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Opera Singer Turned Lawyer Kristen Roberts Discusses Building a Practice Using Tech and Giving Back

Welcome back to Beyond the Docket! This time around we chat with Kristen Roberts of Trestle Law. Kristen relies on technology to make her almost entirely virtual office tick and has been known to record a singing track or two on Garageband. 
 

Kristen Roberts of Trestle Law

Kristen Roberts of Trestle Law

Tell us a bit about your legal practice. (How long have you had your own practice? What type of work do you focus on?)

My practice is focused on helping growing businesses scale. Whether it’s through financing agreements, contract review/drafting, intellectual property management/policing/prosecution, I aim to be a one-stop shop for my clients. I act as outside general counsel, while simultaneously helping them build the right legal team in the digital age.

However, my primary area of specialty is trademarks. From prosecution of marks to enforcement to litigation, I have done it all, and it’s a really fun area of the law for me. I have been running my practice for almost four years now.
 

What is your law firm technology stack? Do you use Slack? Practice management software? Docketing software?

I definitely use technology to help my practice stay agile in the 21st century. I use ShareFile to store my case files and allow my staff to access documents, I use Asana for project management, and Gchat to keep in touch with staff (since my email host is Google). I tried to get into Slack, but it never really stuck with me. I might try it again though since so many people love it. I also use Contactually for my CRM, DocuSign for my fee agreements, LawPay for payment processing, and of course Alt Legal for docketing/trademark management.
 

What attributes do you value in your technology providers? What do you look for when selecting a technology provider?

Ease of use is absolutely, 100% the most important thing for me. If it takes me a week to learn a platform, chances are I won’t use it. I also look for availability. I recently bought some stock in Appian, which I was really excited about, because of their low-code platforms. I reached out about getting a subscription, and it took them like a week to get back to me. By the time they finally did, they informed me I needed to have at least 25 users. This was all after they took the time to schedule a 30-minute call. I guess the bottom line is: don’t waste my time. It’s my most precious asset, and I don’t like spending it willy-nilly.
 

You may already know this, but you were one of Alt Legal’s earliest supporters. Would you generally consider yourself an early adopter? How has that affected your practice?

I do know that I was one of the earliest supporters. It was a lot different then! I was actually one of the Beta Testers, if I remember correctly, and the range of services has definitely changed over the years. But, despite those changes, it’s stayed a really integral part of my business. Part of what I like the most is the ability to send my clients their intake forms virtually. Not having to set up that platform myself has been a big bonus. Clients love that they can get information over to me from their phones, as opposed to printing out a questionnaire, filling it in, and sending it back to me via email. Alt Legal keeps it seamless.
 

Outside of  your practice, it seems like you are very active professionally, for example adjunct teaching at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. You were also recently sworn in as the VP of The Salary Setting Commission for the city of San Diego. How do these experiences impact with your practice, if at all?

They have required that I rely on more help, as a lot of my time gets eaten up giving back to my community. I’ve got a great set of people around me, especially Mary (attorney) and Amy (paralegal).  

But really, I think community engagement only helps. Running a non-traditional firm (almost entirely virtual) means I have to find other ways to interact with real-live humans. It’s easy to get stuck in your cave and just do the work. But picking your head up and seeing how else you can impact your community is good for everyone, including my business.
 

You found a really interesting and personal niche: the paleo, primal, and real food industry. Tell us a bit about the industry and how you became the paleo attorney.  What advice would you give to young IP lawyers to find a particular focus?

Finding that niche definitely wasn’t on purpose. I had a friend who runs an incredibly successful blog, stupideasypaleo.com. She was dealing with a minor (in my view) trademark issue. But the fact I could easily help her navigate the issue was a big weight off her shoulders. We started talking more and realized there was a need in the industry for quality legal help. It sort of snowballed from there.

Despite the industry changing and morphing over the years, working with these types of food companies made me realize how passionate I am about ecologically conscious businesses and business practices. Even though my client base has gone beyond Paleo/Primal over the years, I definitely try to focus on helping socially conscious and ecologically conscious companies. I like to look at it as: I help those that help the world. It gives me a sense of overall purpose.
 

Rumor has it you are a classically trained opera singer. Do you still get to sing? How has this creative pursuit shaped your approach to lawyering?

Yes. I love to sing! I went to a small, all-women's college just east of LA called Scripps College. It was my intention to major in jazz, as I’d grown up singing jazz. Unfortunately, my college didn’t have enough courses for me to build a jazz major. But, I’d played classical piano since I was 3, so I turned to classical music and decided to try my hand at opera. I really fell in love with it. I can sing in French, German, Italian, Spanish, and English thanks to my college education.

In my first year of law school, I was briefly signed to a record label, but the 2008 crash happened, and that all sort of fizzled out. I still write and record music with my uncle (who’s also my producer) via the internet—thanks, Garageband!

As far as my everyday life, yes! I am still very much involved in the arts/music. In addition to teaching and community involvement, I’m one of the lead singers in a non-profit band called Rock the Choir. We sing classic '60s, '70s, and '80s rock songs with a gospel edge with a choir backing us up. Our focus is on giving back to music education programs.

Additionally, I’m on the board of the San Diego Junior Theatre, the oldest continually running children’s theater program in the country. Staying involved in the arts is so important to me. It really shaped me personally and professionally. Performing gives me the same rush that litigating does (albeit a little less stressful than litigation).
 

If you could create any legal practice-focused technology, what would it be and why?

I’m honestly not sure. There are so many needs. In all my free time (ha ha), I’m slowly but surely writing a book on building your legal team in the digital age. So, perhaps a software that would correlate to my book would be useful?

 

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