LI: The same year you graduated from law school you started Lawline. How did the decision to go into LegalTech win-out over a more traditional legal path?
DS: After I graduated college I worked in online advertising sales for 4 years. I then decided to go to law school because I wanted to be a professional. However, once in school and after interning for a couple of law firms, I concluded that being an attorney was not much different than being in sales. The main difference was in addition to selling yourself, you also had to do all the legal work. I also realized that I did not want to start at the bottom again.
While in law school, I started an online TV show interviewing entrepreneurs called TrueNYC. I met some great businesses, one of which was a web development company called Fresh Tilled Soil. It was then I had the idea to hire them to rebuild the Lawline.com website.
Lawline.com was orginally started by my dad and his partner in 1999 during the dot com boom. After the market crashed they shut down the business, but decided to keep the site functioning with 15 CLE courses. It would earn a couple thousand dollars per month without anyone touching it.
In 2006, it became clear to me there was tremendous opportunity in this area. The site had to be rebuilt from the ground up, as it was old technology that we did not even own. Fresh Tilled Soil completed a simple version of the site before my final exams. I took the bar that summer and came back and ran Lawline full-time. As they say the rest is history.
LI: If you had to do it again, would you have chosen business school over law school?
DS: I would have still chosen law school. Why? The law touches all parts of our lives in every shape or form. Being a lawyer has opened me up to a whole new world. And of course for the other reason, law school lead me to realizing the huge opportunity in Online CLE.
LI: You’ve been in business for almost a decade. With so many startups out there failing, what’s been your secret to success?
DS: Our focus from day one was building a business that was profitable. Doing so allowed us to make smart decisions and wise investments in growth opportunities. I also love building a great product. I personally am addicted to lifelong learning. I love giving people the tools to share their knowledge with others. And yeah, the mandatory aspect of the business does not hurt either.
LI: Online education is an expanding market. Where do you see the biggest opportunities for growth for Lawline and others in the space?
DS: Over the past 7 years, 100,000 attorneys have completed 2,000,000 courses on our website. Now that is a lot of CLE certificates. While that number sounds impressive, when you look at our market share on a state by state basis, it is clear there is still significant room for growth. As a result we continue to create compelling legal content, recruit top faculty, and improve our technology. And of course we work very hard to communicate our message to attorneys across the country.
Secondly, we see a gap in the market when it comes to providing the resources and service for small to mid-size firms that Big Law has available to them. We have an excellent opportunity to meet the business and educational development needs for these firms.
Lastly is our expansion into additional continuing education verticals. We created the brand FurtherEd two years ago, and it is currently a top provider of continuing professional education (CPE) for accountants. We have just touched the surface here and are excited for the opportunities to come. We named it FurtherEd because we did not wanted to be limited to a vertical as we continue to expand our reach.
LI: With many young lawyers carrying serious law school debt, what’s your advice for lawyers looking to leave the profession?
DS: If the focus is on on paying off debt it is very likely in this market you can make more money outside of the profession than within it. Ideally, try to do something (like work at a great company like Lawline) where you feel your legal degree will give you an edge (or at least help you sleep better at night).
LI: The beauty of the legal profession is that the career path is (historically) pretty lockstep. As an entrepreneur, there’s less structure. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
DS: Well, I recently signed a 7 year lease in 8400sf office and built a state-of-the-art work space and TV studio. When I did this, I had to look 7 years ahead and figure out where the business would be. The question I first asked myself was what do I want my life to look when I wake up in the morning? What is my impact on the community? On my Family? On my Business?
I just know I want to dream big. I want to have a large impact. I want Lawline & FurtherEd to be one of the largest providers in the online education space. To make big things happen you need to you shoot high and that is what I plan to do.