Welcome back to Beyond the Docket! This week we catch up with Derek Hawkins of Hawkins Law Offices LLC. We chat about the behind the scenes tech that makes Derek's practice tick, his experience as an Alt Legal intern, and his advice for future solo practitioners.
Tell us a bit about your legal practice. (How long have you had your own practice? What type of work do you focus on?)
I started my practice back in 2014, and I focus on trademark law. Within that, the goal is protection, maintenance, and monetization.
What is your law firm technology stack? Do you use Slack? Practice management software? Docketing software?
My stack is what makes my law firm tick. I use Slack, Clio, Zapier, Mailchimp (potentially transferring over to Sharpspring soon), Pipedrive, Google Suites, Canva, Buffer, Ruby Receptionists, and Alt Legal of course!
You are clearly passionate about branding and helping your customers grow their businesses. What advice would you give business owners before they even walk through your door? Are there any common mistakes that you see business owners making?
I’d recommend being prepared to spend some money on locking down your brand up front and avoid paying low-rate third-party document filing services to handle the process for them. Many of my clients are folks who paid next to nothing to get their applications filed and had to spend much more money with me fixing the application than they would have paid me to do it right the first time. As much as I love being the clean-up crew, low rate services devalue the importance of a trademark rights and the proper method of obtaining them.
Little-known fact: you had actually interned with Alt Legal in 2013. How did you end up reconnecting with the company?
I did! I met Nehal back in 2013 while I was studying in Germany, and wow how time has flown. I had kept tabs on Alt Legal’s progression through the years, heard Nehal speak for a Clio webinar, and sure enough, he shot me an email in July of 2016 to reconnect. We began discussing the platform a bit and in Q4 of 2016, and I decided to really dive in with all that Alt Legal has to offer.
It seems like you have implemented a strong tech stack at your firm; how do you go about evaluating tech? When do you feel comfortable taking a gamble on a beta legal product?
Integration capability is a huge factor for me. If I cannot incorporate software into my workflow directly or via Zapier, it’s a non-starter. There are way too many tasks that need to be automated behind the scenes, so I can’t afford to have one-touch software that has no place in the direct workflow.
Being a solo practitioner, do you have any advice for other attorneys looking to start their own practices? Is there anything you wish you would have known before starting yours?
Be resourceful! This is the best time to start your own law practice. There is so much legal tech out there now that makes running a law firm quite simple when you think about it. Carving out your niche is also a major key to success. Honing in and establishing yourself as an expert helps clear out all the noise and allows you to become a master of your craft instead of a generalist.
How do you simplify the IP application process for your clients?
I make the process relatively hands-off for them, aside from completing the intake form provided via Alt Legal. Much of the communications process is automated between myself and my staff. I couple this with using a case management software that allows my clients to have their own personal dashboard to contact me directly and have 24/7 access to their file. The simple answer is, by promoting transparency and communicating often with clients when inquiries arise.
If you could create any legal-focused AI technology, what would it be and why?
It would definitely be an application analyzer of sorts. Being able to assess the likelihood of success based on the contents of an application prior to filing. This would be a client-facing software. Many applications that are filed ultimately become abandoned or canceled, so I think this would help weed out bad applications at the outset and increase the integrity of the register.