Work Remote. Be Happy. (Ten Tips)

Juris is a distributed team. We work remotely. I chose this deliberately after fifteen years of experience as a founder. In that time, I’ve worked at creative agencies, had offices on Hollywood studio lots, in buildings downtown, and in my closet. I’ve bounced around early proto-WeWork spaces and eventually WeWorks, all over the place since 2006.

With Coronavirus, COVID-19, and pandemics in general in the news, there have been a lot of good posts recently on working remotely. I particularly like this one from Red Planet Founder Nathan Marz, “Why fully distributed is by far the best way to run a software team.” This has inspired me to write a bit about our experience as a remote team, and some of the tricks I’ve learned. But first, a bit about the choice:

Choosing remote to solve for happiness.

At Juris, we’re trying to build a “100 year” company. This is a fancy way of saying, “a company that will keep kicking ass if the founders kick the bucket.” This is doable in a number of ways, but at Juris we tend to like the version where we do it by focusing on “the happiness, health, and wellbeing of every member of the Juris Team, Juris Community, and all impacted by our technology.” Which you will find embedded in our mission. Basically, we take happiness very seriously.

In 2017, I chose to make Juris a remote company after 10 years of startup life, 3 years of law school, and a peek inside the corporate version of things. I think that the future of work is remote, and I’ve built Juris to fit. My experience since has only increased my belief in this notion. Like any scenario, it has tradeoffs. We can talk about operational efficiency and things like that to no end, but what it really comes down to is flexibility, and ultimately, happiness.

Life is short. We should solve for happiness when possible. In this equation, work/life balance is key. When I’ve let this balance fall off, I’ve found myself accomplished, but massively unhappy and unhealthy.

Choosing a remote structure for Juris was a deliberate effort to solve for happiness and prosperity. It’s not for everyone, but for me, and for everyone else drawn to the remote work option, it is very real, and we agree with Marz, it is “the best”. We hope a look at how we operate as a team who willingly chose to live the remote work life will provide some insight for those who might have no choice in coming months.

What it looks like.

The first thing to know is that “time” doesn’t matter the same way. You lose the nice clean clock in, clock out, dynamic of showing up in an office. Instead there are tasks. As long as those tasks are done, and on deadline, I don’t care how many hours it took, or where you did it. I am currently writing this in a bathrobe, at 2pm. Before that I went for a run. Who cares, this post will be ready on time.

But, time does still matter. There’s a rhythm to everything and it’s on the team (or manager) to set the tempo. Here’s how we do that:

Juris is currently a team of 4 founders. Our meeting spaces are video chat windows. We coordinate primarily via Slack, and the various departments have their own specific tools. We have stable “standup meetings” where everyone is present. In larger organizations, it’s common to do these every day depending on the team. Our current team stabilized around a couple of longer regularly scheduled meetings every week instead of the daily format.

This is what it actually looks like.

We’re always on Slack and popping in and out of ad hoc video chats and calls to work together on various tasks. As delivery deadlines loom, we spin up more meeting specific “decision” meetings, or work session meetings where we’re all in the same video chat, but working on our own tasks.

So, that’s our version. What else happens the rest of the day for everyone? I don’t know. I don’t care. But, they get their work done, and we launch products. So far, this has all been structural stuff. Let’s get to those tips and tricks!

Some Remote Working Tips:

Again, check out that post I linked to at the top. They’ve got a few tricks I decided to roll into our meetings. Like the “question of the day.” But, here’s a few things we’ve figured out, in no particular order.

1. Have fun.

This is a cheesy one to put up top, but even that makes my point. Who cares? Taking everything too seriously will break you. Incidentally, this is the key to mastering Slack (or any chat platform.) You have to think of chat platforms more like college or corporate campuses, more so than “email replacements.” For a remote team they are the closest thing you’ll have to a campus. Slack is not email gone crazy, Slack is insane spastic Internet community chat cleaned up for work. Animated Gifs and Emoji are always welcome. Stupid random channels and side conversations are important. Encourage them.

But this is about more than Slack. This applies across the board. At Juris we end most group meetings with a cheer. It’s stupid. And that’s the point. You have to try harder, and push your comfort zones to break through the limitations that do exist for remote work. If you are dealing with a transition out of an office (if only for a few months,) and maybe new software like Slack and Zoom, now is a good time to think about the culture of your organization. It will probably need some tweaks to make the leap to virtual. Have fun with it.

2. Chill out.

This relates to the above, and it is something that needs to be incorporated at the level of company and team culture: chill out. Like I said, time is different for remote work. While communications have gotten increasingly immediate, with tools like Slack, the need to shut them off and do work is very real as well. It is easy to let the quickness of the technology cause an unhealthy urgency to reply quickly. Talk about this with your team. Establish a baseline.

At Juris, internally, email is the slowest expected turnaround, call or text if there is an emergency. Slack is in between, answer when you can, but I’d rather you focus on your work if you are on deadline. Tag someone to bump the urgency just a bit within Slack.

3. Actually use the “video” in “video chat” for “meetings.”

I go out of the way to call them “meetings.” It’s a meeting, not a call. A call is voice only. Does the distinction matter? Probably not. But, it creates a difference between the time where we’re all in one place on video, and quick voice or text comms throughout the day.

