations and social media to market directly to individuals representing themselves, although Kennedy acknowledges that’s not as effective as marketing to firms that can bring in as many as 50 clients at a time and direct clients to use the service.
“It’s All About Overhead”
Legal Logs isn’t Kennedy’s first business venture. While working a full-time job in telecommunication sales, Kennedy started and ran a successful property rehabilitation business as well as the now-defunct Conte’s Bike Shop in Festival in Bel Air, where he says he learned that “It’s all about overhead.” An avid bike rider and longtime tri-athlete, Kennedy saw the bike shop as a natural opportunity, but quickly realized it was a tough business in which to turn a profit. “To run that bike shop, I had to carry $300,000 worth of inventory. I had a brick and mortar building with $10,000 in rent, had to pay employees, gas and electric, the list goes on and on, all to reach customers coming from a 12-mile radius.”
The lesson on overhead stuck when opening the new business. To keep costs down, Legal Logs handles virtually everything in house: all coding, servers, sales and operations. They work out of their homes with their servers housed in a co-location facility in Baltimore. All of which means that all they need to turn a profit is a few thousand dollars per month, as opposed to the million in sales Conte’s needed to stay afloat. “We’re working out of our homes and running a successful business, making money. As long as I have my cell phone and an Internet connection, I can do my job anywhere in the world,” he explains.
Slow and Steady March
Their commitment to keeping overhead low also means a strategic decision to grow slowly, at least initially. “We’ve elected not to hire a big staff until we have cash in the bank,” says Kennedy. While he acknowledges that adding staff, in particular coders, would enable them to grow more quickly, he says, “We’re going to grow a little slower until we get to the point where we’re comfortable and then we’re going to turn our turbo engines on and explode.”
Legal Logs’ slow and steady approach doesn’t mean they don’t have big plans. By the end of the year, they expect to launch a smartphone app that will make forwarding text messages and emails even easier. Beyond providing a portal for divorce cases, they are already planning to expand into medical malpractice, personal injury and worker’s compensation cases, as soon as next year. And Kennedy says while they are currently focusing on clients from Philadelphia to Northern Virginia, they hope to ultimately take their service nationwide with the addition of commission-based salespeople.
Additionally, Kennedy says there are opportunities for them to further improve the document management process for attorneys. For instance, in all Maryland divorce cases, clients need to complete the Maryland Long Form, a document requesting standard information on expenses such as mortgage or rent, utilities, etc. Legal Logs’ web-based version allows clients to fill out the form online and attach all relevant documents, so that the paralegal or attorney has it all in one place and simply has to click a button to print everything out.
So what’s the verdict on Legal Logs? Judging from the clients who have already signed on and the number of attorneys who have expressed interest in funding the company’s future efforts, it looks like this company will be around to stay. I95