An increase in online legal service providers has become an intimidating factor for many lawyers across Florida and The United States. People are looking towards emerging online technologies for their legal service needs. But should we as lawyers really be worried that these new legal options are going to “take all our jobs?”
In this episode of The Florida Bar Podcast, Adriana Linares interviews Florida attorney John Stewart, chair of the Florida Bar’s Vision 2016 Technology Committee, about how the subcommittee is helping lawyers cope with and embrace new legal technology. Stewart explains that he was previously wary of legal service technology, but his opinions changed after talking to Mark Britton from Avvo, Cheryl Niro from the ABA, Ed Walters from Fastcase, and other experts. The Technology Committee, he says, is already helping lawyers work alongside new technology through the Practice Resource Institute and an e-etiquette guide. His plans for the future include looking at the proliferation of online legal service providers and finding ways for Florida lawyers to compete or collaborate.
John Stewart is a third-generation Florida attorney who primarily practices commercial litigation and dispute resolution at the law firm of Stewart, Evans, Stewart & Emmons, P.A. He is on the Florida Bar Board of Governors in the 19th Circuit and serves as chair of the Vision 2016 Technology Committee.
The Florida Bar Podcast: Goals and Plans for the Vision 2016 Technology Committee – 3/15/2015
Advertiser: Welcome to the official Florida Bar Podcast. Where we cover practice management, leadership, and what’s happening in Florida law. Brought to you by the Florida Bar Practice Resource Institute. You’re listening to Legal Talk Network.
Adriana Linares: Hello and welcome to the official Florida Bar Podcast brought to you by the Practice Resource Institute on Legal Talk Network. The Practice Resource Institute is the Florida Bar’s online center for practice management information, dedicated to Florida attorneys. My name is Adriana Linares, and I’ll be your host. I’m a legal technology trainer and consultant based out of Orlando, Florida. And with me today, I’m very excited to have Mr. John Stewart. Hey John.
John Stewart: How are you doing?
Adriana Linares: I’m doing great, I like your jacket.
John Stewart: Thanks.
Adriana Linares: You know, we’ll just get a picture of it and make sure people go look for it, because that’s a pretty snazzy jacket.
John Stewart: This is a real beach Florida jacket, you can’t just get this anywhere.
Adriana Linares: I love that. John Stewart, tell me about yourself.
John Stewart: Well, let’s see. I’m a third generation Florida attorney, not many people can say that.
Adriana Linares: That’s pretty cool.
John Stewart: So my grandfather, my father and now myself. I practice in the 19th Circuit, which for me, is any other county that would cover as four counties, Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee as well. And I primarily do commercial litigation and dispute resolution.
Adriana Linares: You practice with your dad now, right?
John Stewart: I do.
Adriana Linares: Was there ever a time when all three of you, including your grandad, practice together?
John Stewart: No.
Adriana Linares: Did they practice together, grandad and your dad?
John Stewart: They did not, my grandfather passed away fairly young, so they never had an opportunity to do that.
Adriana Linares: Aw, that’s too bad. But cool, the legacy lives on.
John Stewart: Yes, the legacy lives on; it’s probably better not to have all three of us practicing together because this is tough enough.
Adriana Linares: Okay, this is good; and tell me. You’re on the board of governors for the Florida Bar; and you do a lot of other things. Why don’t you rattle off your list of commitments when it comes to Bar work.
John Stewart: Well, they seem to be growing and I’m ready for them to start dissipating. I have been with the Florida Bar for a long time, and I encourage a lot of young lawyers to get involved; that’s how I started with the Young Lawyers Division. About two years after I started practice, I went and was elected to the Young Lawyers Division Board of Governors. And then through their poor decision-making paradigm, they elected me president in 2006, and I went from president of the Young Lawyers Division straight on from the YLD to the OLD, to the Board of Governors of the Florida Bar where I’m not, if you can believe it, in my 8th year.
Adriana Linares: And doing a fantastic job.
John Stewart: At the ripe young age of 44.
Adriana Linares: Wow, holy moly.
John Stewart: 45 tomorrow.
Adriana Linares: No kidding?
John Stewart: I wouldn’t lie to you, Adriana.
Adriana Linares: It’s your birthday tomorrow.