Even if it’s only for a moment at the top of the meeting, everyone should jump on video to say “hello.” If someone is calling in because of their situation that day, not a big deal, but we try to be on video when possible. Screen shares are glorious once it’s time to get to work, but it’s important to us to start our time together by remembering that we’re all people here. So, look at the camera, say hi, then we can get down to business.

Also, video just keeps people accountable. We’re less apt to get distracted by reddit while someone is talking when we know the video is on.

4. Also use headphones.

Ideally ones with a mic. The software built into modern video chat platforms is pretty good at balancing an open mic in your room. (That means a mic that can hear your speakers and needs to react to reduce feedback.) But, they never quite work perfectly, which is why you can sometimes hear yourself on a chat. Headphones will fix the feedback. And a mic closer to your mouth will give you that nice radio voice, instead of picking up all that room echo making it sound like you are in a cathedral. You don’t need anything fancy, whatever came with your phone will do. 

If you want to level up from there, use something wireless. Airpods are great. I use gaming headphones. They’re a bit clunkier, but they’re great for audio quality, minimal lag, and a boom gets the mic close to my face. The tradeoff is that I’ve gotta be a CEO while looking like I came here to play Overwatch. It is what it is. (As a funny aside, I have a true radio quality mic I use for podcasts, but it’s actually too nice. It weirds people out in meetings.)

But, here’s the real kicker on the wireless cans: you can walk around. Which gets me to the next thing… 

5. Step away from the screen.

This might sound counter intuitive, but get away from your screen. Like, take two steps back, scoot the chair back. Be present. And carry on. No, this isn’t about improving your camera angle (we’ll get to that.) This is actually about distraction, and about meeting quality.

The point of the meeting is to bring the minds in the room together, but it’s easy to get distracted when you are sitting at a workstation. I have a couple of screens. I set one to full screen with the meeting feed, and I step back far enough that I can’t use the keyboard, or pay attention to other notifications.

Standing is also helpful for the next thing…

6. Over animate.

All credit for this one goes to Prof G on the podcast below, so I’ll mostly let him take it away in the video below.

If you’re the one speaking you have to over compensate. Video is missing the intensity and intimacy of in-person contact. If you’re the one leading the meeting, do some jumping jacks or something. Don’t bring your “I was just working on a doc and then I opened this window” energy to the screen, it’ll sap the energy from the whole meeting.

7. Get a space.

Home office, some kind of co-work space, a closet, whatever. It’s good to have a place to go that’s away from the rest of your life. For some this needs to be a different building, with a bit of a commute. For some, like me, another room in the house is available. At other times in my life it’s just been the understanding the headphones meant work, and no headphones meant not work. Closets can also be useful. I’m serious.

Okay, now let’s get to camera angles!

8. Set design it up.

Remember, your virtual presence in the meeting essentially includes your backdrop. If you have the space, have some fun. A good goal? Give everyone else in the meeting stuff to ask about as they’re just sitting there waiting for everyone else to show up. There are plenty of easter eggs in the screenshot above.

Also, look into purchasing some lights. My setup is overkill (I have a lot of leftover hardwear from my old life as a video producer.) But, if you hit Amazon you can find all kinds of cool, low cost, LED lighting solutions that can do a lot for your backdrop (and your face.) If that’s out of the question putting a lamp right behind and a bit above your screen is a good start.

If you use background replacement, at least have some fun with it.

9. At first, meetings might need a co-pilot.

Hopefully organizations can facilitate this, but your kid could probably do it as well. You know what, just listen to this:

10. Finally, walk around. (But further than last time.)

Take breaks, go for walks, play some video games, make some tea, call a friend. Take the time to shoot the shit with a teammate about something unrelated to work. These are the things you lose in an office. You need to find your version, and build them in. And this basically gets us back to happiness.

Working in an office is easy. You show up every day and a lot of things are handled for you. When you work remotely you have to own a lot more of your schedule to get work done. If you can manage this, you will have time for all of the above in any given day. It’s hard work, in a different way than the grind of showing up at an office, but in fifteen years I have consistently found that the people who can handle it seem to be much happier. 

Okay. Now it’s 3:45. I’m gonna go take a nap, then do a little more work before dinner. ✌️

Also this:

Further reading: Finding comfort in the chaos: How Cory Doctorow learned to write from literally anywhere.

Hear Adam and his co-host Brian talk remote work a year ago on their podcast Zengineering: https://anchor.fm/zengineering-podcast/episodes/073—On-Working-Remotely-e35cp7

And finally, if you want to help us test a product that might help out with some of your remote mailing needs, check out https://getjuris.com/mailroom – and ping me on Twitter (@thekerp) if you want to beta test.

How long can my landlord keep my deposit after I move out?

After you move out it takes a little while to get your security deposit back. This is allowed because it takes a landlord a little while to look at the property and determine if there is anything that needs to be repaired.

But unless they have a claim to make against it, they have to give it back eventually.

The question of how much time there is before the deadline will depend on the laws in your state, which you can Google pretty easily. The good news is that if your landlord missed this deadline, or doesn’t get you a good explanation of why you aren’t getting your money back, including an itemized list and contractor invoices, you are entitled to get your money back under the law.

Even if your state doesn’t have a strict deadline, most of them require the money to be returned within a reasonable amount of time. If it has been a couple of months, this isn’t reasonable any more (even if the landlord has a story about why.)
The good news is, If it’s been too long, or you didn’t get a good reason (and an itemized list) from your landlord, we can help. Our DepositLetter virtual assistant will get your deposit back, especially if that deadline passed.

