Propelling Your Company Forward With Technology
Propelling Your Company Forward With Technology
Recorded on February 25, 2016 with David Nill
David’s company, Rapid Legal, has evolved from a firm with many physical locations to a virtual process serving company that’s driven almost completely by technology. In this webinar, he will discuss how the small- to medium-sized traditional process serving companies can adopt technologies that make them more efficient, profitable and prepare them for the future.
David Nill fervently believes, “Good is never good enough,” even after three decades in the business. Guided by his company’s mission “to propel the legal industry forward through web-based technology,” David is determined to transform the legal landscape. Whether he’s collecting feedback from customers, tweaking Rapid Legal’s portal to streamline the ordering process or driving legislative change for the benefit of courts, law firms, and litigants; one thing’s for sure, you’ll always find David thinking of ways to harness the power of technology to simplify the lives of legal professionals.
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This webinar was presented as a part of the ServeNowEDU Webinar series. To watch other previously recorded webinars and to register for upcoming webinars, visit ServeNowEDU.
Propelling Your Company Forward With Technology
David has built one of the more unique and innovative firms in the legal support industry. Rapid Legal pivoted from a physical, paper-based company to one that is fully technology-enabled that moves documents and data almost exclusively electronic. As he tells his story you’ll learn how he executed this transition both physically and philosophically. He’ll discuss the resulting impact to help you decide if a similar roadmap is right for your firm.
David's Professional Background
I started in 1984 serving process, knocking on doors trying to serve individuals in Southern California. The first area I got was East L.A. and Compton, which was fun and interesting times. You learn how to serve politely and quickly in those areas. Until about 1988 I was a field server, then I started my own company directly for law firms until 1994 with individual process servers. In 1994, I started Rapid Legal as a traditional attorney service company. 11 offices, 50+ employees, 2 million dollars in gross revenues, and technology was becoming more prevalent in the industry and the world. I took a hard look at how we could use technology and use it to our advantage. We did some analytics and audits to identify where they could improve, become more profitable, and increase customer satisfaction and service.
We no longer do pickups. Customers have to submit orders online through fax filing. We would then forward them or route them wherever service was and print them for fulfillment.
We also realized that doing everything on a transactional basis was the key to longterm success. It allowed us to reduce staff greatly, though we also reduced our revenue greatly in the first 18 months of the transition. It was very difficult but it allowed us to drill in and make sure that every assignment we had we were able to do at a higher success rate with less defects.
In the following months we increased jobs by 150%, invested in technology, and were able to pick up new clients due to great customer service. That led us to founding LegalConnect for sharing and sending documents, which allowed us to again reduce offices and employees and becoming more successful.
There’s a lot of benefit from doing the business online, but the bar is set high. When you buy online whether it be Amazon, Zappos, or process service, the expectation is that people will give you payment information. This greatly reduced our risk of uncollectable receivables. We started requiring payment information at the time of placing a job or setting up an account. This gives you the cashflow to allow you to operate at a higher level.
The expectation from the customer regarding products, price, and variance is more astute online. Having access to that pricing gets customers committed to that expectation. Pricing shouldn’t be a surprise. You adjust it and stick to it.
Going online improved our customer satisfaction. Everybody all the way down to the field agent is looking at the same documents, data, and status, attempts. So are the customers. Everybody’s looking at the same information.
You went from 2 million in gross revenue to 1.2 million in 18 months? Were there moments when you had to rethink that?
There were a lot of sleepless nights. There was definitely a concern, but we were getting great feedback from their customers. I went all in when we decided to do it. Going back I would’ve done it over a longer period of time rather than over 18 months. There was definitely some nervousness, but when I did it in 2004 things were different. It’s an easier pill for customers to swallow today. Nowadays you can make the change without losing customers today. The tolerance for changing to technology is much higher today than it was ten or even five years ago.
How did the offline Rapid Legal compare to what the online Rapid Legal looks like now? What sort of tools did you buy and build to facilitate this change and how would that potentially translate to a small process serving firm?
I would say that the greatest difference or change is that I don’t deal with a lot of paper, as a lot of people do in this industry. I don’t move papers. I move documents electronically. I still do end fulfillment by filing physical documents in the courts. We still are serving physical documents. We don’t keep field sheets, that data goes right into the system. If we decide there’s a bad address on a service the way that it used to work is that you’d mail back that document with the field notes, then they’d redispatch it. I already have all the notes in the system, I have all the documents, so I don’t need the work back. The mindset that you need to keep touching paper is something that you need to get away from. You need to touch paper with one person at fulfillment, but you don’t need to touch paper thirteen times in the middle of that. The amount of paper in the office has decreased by a lot. We still have mailings and have to deal with papers, but it’s not stacks and stacks. Usually it’ll come in electronically with a prompt for the area it needs to go to. They fulfill it, update status, and send over their proof. What it allows us to do by getting rid of that paper is that we can do more predictable and repeatable actions. Once we have that data in there once, we have it and can use it anywhere. You don’t have to redo and reenter everything. I want to ease the burden on our customers. The customers are doing the data entry ad the uploading of the documents. Then we look at it, make any changes, forward it to wherever we need to forward it, then monitor it beyond that.