John Stewart: And I couldn’t be happier to be at the Florida Bar Winter Meeting for my birthday.
Adriana Linares: Tell us what you do for the Bar.
John Stewart: Well right now, serving on the Board of Governors is a pretty big commitment. I was fortunate to be asked by then-president Eugene Pettis about a year ago and president Coleman now to serve as the sub-committee chair of the Technology committee of Vision 2016. So that is one of the major undertakings that I’m doing for the Florida Bar right now.
Adriana Linares: That is quite a major undertaking. And were you sort of picked because of your tech-savviness to lead the technology section of Vision?
John Stewart: I would like to say yes, but I would probably have to say that was not the major selection criteria. I think it just had to do with my experience knowledge within the Bar and my experience with the issues that lawyers face and I think we were smart enough to realize that most of our tech-savviness would have to come from the outside. So they just needed someone that was able to lead the group in the right direction.
Adriana Linares: So what exactly is the goal of the Vision 2016 Technology Committee?
John Stewart: Well, the goal has evolved. I think we didn’t even contemplate how important what we were getting into was at the time that we were started, to be totally candid. And since we started, we have completed two projects, one of which is the Practice Resource Institute.
Adriana Linares: Yep, we love it.
John Stewart: That came out of the Vision 2016 Technology Committee, the concept anyways, I know it was later formalized by another group and by you, yourself; but the concept came out of our committee. And we also have already pushed out a sort of e-etiquette guide, which has already come out of our committee. Right now, the primary focus is we’re looking at the proliferation of online legal service providers and how that’s going to affect Florida lawyers and how Florida lawyers can either participate or compete.
Adriana Linares: That’s probably been a very interesting and enlightening experience for you. So what have you found to be the most interesting points, pro or con, about that whole phenomenon that’s entering the profession?
John Stewart: it really has been fascinating and I don’t know if that’s a reflection on my social life when I say that, but no, it has been. I don’t think people realize how much need there was for lawyer services that were not being met by attorneys. And as a result of that, we found that these online service providers were entering the market through a variety of different ways.
Adriana Linares: And successfully, I think that’s the part that really makes it so interesting is that they’re not just coming in, they’re making a lot of progress and very successful.
John Stewart: Very successful. All of my information has come from other sources, from people that I’ve been in touch with, experts like yourself, experts you’ve put me in touch with.
Adriana Linares: Right, let’s not put me in the category, but let’s name some names of some of the people who you’ve had really great conversations with as far as learning about what these changes mean to the profession.
John Stewart: Well, let’s see. I talked with Mark Britton, who is the CEO of Avvo.
Adriana Linares: That guy didn’t build any schlep of a company.
John Stewart: No, our conversation, actually, we’ve had more than one. He’s been generous with his time and it’s been fascinating. I have spoken with – and I’m going to be in trouble because I can’t remember the lady’s name from the ABA-
Adriana Linares: Cheryl Niro.
John Stewart: Cheryl Niro who explained to me why and how they are beginning to partner with Rocket Lawyer, which is sort of an Avvo/Legal Zoom hybrid competitor. Spoken with Mark Lawrenson, spoken with Ed from Fastcase, the CEO of Fastcase; and actually everyone had been very generous with their time and very, very interesting. And what my takeaway from talking with all of these people is that they all are saying exactly the same thing.
Adriana Linares: I think it’s interesting for me to watch you go through the process because I think – you correct me if I’m wrong –
John Stewart: I’ve never known you to be wrong.
Adriana Linares: Gosh, I think you should just come on the show all the time. I think you were approaching this very standoffish – like a normal lawyer might, which is I must protect and defend the perfection, this is never going to work, starting to put walls up. And then as you spoke with these leaders, these visionaries, somehow, you started to see that there could be a middle ground where maybe this isn’t such a bad thing, some of these services. Do I have it right?
John Stewart: Yeah, I think it’s fair, I wish that we didn’t have only have ten minutes, truthfully. I’ve been asked to speak on this subject to Bar associations and other groups and it’s very fascinating to people that listen. I think what we didn’t understand was really the need for the service and the fact that it’s not people that can’t afford attorneys primarily. It’s people that can afford attorneys but don’t realize they can afford attorneys or can’t afford attorneys at their current price point the way that we currently deliver service. I’ll also say that when we started, some of our other experts – not yourself – in 2013 said hey, online legal service providers are definitely going to be something on your radar in the next five or ten years. And that proliferation happened in about 12 months.