Droids Not Robots – How most legal market automation numbers miss the point.

Like all the best posts, this also starts with a chat on Twitter:

Scary Headlines

There, I was tweeting about a CNBC piece talking about how technology is changing legal work, and how law schools are responding. The crux of the piece is a statistic from a McKinsey report predicting that 23% of “legal” occupations could be automated. The rest is about how law schools are shifting what they teach in order to compensate. 

The point of the CNBC piece is right on. Automation is coming, and professional schools are adapting to the changing professional landscape, as they always have. But, they’re missing the point on that 23%. Which is too bad for them, because 23% feels way too low. (They could have had a much higher number in that headline. Yay clicks!)

What they’re missing starts a step further back from the number a the question, “why do we care?” No one cares that automation replaced my hand saw. We care because these are jobs numbers, and that is important to acknowledge. Viscerally, these are numbers about how people feed their families. But broadly they matter because people want to understand the business landscape so they know where to look (or train) for jobs. Because of this, scary headlines work really well, as does my saying that number should be higher. 

Well, I’m happy to say that the lawyers reading don’t have to worry, because that “23% of lawyer jobs getting automated” idea doesn’t really say much about the business landscape that the schools are adapting to. That landscape is about law firms, and ultimately about the people they help, not just “lawyers.” And while that automation number should be way higher if they meant to portray the whole picture, the volume of work is only going to increase because of this type of automation.

The Business Landscape

It’s clear from the McKinsey study that when they say “legal occupation” they only mean lawyers, so right off the bat this isn’t any sort of representation of the actual legal market. This is literally just people who get paid to be a lawyer, and 23% of what they do can (arguably) be replaced. Anyone who has visited a law firm, even a fairly small one, can see that there are many more people in that building than just the lawyers. That same McKinsey study has office and admin staff sitting somewhere around 85% automate-able. How much of the firm is that

When we look at the firm structure, and the gap between that 85% and 23% we realize that the whole mental model here is kind of broken. It’s a fair model. Sometimes technology works like this. It comes and takes jobs from people, and in many fields those people have nowhere else to go. But, more often, technology creates more jobs than it takes. And in a legal market where ~200 Million US Citizens aren’t getting the legal help they need, we at Juris believe that legal will play out like this: technology will take some jobs, but it will grow the pie so much that even at 85% automation the legal services sector will create more jobs and earn more money than it ever has.

But this isn’t about The Terminator, it’s about R2D2. Because of the nature of the law the human element simply isn’t going anywhere. Which is why we get to talk about centaurs before we get to droids!

This game has centaurs. (How D&D is that?)

Law is complicated, which means what lawyers do all day is complicated. Within the law there are rules, but there are also a lot of moving pieces. You know what else is complicated? Games like Go and Chess. (Sorry Starcraft, don’t have time to explain that one to them now.)

Let’s start with Go. It’s a strategic game that is 1 million trillion trillion trillion trillion times more complicated than Chess. We can run those numbers because the game boards are finite. We know how many “possible moves” there are. This many moves makes Go more “strategic”, whereas Chess is more “tactical”. Across games, as the number of possible moves increases the balance between strategy (what you should do) and tactics (what you can do) shifts toward strategy. But they’re both there. Always. Where there are rules there will be tactics. Computers are really good at tactics.

Within the last few years computers have surpassed the human ability to play Go. A couple decades ago a computer beat Garry Kasparov, the world Chess champion. We haven’t beaten them at Chess since. Not sure where we are on Go, but if you followed the link above, you’d know that the world champion retired, proclaiming AlphaGo unbeatable. 🤷‍♂️

(Not in a rush? watch this:)

Humans still play chess, But, they play what’s called “hybrid” chess. (Or sometimes called Centaur Chess, which is way cooler.) They play with a computer by their side offering tactical suggestions all along the way, and the human makes strategic decisions as to the application of those tactics. You’d think that this would collapse into boring and repetitive games, but it doesn’t. Even chess is complex enough that as long as there are humans, there’s strategic variation.

So, lets ramp up to max complexity. Real life conflicts.

The gameboard for the legal professional is human life. We have rules. We’ve written them down. We call them laws. So, we have a gameboard, with rules, which generates a number of possible moves in any given scenario. Lawyers call those “fact patterns” and we study the shit out of them in school to understand how to decode them and respond.

Because there are so many moves, it’s easy to say “this isn’t Chess.” But, it might be Go. There really are only a finite number of moves under the law a lot of the time. Either way, it does boil down to the same dynamics: tactics and strategy. Games like Chess and Go teach us these things, and in turn we’ve used them to teach computers. And computers have gotten really good. Call it an iPhone, an app, a robot, or a droid, it sure seems like this ends with a computer sitting next to us.

If the future is hybrid lawyers, what does the legal market look like? 

The New Legal Market, and Pie for Everyone

Let’s get to the real questions you’re here for: who is going to lose jobs? Who is going to need to shift skillset? How do we teach the next generation? Let’s look back to the numbers from the study, it’s only 23% of lawyers, but it’s 85% of “office and admin” staff. This means somewhere in-between is a look at what actually happens to the average law firm.

At Juris, we don’t think this plays out like robots replacing jobs, we think it plays out as droids for everyone. Droids for normal people for the easy tactical stuff. Droids for professionals for the increasingly complex strategy that comes with escalation. And there are many cool projects working on various prongs of this problem. But, let’s talk about how this isn’t “coming for your jobs.”

