May 4, 2015
Who says paralegals can’t be entrepreneurs? Okay, I guess no one really says that, but we could agree that it’s a unique and admirable career shift. This is exactly the shift that Janine Sickmeyer made when she founded her legal tech startup, NextChapter.
Sickmeyer worked as a paralegal in the world of bankruptcy law for eight years; first for a local firm, then as a virtual paralegal for attorneys all over the country. She noticed the same problems cropping up for the attorneys she worked for–the software was not as efficient as it could be. A lightbulb went off and Sickmeyer began working on a solution. In this podcast on Rocketship.fm she talks about the challenges she faced as a non-technical person starting up a tech company, and how she built a client base in a field that is widely not online.
The legal field, as a whole, is what we could call a ‘late adopter’ to the world of online solutions. One challenge that Sickmeyer faced was getting attorneys on board with her software, starting with those who were more open to online options. She had no technical background, but taught herself to code through TreeHouse. She committed 10 hours a day for 30 days to learning Ruby on Rails in order to build a basic website where she could show attorneys the software she was working on. This knowledge also gave her a better understanding of software development so that she could more easily converse with developers about the product.
The other major challenge Sickmeyer faced was how to reach out to potential clients and when to do it. She started with her personal network of attorneys whom she worked for and also had a list of 45,000 bankruptcy attorneys that “landed in my lap,” but she didn’t want to reach out to them until her product was completely ready.
“As soon as I put the website online a reporter contacted me and wanted to write an article about it and I’m like, ‘sure,’ so she wrote just about learning to code and that, like, boosted our rankings significantly out of nowhere. And then, I mean, from there, we’ve always been on the front page of Google for bankruptcy software or legal software for bankruptcy attorneys, so there’s not a whole lot of competition.”
So the challenges didn’t necessarily lie with finding clients, but more with getting potential clients on board with her software. They are the only solution that is completely online, which is attractive to attorneys who are interested in going completely paperless.
NextChapter introduces subscribers to the software with an easy to follow tutorial. It also provides a comprehensive dashboard that gives attorneys an overview of the entire practice including clients, case updates, fees and payments, and task lists. Attorneys using this software also have access to unlimited client storage and guided forms that eliminates redundant data entry.
Janine Sickmeyer is the perfect example of someone who went outside of her comfort zone and succeeded through tenacious focus, a clear goal, and an unwillingness to let her lack of technical knowledge be a barrier. She faces all challenges head-on and knows exactly what kind experience she wants to provide to her clients. She knew what the challenges would be in bringing the niche world of bankruptcy attorneys online, but she’s making it happen.
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