Adriana Linares: It seems when you’re just taking a look down the tunnel, it looks and it sounds like it’s coming in really fast, but if you’ve been observing it from the outside for a while, you’ve been watching the tunnels being built for quite some time and all of a sudden it just seems like it’s here all of a sudden. I think it’s very helpful for the commission to have you taking all this time to learn, read, speak, and listen to all these experts about all these things that are happening. I think you have enjoyed it.
John Stewart: I have enjoyed it, I love actually talking about it. I love talking to lawyers about it because I think they are totally unaware of not only what’s coming – and it’s not necessarily negative, I personally believe it’s positive. I think a lot of lawyers can grow their practices rather dramatically by either finding ways to collaborate with these types of groups – and there are many, they’re not just the big, big, big ones. I just had a lawyer friend of mine post his brother-in-law’s company on Facebook that does wills yesterday. I just saw it yesterday and I never heard of them before and they’re proliferating exponentially. But there’s a lot of opportunity for lawyers. I don’t have the impression that it’s going to cut lawyers business, I think it’s going to grow lawyers business, except that lawyers have to learn how to deliver their services in a different way.
Adriana Linares: Right. It’s definitely going to be something very interesting to watch over the net couple of years
John Stewart: Before you move onto your next question I want to say this is one thing that I learned that lawyers need to hear and appreciate is that our Florida Court system is doing the same thing.
Adriana Linares: Tell us more.
John Stewart: I sit on the Florida Court Technology Committee, which I think they only have 25 people in the state of Florida that sit on the Florida Court Technology Commission. There’s three lawyers and the rest are clerks and court technologists, people that work for the court and the technology. So we have online filing for all of our pleadings now, we have e-service, and they call it the portal. It’s like the singularity but it sounds really cool. I want to go see the portal but I’m not sure that I can actually see anything. But I’d like the tour of the portal. But the portal has – I’m going to use another fun word – embedded within the portal is a A2J or Access to Justice program that will soon, probably this year of 2015, allow pro se filers to use the e-filing system to go to the courthouse or a public library or anywhere they can get on the internet, frankly. And they will be permitted to do evictions, small claim actions and simple divorces by themselves, without the necessity of the attorney. So in a sense, our own court system is competing with us, so we can’t blame it on the private sector. There’s a need from within, too.
Adriana Linares: When you say that you feel, in a sense, they’re competing with lawyers directly; now that you’ve learned everything that you’ve learned and know what you know, instead of it being a competitive thing, were they trying to meet a need that wasn’t being met by a certain demographic of lawyers?
John Stewart: There’s no question about it. Don’t quote me on the numbers if anyone listens and Googles it and I get it wrong, but-
Adriana Linares: Just get close.
John Stewart: It’s a massive, multi-billion dollar market that wasn’t being met. I’ve heard it described – it wasn’t me that described it, maybe it was you, maybe it was someone else – I’ve heard it described as the fat middle. I personally like that because I have a fat middle and I can identify with that. But it’s basically 70% of the market, it’s not the top 15% that have really unique needs that only lawyers can meet in a very unique, tailored way. It’s not the lower 15% that are really purely pro-bono legal aid matters. It’s that middle 70% that has been identified as a market that needs to be addressed, so it’s filling that need. So it’s competitive in the sense that they’re filling and we’re not, but we have an opportunity to share that space. That’s the way I look at it, really.
Adriana Linares: And there’s plenty of business there.
John Stewart: There is plenty of business, and there are some. I’ve actually had two calls with lawyers based upon the recent Florida Bar news article that came out about my presentation on the proliferation of these online legal service providers and they’re both doing this themselves already. So there are some that are ahead of the curve and doing it already.
Adriana Linares: Well, before we move onto our next segment, we’re going to take a quick break to hear a message from our sponsors.
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Adriana Linares: Welcome back to the official Florida Bar Podcast. I’m Adriana Linares and with me today is the adorable John Stewart. I’m sure you love it when I call you adorable.
John Stewart: I do, because nobody can see me since this is a podcast, So they might believe it.