Thus far, we’ve really only talked about what this looks like for lawyers, with their little droids following them around in the courtroom. But the reality is that the job of lawyers is to help people with their disputes. This is the real product of the complexity of real life. Normal people need other people to help them, eventually. There is no version of this system without humans helping humans, we just don’t need them all the time. It’s stupid to pretend we do, which is sort of the current charade, and it’s even more stupid to fight as if there isn’t enough work to go around.

In a business where 78% of demand is left unmet in the United States (nevermind global volume) we see a legal system that has not been able to scale. As such, it is manifestly unfair, and unequal. At Juris, our obsession is leveling the legal playing field for the average person, in order to unlock this scale. And the key to unlocking this scale isn’t droids for lawyers, it’s droids for people, and they won’t replace lawyers or law firms.

The people we aim to help with Juris weren’t going to get a lawyer anyway. Your average person is not bringing in a lawyer to help get their security deposit back. By building tools to allow people to defend their rights we are drawing new people into the legal system. They’re not using a lawyer (yet,) but they were never going to anyway. This case wasn’t complex enough. So, no jobs stolen here. But, there will be escalation of some of these cases, because that’s how the rules of the legal system work. Some percent of these cases will move to needing help from other humans. So, there it is, tech just created more work for lawyers. Out of thin air, I guess? 

The main point: see how the pie grows for everyone if we focus on people first and build tools that scale? This isn’t the industrial revolution version of robots coming for our jobs. This is the version where scale unlocks more jobs than ever.

Want to see a legal service droid in action already? Use our DepositLetter to get your security deposit back and think of it as a cheerful little blue droid chirping at you pleasantly to help you with your legal problems.

Clio, Atrium, UpCounsel and why legaltech needs to spend more time looking at their shoes.

This started here, if you want the TLDR:

This started here, but there’s more to say.

It’s been a crazy month for legaltech, with a number of big and well funded players, like Atrium and UpCounsel bowing out or pivoting to a new narrative, with rumblings of more to come. Right now everyone is focused on the efforts that didn’t work, but also recall that before this wave, Clio raised a $250 Million Series D after 11 years of operation. Naturally, all of these headlines come with a rush of hot takes, “legaltech is dead” and “legaltech is saturated” among them. They’re all right, and they’re all wrong, because technology is weird and paradigm shifts are hard.

First, some context: Clio started in 2008, UpCounsel in 2012, Atrium in 2017. We started Juris in 2018, but I’ve been watching from other sectors of tech since 2004. I went to law school in 2013 solely to have the time and academic space to look at what’s happening here, and I started Juris to get building. We’re talking about it because we believe the only way to solve the real problems is collaboration, so everyone should understand the playing field we’re seeing.

Next, I’m not here to talk about the market size, that’s stupid, the market is insanely huge. It’s even bigger than the “$250 Million Opportunity” about which I believe Jack Newton is right on. Clio is still just selling software to lawyers, who in turn help people. Clio is successful because of their focus on this fact of life as a lawyer: you are supposed to be there to help people. But Clio’s customers are still essentially, businesses: lawyers and law firms.

Juris is here to ask: “What happens if we go directly to the people?”

But that demand tho?

Okay, fine, we’ll talk about market size a little, but only because the market is made up of people. The opportunity Clio talks about exists because there is demand for help from lawyers. Lawyers want to build businesses by providing that help, and there is a $250 Million opportunity in giving them the tools to thrive. But, right now, in the United States, 78% of people are unable to access these services, that’s ~200 Million Americans. You don’t need a degree in statistics to see that a gap this wide isn’t simply the result of inefficient lawyers.

Of course, this is what each of these companies, Juris included, talks about up and down as we try to raise money to keep plugging. “This is not a saturated market.” But of course I would say that. So, why is Clio cruising while others are shut down? Because the “technology for lawyers” market is pretty packed. But the “helping people” market is wide open. Clio has kept their eye on that ball, and used it to capture the market for tools for lawyers.

Meeting the demand that is left in the “helping people” market is going to take a drastically new solution. The answer is not going to look much like “lawyering up.” It’s going to look weird. This is why paradigm shifts are hard.

Build products not services.

The market we’re talking about here is literally called “legal services.” It’s a “service” market model. You provide a service, I pay you for your time. Sometimes this is a flat fee, sometimes this is per hour. Supply and demand determine pricing. Lawyers tend to charge per hour, and they tend to be expensive. This is fair. It takes a lot of time and money just to become a lawyer.

When we think “product” we tend to think more of consumables. Stuff you can get off the shelf in a store somewhere. Because of digital tools these worlds are merging. You can product-ify weird things. And the arc of technology merged with capitalism seems to bend toward making more and more things into products, and toward making those products as cheap as possible.

Understanding this distinction is key to navigating the shift that is afoot, especially if we care at all about filling the “access to justice” gap. There are a lot of things that used to be services, and they are being turned into products. This is happening because people want and need them, and because that’s how you make them cheap enough that everyone can get them. Turn them into commodities. Not everyone in the US can get access to a lawyer in the current system, but most people can get access to shoes.

If we ever want to fill that ~200 Million person gap, we have to think about products, not services. The good news is this: the product that lawyers provide is knowledge. And if there’s one thing tech has proven, from cave paintings to books to Wikipedia, it is the fact that it is really good at turning knowledge into products.

