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Saturday, Sep 23, 2023

Legal Rising in Cyberland

LegalZoom CEO John Suh has been an executive leader for the online legal document provider for six years and has served in his current role for half that time. While he has been with LegalZoom, the company has seen dramatic growth, which has partially led to the relocation of its headquarters and has resulted in expansion to Austin, Texas. Last week, the LegalZoom officially moved its headquarters from Los Angeles to Glendale. The company now takes up two floors in the Glendale City Center building on North Brand Boulevard. LegalZoom serves more than 1 million customers throughout the nation and has more than 300 employees in Glendale and more than 100 employees in Austin, Texas. The company was founded by famed attorney Robert Shapiro, two other lawyers who both attended UCLA and a technology professional in 2001. The company offers legal documents for personal and business clients, such as documents for last wills, living trusts, divorce, bankruptcies, business incorporations, trademarks, copyright and more. Suh has extensive experience in the Internet field. He served a co-founder and CEO of Castling Group, helping major offline companies develop and launch their Internet divisions. Most recently he served as CEO of StudioDirect, the Internet division of global supply chain leader Li & Fung Ltd. Question: Why did LegalZoom move its headquarters to Glendale? Answer: We were in a six-story building and we took a right of first refusal on the space, so we ended up going from that one part of Hollywood Boulevard to taking five or six floors. But as we stopped and we thought about how we operate as a team, the culture that we have, the way we operate, we said, “We’ve got to configure space.” It should support teamwork and not hinder it. That space was hindering it because we were on all different floors … and we had to go up and down just to talk to people, and common errors were never really common. We were able to negotiate a phenomenal deal here in Glendale. And the city itself, (Glendale economic development manager) Ken Hitts, (and) the mayor, were absolutely fantastic in smoothing things over and really were proactive in reaching out to us. … So, it’s a very, very business-friendly environment here in Glendale. Q: Is there anything else about the business climate here that is attractive? A: It’s fantastic there’s no city business tax here. I would have loved to stay in L.A. However, certain divisions of the city (of Los Angeles) were going to lever such onerous taxes on us to be two miles from the city border that it just didn’t make financial sense. I thought Eric (Garcetti) did a wonderful job of passing some business-friendly city tax reforms, particularly for Internet businesses. (However) a couple divisions made it impossible for us to stay, separate from the City Council. Q: What is the benefit for consumers using a self-help online legal document service such as LegalZoom versus working directly with a lawyer? A: Most people come to LegalZoom for the consistency in quality, because they trust the brand and for the convenience and the affordability. Families and small businesses) do feel the law is too expensive for their needs. It’s too complicated. But the biggest issue is they don’t know where to start. If you don’t have specific lawyers that you know and trust or friends who use lawyers that they would recommend, you’re avenue is the Yellow Pages. So, LegalZoom provides a place that people trust for very high-quality services, and you can pick up a phone and you can talk to someone. The traditional system really doesn’t cater to small businesses and families, and there’s a huge disconnect in what they want, and what they can receive, the prices they can afford to pay and the prices that are offered to them. Q: What is the company’s process for creating the legal documents and making sure that they can hold up in court? A: We have a pretty methodical three-step process around ensuring product quality. First, in-house legal architects that were practicing attorneys within that subject matter coordinate “best in class” firms to review the templates, the features and our branching logic. So, it’s a combination of in-house and external. Step two, we have a separate product maintenance team of lawyers that proactively scan the horizon for changes in regulations, in forms or the law on a state-by-state or county-by-county basis. Third, we will have lawyers in 90 percent of our unit volume, lawyers licensed in each state, do a state-by-state review or our documents. Q: What kinds of legal documents have seen the most demand lately? A: For families, general estate planning is the most popular. Last wills and living trusts are (also) very popular. For small businesses, incorporation services are definitely the most popular, but small businesses are a little bit different because they have a very broad set of legal needs. (Last will and incorporation services) have been the most popular from almost day one for the company. … Over time, we’ve significantly expanded the product line, but believe it or not, the number-one business product and the number-one personal product remain in the original 12 that were launched. Q: Can you tell me about LegalZoom’s office in Austin, Texas? A: It’s built to really handle some of the explosive growth because there’s a fantastic group of people we can recruit from in Austin, There’s a very high percentage of college graduates as well as a plethora of both lawyers and MBAs. It’s very difficult to put another 400 or 500 people into the Los Angeles footprint, so we chose Austin as some place that’s relatively close. It’s a Southwest flight away in a very business-friendly environment with a great labor pool. Important for us also (is) we eventually want to move to 24/7 customer service, and that’s difficult to do at a single location. It’s a lot easier to do if we’re spread out across time zones. Q: How has legal LegalZoom grown and developed since its inception in 2001? A: It’s been explosive growth. We’re very fortunate that we’ve been able to grow by tremendous word of mouth by our customers. That’s the primary fuel for growth in the company. There were 50 or 60 people six years ago, and we’ve seen the team grow tremendously, not only in numbers but in the quality of members we attract and retain, and it’s been fun. It’s hard to imaging that we’ve gone from five years ago we did a study on LegalZoom’s brand name (recognition). … The answer was plus or minus 1 percent. Today that number is 42 percent. Q: What are some future developments in line for LegalZoom? A: There are some very exciting things coming forward about how LegalZoom can further help people with their legal needs, utilizing lawyers and working with third-party independent lawyers to provide world-class legal advice. John SuhTitle: CEOAge: 40 EDUCATION: B.A. in organizational behavior and public policy and MBA from Harvard University Most Admired: My mother, who had a successful professional career, was active in her community and was there for her family Career Turning Point: When I became the CEO of StudioDirect, the Internet division of the supply chain company Li & Fung Limited Personal: Married, with a newborn son

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