Adriana Linares: They can Google you; although if they Google John Stewart, we know who they’re going to get, but you’re the John Stewart of vero.
John Stewart: By the way, if I can say, that’s not really his name, so I would like to get some royalties off of that; and we also went to the same college, he and I. So I’m a little bit disturbed that he has borrowed my name without permission.
Adriana Linares: Or that they got the wrong John Stewart when they asked him to start doing a late night show.
John Stewart: The Daily show, or now the Late Night show.
Adriana Linares: That’s good. So before the break, we were talking about Vision and your work, we talked about your expertise now and online legal services and everything that floats on and around it. Let’s go back to Vision 2016 for a second; because now it’s 2015, you’ve got a year left.
John Stewart: We have a year and a half left because the Bar year ends in June of 2016, so don’t rush me, I’m already nervous about it.
Adriana Linares: Yep, you’ve got some time. What is the committee planning to do in order to bring back together and report on their findings and their ideas? What are the recommendations you’re going to make that the next group of leaders will hopefully – instead of continuing to study and come together and talk about – will take action on?
John Stewart: As it relates to the technology sub-committee, I expect that the Florida Bar has to make changes and I think that we have currently and appetite at the Board of Governors level to make some of those changes, and those have to be in the areas of advertising, possibly sharing fees with nonlawyers. These are regulations that restrict our ability as attorneys to compete in this marketplace the way online legal service providers do. So we have to make some changes and I think our committee is looking to make recommendations on what those changes should be in the short term, even before 2016 comes. But our main goal, really, is to help as much as our population as we can, and the vast majority of our population are lawyers that are sole practitioners or are in small firms, usually ten lawyers or less. And to do that, we’re going to come out with recommendations to adapting technology into their law practices. We’re going to come out with recommendations about courtroom technology that should be available. So we’re probably going to have five or six major areas of recommendations that are hopefully going to give them guidance on what they need to know, which would include, possibly – I don’t want to send shockwaves to the world because it hasn’t been approved yet – but possibly mandatory technology related facilities.
Adriana Linares: I love that idea!
John Stewart: I know you do, it’d be a boom for business. And we’re talking about possibly setting minimum standards of technological competency for lawyers, at least if their only aspirational goal is to let lawyers know what you need to know to be competent.
Adriana Linares: I think just a list – I mean, it doesn’t have to be something major – but just saying to lawyers who have no idea where to start, here is ten or fifteen things every lawyer should be moderately competent at doing. Is that sort of the idea behind something like that?
John Stewart: I think so. I think, for example, social media is a great example. We’re probably going to say, you don’t have to like social media, you don’t even have to use social media, but in certain areas of practice, if you don’t know anything about social media you can’t do your job. You may need to get discovery related to Facebook pages or Twitter accounts and if you don’t know anything about them, you’re going to miss your ability to serve your client best. So it’s really just an awareness for some people and then a very base level of knowledge. We’re not looking to turn everyone into tech geeks, but there is a base level of knowledge that attorneys are going ot have to know in a technological arena to be competent in their practices.
Adriana Linares: And I think PRI is going to be a great practice resource, the Practice Resource Institute that your group initiated and worked in conjunction with the special committee on technology and tools. The site is out there, it’s been released now, it’s in its infancy, there’s going to be a lot more going on there. What types of ideas have you had or the committee had for other types of content information we should be putting out there. Who do you hope to see PRI become?
John Stewart: Truthfully, I think PRI is going to be the most important vehicle for attorneys to get this information that we say they need to have.
Adriana Linares: Right, if we’re going to tell them they should know, we’ve got to tell them where to go.
John Stewart: Yeah, our committee has been clear, it’s not just telling them what they need to know, but we think it’s a responsibility of Florida Bar to get that information out to them, not that they have to go find it. So we think that PRI is going to be the vehicle for that, and so we’re going to ask or recommend that the Bar, through PRI, utilize that source to provide us information. Whether it be through CLE’s, I mean we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You can use YouTube videos from other service providers who just happen to have the information already who are happy to share it. We hope to have people staffing the institute that may or may not be lawyers, but whether they are or not, they’re definitely technologically knowledgeable to help lawyers; whether it be an online chat, or whether it be an actual phone call, video conference, whatever it happens to be. So PRI is going to be the vehicle to feed that to the attorneys.