And Wikipedia is a really good place to start if we want to look at this even deeper, because it will help us see why billable hours can’t come along for this ride.

Billable hours don’t scale.

Wikipedia is free, and it is the greatest reference library ever created, serving up 18 billion page views a month. Wikipedia doesn’t sell ads. They collect $91 Million a year in contributions to support the project. So, that’s it, the race to the bottom is already lost when it comes to charging for knowledge. Free to the people, supported by the few. But, Wikipedia is pretty broad knowledge, and so what we end up with is a spectrum of products, and price points when it comes to digitally provided knowledge. Wikipedia is just details about stuff, but there are tools like WikiHow. It’s a different thing, to be sure, but it is a knowledge repository about how to do stuff. They do sell ads, and so they make money, but on some level this also means that the race to the bottom on knowing how to do stuff is also already lost.

It’s totally fair if you’re just sorta confused at this point. The things we are talking about are new tools that live between “product” and “service”. We call them “knowledge products.” AI people call them “expert layers.” Knowledge products behave differently, so you get things like Wikipedia. But they are products nonetheless. They will trend toward commodity pricing, and sometimes that means $0.

But don’t fret, the scale builds from $0, and you start to have knowledge products that actually make money that isn’t from donations. Tools like Stack Overflow, where programmers go when they need help with code, hosts the answers to 18 million questions. And they’re good answers, ask any programmer. There, knowledgeable professionals are helping other people with very technical answers, providing explanations that might take hours to type. This volume of output wasn’t reached by billing by the hour. That just doesn’t scale.

So we think legal knowledge products are not going to look like billable hours. To start to think about what they might look like, I want to talk about shoes.

Direct to consumer, or “how shoes are kinda like lawyers.” 

In the business world we call stuff being sold directly to people “direct to consumer.” It’s not a new thing, but the Internet is allowing it to take hold at massive scale. Before the web, we had to go to stores to get stuff, or we had to order it from a catalogue. Stores still exist, but anything we’d rather not shop for, we get online, probably from Amazon. 

Shoes being sold at “direct to consumer” scale is revolutionary, both for upstarts like Allbirds, and incumbents like Nike. And I like to start from shoes because it’s easy to imagine how a mechanical manufacturing process works, and how it ramps up to millions of shoes flying all around the planet all day. The US footwear market is a ~$15 Billion industry. Even when they were just using stores they were doing great, and with DTC sales the market only grows. It’s big money to scale manufacturing and delivery.

I also like to start with shoes because that’s probably about what a lawyer should cost. By which I mean, that’s probably about what legal help should cost. First, the demand is visceral. Shoes are a big deal if you want to exist in the modern world, and, you know, go in a 7-Eleven. You probably have some pairs you like, you use them regularly until you discard them, occasionally you have to replace a pair. You’d rather they didn’t wear out, but they do. That’s probably the cycle.

Let’s look at how legal help lines up. The demand is pretty visceral. We’re literally fighting with another party, and the law is involved. We’d rather not need it, but we do. And ideally the solutions last forever. Dispute resolved. Decision made. Contract prepared. Whatever. But, they don’t last forever, new disputes arise, because that’s how the world works. And those disputes pop up, what, a few times a year for a non-business owner?

So, maybe we’re shoes. The average price of a pair of sneakers in the US is $58. The average expenditure on shoes in the US is ~$375 per person, per year. We think this is kind of a reasonable average price point for a whole swath of stuff currently handled by lawyers, from which you could get, on average, no more than 1.5 hours of work from for that same ~$375.

If the plan to commoditize and scale legal services is going to work, we think it is going to take direct to consumer knowledge products, that probably cost about the same as shoes. Some will be nice and expensive, some will be cheap and reliable, some will be clown shoes. They are going to look weird to lawyers. Things like chatbots, and A.I. facilitated negotiation. But, they are going to scale, and they are going to unlock an insanely large market, and help hundreds of millions of people.

Want to see what I’m talking about? Check out Juris DepositLetter. It’s like shoes, but built to get security deposits back from landlords who are wrongfully withholding them from former tenants. It’s affordable, it works, and you’ll probably only need it every couple of years.

Welcome to the #LegalHealth Movement.

Legal Health?

I’ll start with my own history of legal health, because we didn’t make this up just to promote a hashtag, although, for sure, go promote the hashtag 😉 But read this first so you know why. 

I’m a fourth generation lawyer, and the third generation to focus on civil rights. Both of my parents, two brothers, and one sister: all lawyers. You don’t grow up like this without learning, from a young age, to see the world like a lawyer. And here’s the thing about seeing the world like a lawyer: once you see the gears, you can’t unsee them. Laws exist to provide rights and protections. Once you understand the gears of this machine, you see it in every single action, interaction, and transaction in the modern world. Especially as things get more digital.

I’ve also been a programmer and an entrepreneur my entire life, as Reid Hoffman would say, “jumping off of a cliff and building my plane on the way down.” Thinking like a lawyer has given me an edge, but maybe not the one you’d think. It wasn’t about not needing to hire a lawyer, although that was nice. It was about never needing to worry. Because I saw the gears, I could take risks. As a business owner I had the fallback of understanding the legal system, and what my worst case scenario would be. I knew that, worst case, I would have my day in court, and I would have the tools to take action. I felt protected by the law, not fearful of screwing up, or of the law screwing me.