Audience Question: Do you charge clients for printing costs or do you absorb it?
We absolutely had to charge for printing and prep. As much as I want to support the legal community and offer a good service, in the process serving and attorney service field, for years we’ve been doing a lot of stuff for too little pay. Yes, we do charge to prepare and to review the documents, because we’re an extension of their staff at that point. We used to do a per page pricing, but now we do it in different buckets. For service of process we accept up to 200 pages before delving into bigger fees. For court filings there’s a limit until we charge per page.
We don’t judge or discriminate on any customer based on what the account type is. Whether it’s an attorney or a private firm or someone without an attorney the price is the price.
Audience Question: Midwest courts are still behind the times. Documents are issued in different colors that have to be followed. Do you have to deal with these scenarios and if so, what’s your strategy?
I look at these as opportunities. There are counties and facilities that still require original documents. The process for us is identical except that the client must overnight the papers to us for fulfillment. Our last count was that only one county in California required colored paper, and we built that into the price to do fulfillment in that particular court. You figure out what the requirement is, factor it into your price, and incorporate technology wherever you can.
Audience Question: What about appelate court and binding?
The way we accept that is that we overnight it to whoever is doing fulfillments. There are different courts and as you get more involved you see that different agencies are having these discussions, and I don’t think that that will be the case forever. At some point they’re going to get to the point where there’s not going to be that requirement.
What is the response from the customer? Do you have challenges getting them to enter that data, and from a tech perspective how much time does your development staff spend on mitigating that through integrations and connectivity?
12 years ago it was very difficult. Today, it’s not difficult at all, in fact the expectation is that they will enter it online. We don’t really get any pushback. There is that one-off person who doesn’t want to do it online, where you try to be as courteous as possible. We have a philosophy that we have to do it that way because it protects them. They need to enter the information, because if we do it on their behalf we risk getting it in there incorrectly.
Understanding technology and where and how to store documents bring up some training things that we go through, but it’s not overly taxing on us at all. From a development standpoint we’re always looking at how we can better the way we exchange information, but you don’t necessarily need to do that. There are companies out there that are definitely doing that and can do that. I think the biggest key is having the philosophy that if you’re going to continue to grow in this industry then you have to adopt new technology. Otherwise you’re a salmon swimming upstream, and it’s going to be very tiring and a lot of people aren’t going to make it.
There’s a lot of great people in this industry who are willing to give back and share thoughts and ideas on how we as a group can offer better services to the industry. It’s about getting out there, asking questions, and figuring out how you can continue to add value to the customer. That’s the whole key to the game today.
You’ve built your staff and technology around the ideal workflow for your business and your vision for how you see process serving being managed in the future. Do you ever flex for the high volume client outside those parameters?
The details don’t change. The rules are standard. We will not take one customer who isn’t willing to enter their own work on their own and we always require payment information up front. It’s not our business strategy and it isn’t what we do. I don’t know everybody’s business so I might not recommend that to every person out there. Our philosophy is that we can do more and operate more efficiently and quickly if we have everybody doing it the same way
There are some variations, though. For the right volume we will adjust our price point, but it’s based on data and knowing how much room we have to reduce the price and still stay profitable. We will offer open credit to certain customers in certain situations as long as they stay within the payment terms that we’ve set up.
When you have a conversation with the customers you’ve got to be willing to get terms and make sure they stay to those terms. If they do, then it’s a happy relationship, and if not, then you’re gonna have some problems.
Is it a challenge for you to find folks that are going to work within your process and use your tools? To drop the notion of cover sheets and paper? What’re you looking for in that affilliate server and what challenges are there?
Great question. I know I sound like a broken record but there’s definitely been a training and retraining and trying to understand the field agent’s point of view and explaining to them their benefits of getting it this way, explaining to our vendors who have to log into our portal what the benefit is for them. I’m tryng to keep field agents out in the field where they can make more money. I started in my garage, so I totally get it. Small entrepreneurship is where this country started. That’s fantastic and that’s where we need to go. The same thing we’ve learned - the expectation that the client has and that we are dependable and repeatable - I can get you this many jobs and get you to this size. There are those who won’t make the transition, and we understand, but this is the way we’ve got to do it. In California we have less of a problem than when we have to handle service elsewhere and in the Midwest. We try to train them on the benefits and help them get to the next level. Ultimately we feel like it gives our customers better service. If we have a client in L.A. that has a job in Fort Collins, they enter it into our system, we can get that out to a process server in Fort Collins to print ad serve the paper and then update the client. That makes better customer service.