Adriana Linares: Well before I let you go, is there anything we didn’t talk about that is important to you or that you’re working on and you think the membership should know that there’s this going on or this happening; are there any other committees that you’re involved with that you want to make sure and talk about?
John Stewart: I’ll mention one point in passing in that we didn’t talk – and we don’t have time to talk – on the other Vision sub-committees; but there’s a tremendous amount of overlap in a lot of what they do because of technology. Some of the very major issues that are coming up are going to be some really dramatic changes for Florida attorneys, whether or not we open our borders so that we have multi-state practices, or even international practices. There’s going to be a massive issue that relates to technology but relates to some of these other sub-committees. Advertising is another very, very difficult issue; Florida’s very restrictive and with good intentions, but whether or not that can continue in its current format is a difficult question. So the excitement is the opportunity is massive. What makes it scary is that the change is also massive and how people are either going to adapt and or accept our recommendations. It’s going to be interesting over the next couple of years.
Adriana Linares: It’s going to be a very transformative time and I think only positive, and much of that is because the current Bar leadership and the leadership – not just current, everybody coming in behind current – that is supporting the openness of studying these ideas and looking at the practice and profession in a new and different way. I think it’s just fascinating.
John Stewart: We struck a nerve, for sure, and people are interested. When I speak and I raise these hot-button items, you get a guttural reaction from attorneys immediately; they other love it or they hate it, there is no in between. So part of our job will be educating the ones on the changes that we do decide to make on why that’s positive for them and help them see the light. And for the changes that we don’t make, we need to be prepared to appreciate that that will cause us some limitations.
Adriana Linares: Well, it looks like we’ve reached the end of our program, which is a bummer because I always like hanging out with you, John. We’d like to invite you to tell everybody how they can stalk you on the internet if they are so interested.
John Stewart: How can they stalk me on the internet; yeah, as you said, if you Google me, you probably won’t get me.
Adriana Linares: You’re the one guy I don’t recommend Googling to find, but what are my other options?
John Stewart: I don’t know now that I’ve become a modest social media celebrity based upon my latest article.
Adriana Linares: I’m going to see what happens when I Google.
John Stewart: It depends if you spell my name correctly, because mine is with an H and his is not.
Adriana Linares: I’m going to put in, “John Stewart attorney,” while you tell us your Twitter handle.
John Stewart: My Twitter handle. You think I have that clear in my memory?
Adriana Linares: Oh my god, you have to go look it up.
John Stewart: Well, because it was very complicated because I had to fight off the fake John Stewart to get it, because he had a formal account and I didn’t have a formal account and so I had to change it, but you will appreciate it. I know what it is but I had to include an underscore; I’m not sure where that is. But you’re going to love it.
Adriana Linares: I do love it.
John Stewart: But you can always go to the Florida Bar page, the find a lawyer page, and of course all of my contact information – including my email address and my law firms-
Adriana Linares: Stewart Evans.
John Stewart: Right, it’s www.StewartEvans.com, or you can email me and-
Adriana Linares: Of course, you’re on LinkedIn, like normal people.
John Stewart: I am on LinkedIn, although for confessing our sins, I don’t yet really know what it does but people endorse me and it makes me feel good, so that’s good.
Adriana Linares: You are The_JohnStewart; let me help you.
John Stewart: Oh that’s what it is, “The.” Yeah, I knew there was an underscore, that was the problem. The_JohnStewart, that’s my Twitter account, The_JohnStewart; and you know, Twitter’s actually fun, I love Twitter.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, Twitter’s a very good source of information and keeping up with stuff.
John Stewart: Twitter’s great, I would recommend people go and use Twitter if they don’t use it because it’s great for people like us who really don’t want to be bothered with the detail and just want to flip through and see the highlights.
Adriana Linares: Highlights, I agree.
John Stewart: And if we like the detail, you can press the button and read all the details you want.
Adriana Linares: And read all the details you want. Well thanks so much John for stopping by, I appreciate it; I know how very busy you are.
John Stewart: Thank you for having me.
Adriana Linares: You’re welcome. That brings us to the end of our show. I’m Adriana Linares, thank you for listening. Join us next time for another great episode of the official Florida Bar Podcast.
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