I was also constantly aware that my peers did not have this feeling, which in turn caused me to recognize it in myself. This feeling of empowerment and protection is to be legally healthy, and legal “health” is the right way to talk about this on many levels.

“Health?”

In the legal world we talk a lot about “access to justice” and various forms of “aid” through non-profits. These things are important, but legal health is something different. Legal health is proactive. Yes, people need a system that works, and they need help navigating that system. But, that feeling I described earlier doesn’t come from those things. It comes from understanding those things, and doing it before you need them. Above and beyond, it’s about understanding the rights you have either way, because they are written down in laws.

So, the problem is much broader than setting up a digital backbone for the existing system, or getting people cheaper help. The numbers on efforts so far show this. We can never tackle access to justice without a new way to talk about how people interact with the law. This is legal health. It’s about making it as easy as possible to know your rights, take action when necessary, and know you have the support of the law.

Legal health is truly empowering. There is a peace of mind that comes with knowing your rights, and feeling protected by the law. In my case it let me take bigger risks as a founder. Understanding your rights and knowing how to take action has downstream impact on financial health, mental health, and even medical health (if we consider the medical debt situation in the United States.) Btw, we’ve got a VLA for that.

First-aid.

At Juris we set out two years ago to “make the world more fair,” and we started by taking a hard look at the existing system. We dissected the access to justice solutions and conversations, and we talked to lawyers and counselors trying to help through non-profits. We realized that “access to justice” wasn’t simply about improving the existing system, it was about rethinking what exists a layer outside the system. This is how we got to “first aid.”

Health is proactive, but it is also reactive. We want to stay healthy, but sometimes we need tools to heal. If you get a small cut on your finger you don’t go to a doctor or the emergency room right away. You start smaller. Visit a pharmacy, get a band-aid, maybe grab any one of a number of brand name painkillers to bring the swelling down. At Juris we realized that this is the place to start if we want to have an impact. We call what we’ve been building “over the counter” legal services. They’re the Band-Aids and Tylenol of our system. People will always need to patch things up.

But first aid is about more than stuff you get at the pharmacy. First aid is also about knowing what to do. It’s about promoting the idea that anyone can learn a thing or two to catch problems before they start, or before they escalate, just in case. Remembering to wash your hands, having some emergency supplies around, putting a few hours into a Red Cross class, or just knowing you can take an aspirin all count. First aid is about knowing and understanding, just like the feeling of legal health I mentioned before. And anything that is about understanding will require teachers.

We’ve been excited during this time to see other leaders, and teachers in their own right, such as Richard Susskind emerge with a similar message: we need tools, but we also need people.

Tools and People.

Juris is building what we call Virtual Legal Assistants or VLAs: digital systems, able to interact with a user, take the details of their case, and respond with advice or proactive next steps. Per our mission, we’re building them with maximum access in mind, and legal health at the core. These are the tools. They give people the means to take action when need be, and the confidence that they can handle it.

Through digitization, automation, and A.I. we are able to bring the price of legal services that used to cost thousands of dollars down to double or even single digit flat fees. We’ve built things like DepositLetter, which lets a user start with a few questions, answered online, and ends with a tracked letter automatically mailed to the user’s former landlord demanding their illegally withheld deposit back. At each step Juris works as hard to provide the right legal course of action as we do to explain to the user why, answer common questions, and provide updates as quickly as possible.

Still, we’re talking about people, having disputes with other people. This is a fundamentally human problem. There is no fully automated future here. (Although, we should probably do online courses so they can spread.) The first part, the DepositLetters, that’s just antibiotics. Helping the user heal. The second part is legal health, equipping users with the understanding for next time, because there will be a next time.

Juris is committed to legal health as we build the band-aids, but we are also aware that the problem is too big. We can never get the band-aids to people without the broader conversation about legal health, on all levels. The whole community needs to spread the word. Which is why we’re starting with #legalhealth.

Our idea has always been that legal services should be as accessible and usable as the web itself, open to anyone with an Internet connection. When it comes to ways to talk to one another, Twitter has already pulled off open and accessible, so we think it’s a good place to start talking. Facebook, Instagram, anywhere you can catch a hashtag, that’ll work too. Look for #legalhealth, and jump in with your questions, considerations, dank memes, gifs, jifs, Geoffs, whatever.

On Twitter: use #legalhealth, or @getjuris and let’s talk.

Sincerely,

Adam

The Juris Blog is Back.

If you’ve been following Juris since the beginning, you’ll know that things started with our team writing about the changes we wanted to see. (You can still check that stuff out on our publications page, btw.) We’ve been building for a while, and now we’ve got a lot more to say. A blog is way easier than publishing whitepapers and ebooks, and so we say:

Welcome back to the Juris Blog! (The Juris Podcast isn’t far behind.) We’re going to be publishing stuff here regularly. You’ll get perspectives from our work as technologists at the edge of access to justice, questions from our users, legal health tips, and conversations with founders working on technology in the same space. In fact, we never stopped writing, so we’ve already got a bunch of content we’ve produced as we’ve been working on our first tools, DebtLetter and DepositLetter.

If you haven’t already signed up for our newsletter at the bottom of this page, you should do that too. We’ll be keeping everyone updated about new posts, and new pods.

Also, follow on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, wherever you like to connect!

Thanks for reading!

~ Adam

Security deposit withholding is a gigantic problem.