Our staff has definitely gone through a metamorphosis and a change in what they do. They are people who have gone from signing and endorsing hand summons to being more customer service and support oriented and doing training for vendors and customers so that we can provide a better service. They are doing more of that than just the traditional processing work. I have two product people and two officers who are going to go out in a few days and do nothing but train a large firm on how to use our system better.
Audience: How can process servers become vendors for Rapid Legal?
To become a vendor visit the site and fill out an online form on Rapid Legal and we’ll contact you and you can become a vendor and learn how to work with our company.
Is there anything you wanted to mention before we move on?
One thing we didn’t touch on that’s a very good topic is client or customer education. We do what we call Lunch 'n Learns and webinars for our clients. We Teach them how to do this when our clients and law firms don’t know how to do that, and it's such a value to them. When you learn how to work a PDF and how to train a customer it is a great sales tool for providing value to your customer service. Whether you’re providing good service or fast service to your customer, that’s what’s going to keep you relevant in this industry and any industry for that matter. Give them user guides. Give them tips. Figure out how you can give back to them.
What’s the net impact for rapid legal. What outside of financial gains were there?
The overall size of the company is definitely rewarding, but to be honest with you it’s just the way we conduct business compared to the way we conducted business before. We’re really providing professional services to professional people. It’s more predictable. It’s through process. It’s through a lot of discussions about how we’re going to operate and making sure those are good process. And then we constantly review. We talk about how we’re doing, is it working. We want real examples that we can track of why we’re gonna change the process. We don’t want to constantly be changing our processes. We want to make sure that our processes are going to have a positive impact. There are lots of reasons to do things that have nothing to do with revenue.
Is it almost like running technology company?
So, there’s actually two businesses. There’s the software side, which is maintaining the stability and the scaleability of the actual workflow. That’s one side of the business. The other side of the business is the file and serve business which is the same thing we’ve been doing since I started knocking on doors at 5:30 in the morning. There are some aspects of that business that are very alike and in alignment with most of the people on this webinar. It’s making sure the serves are done with due diligence, that you’re meeting deadlines, making sure that we are meeting deadlines.
What about the people who say “Oh my client won’t do that? They’re old school.”
One last point that I think is key - I talk to a lot of people in this industry who say, “Oh my clients wont do that. They’re old school.” What I chuckle about is that those clients are already giving me those jobs. Or, if they’re not doing those jobs, they’re still ordering stuff on Amazon and they’re still updating their status on Facebook. So it’s really just about getting them over that hump, and there’s some work involved. You may have to go there and educate them and really explain to them how they’re going to do it. Once they get comfortable with it it’s like you’re just getting work left and right because they now realize how easy it is. There’s no reason you can’t educate that client.
Do you have any fear of e-service replacing the process server as e-filing replaced the courier?
I wouldn't say fear. There’s always a concern. You’ve got to be very aware of that. You understand obviously that we’re deaing with due process, and that’s what we’ve got to keep in the process. We need to preserve the disinterested third party in this process. Could this eventually happen? I guess it could. I don’t think it’s any time in the near future, and I think the vast majority of papers that are going to get served aren't going to be able to be served that way.
As far as e-service on primary documents, I don’t see that in the near future. I see that as a last resort. The media likes to talk about it, but they’re always last results and they’re just trying to move the case forward. I don’t think that’s going to happen any time in my lifetime anyhow.
If you’re looking at technology assets, what outside of case management software should process servers be looking at? (i.e. CRMs) Are there other pieces of technology that process servers who are considering going that route should be looking at before jumping in?
What we do is we actually have integrations for different tools. We’re fully integrated to Quickbooks online and with Sales Force. I think it’s important, depending on the size of the company. The real variable there is the size of the company. a small mom and pop company that’s dealing with less than 100 clients could do some powerful things with some free, basic technology and software. I think there’s a lot of free stuff out there for people to use. I think the key there is to learn it. Pick up a free trial!
The one thing that I wouldn’t do, and this is a lesson that I’ve learned, buy where you’re at today. Don’t worry about getting something you can scale into. You’ll get to a certain size where you’ll need to look at something you can use further down the road. Be very focused on what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. Sit at your kitchen table, sit at your office, and start writing some goals down for your business and what you want to do with it.
In closing, it really is a mindset. I would just suggest that everybody take some time and figure out where they want to be and think about who you need to partner with and what you need, and then it’s just doing it.