Blog Header - Security Deposit Ideas

More U.S. households are renting now than at any point in the last 50 years. There are 43.3 million American households currently renting their apartment or house.1

Pretty much every landlord renting out an apartment or house requires each tenant to give them a security deposit. So let’s say there are 40 million American households that have given hundreds or thousands of dollars to their landlord as a deposit.

This deposit is supposed to be used by the landlord for very specific purposes. The most common purposes are to cover unpaid rent, to fix excessive damage to the rental caused by the tenant, and to cover violations of the rental agreement.

The problem arises when the tenant moves out. And lots of people are moving out, which means this problem is happening to lots of people. In 2018, more than 21.4 million Americans moved out of their rented apartment or house.2

When a renter moves out, their landlord has to decide how much of the deposit they’ll keep. The basis of this decision is subjective. As an example, some think a one inch hole in the wall is “ordinary” damage, which means the landlord should pay the cost of fixing it. Others might think a hole of that size is “excessive” damage, which means the tenant’s deposit should pay the cost of fixing it. The final piece to call out is that landlords are running businesses, and they want to make money. To summarize the situation:

  • The landlord is running a business and wants to make money.
  • The landlord is holding a big pile of the tenant’s money.
  • The landlord gets to decide how much of this money to keep.
  • The criteria the landlord uses to make this decision are subjective.

  • You can see how the elements of this situation tend to create an unfair outcome for the tenant. Landlords frequently withhold tenants’ security deposits without good reason.

    So here are some key takeaways to understand:

    • If your landlord is giving you a hard time about your security deposit, you are not alone. Millions of Americans deal with this problem every year.
    • Landlords often try to keep an unfair amount of their tenants’ security deposits. When they say you can’t get it back, they might be wrong. You need to get back the money to which you are legally entitled.
    • You have powerful legal rights designed to protect you from being taken advantage of. State lawmakers know about this problem and have passed laws to help tenants. Juris has made enforcing these rights pretty simple. We would love to help.

    Juris is a public benefit corporation because we want to change the world.

    You may have noticed that our name, Juris, is sometimes followed by the letters PBC, like this: Juris, PBC. That’s our company’s full legal name. You’re probably more used to seeing other letters after a company’s name, like Inc. or LLC. The letters PBC are meant to tell the world that Juris is a different kind of company. Juris is a public benefit corporation. The co-founders of Juris decided to form the company as a public benefit corporation because they care about more than making money. They wanted to put our social impact mission into the DNA of the company, so that all current and future stakeholders in Juris would understand its importance.

    Typical companies are required to make as much money as possible.

    In America, when you start a company you usually have to decide on a set of rules that will govern how the company is run. You have to decide things like who will make the decisions, who will do what work, and, perhaps most importantly, what the goals of the company will be. Usually you write these rules down and submit them to a state like Delaware, and then Delaware records that you’ve started a company. At that time, you also choose what kind of company you will create from the options that Delaware offers. The different kinds of companies are obligated to follow certain rules, so this decision also affects the rules of your company. In Delaware, you can choose to form a limited liability company, or a a limited partnership,  or a limited liability partnership, or something else. But the most prominent kind is a corporation.

    A typical corporation holds one goal above all others: maximize shareholder value. That’s a fancy way of saying: make as much money as possible. And lawmakers and judges have approved this setup again and again over time. They’ve said that the most important goal of a company is to make as much money as possible. They’ve even said that failing to make as much money as possible is a violation of the law and/or the company’s rules. Lately, there’s been some resistance to this way of doing things but for the most part it’s the accepted way of doing things.

    A PBC is a new kind of company that is not required to make as much money as possible.

    In 2012, the leaders of Patagonia, the outdoor clothing and gear corporation, took a hard look at the effects of pursuing money over all else. They specifically looked at the environmental damage caused each year on a massive scale by companies chasing profits over all else. And they decided that they had to take a drastic step. They decided they had to change the rules.

    Patagonia was the first major company that chose to become a public benefit corporation. To achieve this, the leaders of the company wrote a new set of rules. These rules stated clearly that the goal of the company was to make money, yes, but also to make a positive social impact on the world. And, critically, these new rules stated that the company’s leaders could prioritize this positive social impact over maximizing shareholder value. Shareholders could no longer compel Patagonia’s leadership to make decisions on the sole basis of making as much money as possible.

    Since Patagonia made this bold move, many other companies have followed suit. Companies like Kickstarter, Ben & Jerry’s, and Allbirds have chosen to organize as public benefit corporations, with the dual goals of making money and making positive impacts.

    Juris is a public benefit corporation because its co-founders want to change the world.

    Our company was born out of the frustration of our Chairman, Saul Kerpelman, who spent 35 years in Baltimore courtrooms representing children who suffered from brain damage after they ate lead paint that never should have been in their homes. Over that time, Saul witnessed a civil justice system that too often fails the vast majority of Americans. He helped thousands of families, but the problem looms large today. 78% of Americans don’t use our country’s civil justice system. They can’t afford justice or don’t know how to get it. The co-founders of Juris founded the company because they wanted to help fix that problem. They wanted to make the world more fair. And they believed that pure pursuit of profit maximization is not the best way to achieve that goal.

    You can check out the rules yourself that the co-founders wrote down at the inception of the company. We’ve made them available here: Juris, PBC Articles of IncorporationArticle III, Section B(2) states, “Juris will bring effective, peaceful, fair, and balanced dispute resolution and civil justice to the billions without access due to circumstances economic, political, or otherwise.” That’s our mission.

    Juris chose to become a PBC so that it would be legally obligated to abide by certain rules.

    Delaware law requires that PBCs articulate their social impact mission in their company rules. We already covered that one above.

    Delaware law requires that PBCs issue a statement at least once every two years describing the progress it has made toward achieving its social impact mission. Juris looks forward to issuing its first social impact statement in 2020.

    Delaware law also requires that the leadership of PBCs balance maximizing profits with the best interests of those affected by the company’s conduct and the specific public benefits the company articulated in its Articles of Incorporation. The leadership of Juris thinks about this duty every day, and it guides their decision-making at all times. If shareholders feel the leadership is not fulfilling this duty, they can sue Juris in court.

    We care about more than just making money. We want to help people. We want to provide access to justice to the millions in America and billions worldwide who can’t get it today. And our decision to incorporate as a PBC means that we have the structural latitude to pursue that mission unencumbered. It means we won’t be forced by greedy stakeholders to start compromising our social mission in favor of our financial one.

    So here are some key takeaways to understand.

    1. Juris is a public benefit corporation because its co-founders want to make the world more fair, and don’t think pure maximization of profits is the way to do that.
    2. Public benefit corporations are different from typical corporations in that the leaders of PBCs aren’t obligated to maximize profits above all else.
    3. The leadership of Juris (1) has articulated the social impact mission of Juris in its founding document, (2) will issue biennial statements on its social impact progress, and (3) is legally obligated to balance profit maximization against social impact.

    Debt collection harassment is a gigantic problem.​

    The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a U.S. government agency that’s supposed to help Americans with money stuff. As part of this mission, they conducted a survey in 2015. They contacted thousands of Americans and asked them a bunch of questions about one subject: debt collection. 2,132 people responded, and what they said was shocking.

    • 1 in 3 said they’d been contacted in the past year by someone trying to collect on a debt.
    • 1 in 5 said they’d been contacted about a debt and the most recent collector contacted them too frequently. 
    • 1 in 6 said they’d been contacted about a debt that was wrong in some way. It either wasn’t theirs, it was owed by a family member, or it was for the wrong amount.1

    This all gets a lot more shocking when you consider that this survey was designed to indicate what Americans are experiencing nationwide. The CFPB took these answers and extrapolated them to all Americans. What they found was very shocking.

    • More than 70 million Americans were contacted in the past year by someone trying to collect on a debt.
    • More than 44 million Americans were contacted about a debt and the most recent collector contacted them too frequently.
    • More than 37 million Americans were contacted about a debt in the past year that was wrong in some way. It either wasn’t theirs, it was owed by a family member, or it was for the wrong amount.

    These findings are in line with other studies too. In 2013, a study by the Urban Institute found that 77 million Americans have a debt in collections.2 ACA International, which represents creditors and debt collectors, estimates their industry “makes in excess of one billion consumer contacts annually.”3

    So here are some key takeaways to understand.

    1. If you’re being called by a debt collector, you are not alone. 70 million Americans are contacted each year.
    2. Debt collectors often get things wrong. When they say you owe them money, you need to ask for proof. 37 million Americans are contacted each year about debts they don’t believe they owe.
    3. You have powerful legal rights designed to protect you from harassment. Juris has made enforcing these rights pretty simple. We would love to help.

    Security deposit withholding is a gigantic problem.

    More U.S. households are renting now than at any point in the last 50 years. There are 43.3 million American households currently renting their apartment or house.1

    Pretty much every landlord renting out an apartment or house requires each tenant to give them a security deposit. So let’s say there are 40 million American households that have given hundreds or thousands of dollars to their landlord as a deposit. 

    This deposit is supposed to be used by the landlord for very specific purposes. The most common purposes are to cover unpaid rent, to fix excessive damage to the rental caused by the tenant, and to cover violations of the rental agreement.

    The problem arises when the tenant moves out. And lots of people are moving out, which means this problem is happening to lots of people. In 2018, more than 21.4 million Americans moved out of their rented apartment or house.2

    When a renter moves out, their landlord has to decide how much of the deposit they’ll keep. The basis of this decision is subjective. As an example, some think a one inch hole in the wall is “ordinary” damage, which means the landlord should pay the cost of fixing it. Others might think a hole of that size is “excessive” damage, which means the tenant’s deposit should pay the cost of fixing it. The final piece to call out is that landlords are running businesses, and they want to make money. To summarize the situation:

    • The landlord is running a business and wants to make money.
    • The landlord is holding a big pile of the tenant’s money.
    • The landlord gets to decide how much of this money to keep.
    • The criteria the landlord uses to make this decision are subjective.

    You can see how the elements of this situation tend to create an unfair outcome for the tenant. Landlords frequently withhold tenants’ security deposits without good reason.

    So here are some key takeaways to understand.

    1. If your landlord is giving you a hard time about your security deposit, you are not alone. Millions of Americans deal with this problem every year.
    2. Landlords often try to keep an unfair amount of their tenants’ security deposits. When they say you can’t get it back, they might be wrong. You need to get back the money to which you are legally entitled.
    3. You have powerful legal rights designed to protect you from being taken advantage of. State lawmakers know about this problem and have passed laws to help tenants. Juris has made enforcing these rights pretty simple. We would love to help.