An interview with Lawline.com President David Schnurman by Nancy Patterson of LITIG8R TECH
David Schnurman is driven, creative, optimistic and above all, a life-long learner. He is an attorney, entrepreneur and also a very nice guy who puts “taking time to help others” as a core value for his impressive company, Lawline.com.
Lawline.com is not only a leader in providing online Continuing Legal Education for attorneys, but they are also way out front in the e-learning revolution. In early 2011, Lawline.com became the first CLE provider to stream video courses onto mobile devices. In addition, Lawline.com has also partnered with bar associations, law schools, and CLE providers across the country in order to provide its customers with the highest quality programming. Although the company has issued more than a million paid CLE certificates to date, their entire CLE library is available for free; you only pay when you need to earn CLEs. It is also a wonderful community to teach, and as a bonus, faculty receive all their CLE courses for free.
On behalf of LITIG8R TECH, I am honored to share our recent conversation with David Schnurman.
LITIG8R TECH: Lawline was founded in 1983 as a live legal talk show by Alan Schnurman. Mr. Schnurman is a distinguished entrepreneur, trial attorney, author, lecturer and, of course, your father. What was it like growing up with the “Larry King of Law” for a father?
David Schnurman: The most important lesson that I got from my dad was he loved what he did for a living. I never heard him complain once about his career or working for himself. Instead every conversation was talking about all the opportunities and amazing things he was doing and planning. What I did not realize at the time but it certainly was instilled in me early on is I would not compromise when it comes to what I did. I always knew I would challenge myself and love my career as much as he did. He is one of the most optimistic people I know. He has a way to draw others into believing the impossible can be accomplished. He never showed indecision or fear just a conviction that his path is the right one. Whether or not he had it or not is another story, but from a son’s perspective I was always impressed and idolized him in that regard.
Of course you do not think in those terms as kid. To be honest I did not truly realize or appreciate all of this until I was running my own company. I realized having him as a role model has helped drive me to the entrepreneurship route. Also the most important value to success is being optimistic and believing in yourself.
LT: Based on the success of the TV show, in 1999 your father started Lawline.com. Do you remember when the idea for Lawline.com first originated?
DS: Several things came together at the same time. First, my dad was giving a lot of CLE lectures for the bar associations. Second, it was during the dot com boom where everyone wanted to started an Internet company go public and retire. Also while it was way before YouTube existed, sites like Broadcast.com were popular and video streaming was on the rise. Lastly, New York just made CLE mandatory. At that time there were only audio tapes approved for self study so it is pretty cool that Lawline.com was the first company in New York to be approved for online CLE. We actually worked with the courts to devise the first verification rules.
LT: The same year Lawline.com was born, you were graduating from George Washington University with a communications degree. Interestingly, it is also the year the term “e-learning” was coined in a professional setting during a Computer-Based Training Seminar held L.A. in October 1999. After your undergraduate studies, you waited a few years before going to law school. Why?
DS: My plan was never to go to law school. I assumed after a few years of working I would become a millionaire and have all the success I needed. I ended up working in sales at 24/7 Media which was an online advertising company that was going head to head with Doubleclick. What an an amazing time it was before the bubble burst, it was filled with twenty somethings who were going to dot com parties on a regular basis. I ended up moving to two other companies in the same space and I was doing pretty well but I was bored.
After 9/11 happened I remember thinking what I am doing with myself. It was that internal feeling if I am not happy I was the only person who could change it. So without another job lined up I quit and decided to become a real estate broker. While I was studying for the real estate exam that is when the first thought of law school came to mind. I really enjoyed the learning process and the topics were similar to basic things you would learn in law school. So even though I was doing well as a broker I decided to take take the LSAT and, as they say, the rest is history.
LT: When did you first decide to work with Lawline?
DS: What you have to understand is even though in 2006 the website existed with a dozen or so courses it was not the company that my father envisioned in 1999, in fact it was not a company at all. After the market crashed in 2000, having a dot com was not as fun as it previously had been. It was at that time my dad decided to leave the site on autopilot and go back to practicing law full time. Luckily for me my dad does not stop anything or throw things out for that matter. He knew there was potential there and even though others wanted him to shut down the site he kept it going year after year.
I started a public access and online TV show in law school where I interviewed entrepreneurs who told their stories. I have always had the entrepreneurial itch even though I never started my own business and this show allowed me learn from people who did. One of the companies I met was a web development company who I became close to and offered to redesign the TrueNYC website for free. At the same time I was at a second year legal internship that did not end well. In fact, when I told the attorney I would not be working there in the fall he screamed at me so much when he booted me out of the office I was literally crying. At that moment I knew I would not put myself in that position again. I did not want to start from the bottom again and most importantly be treated like that by a manager.
While Lawline.com was on autopilot it was still selling a small number of courses each month. It only got me thinking that if someone put 100% of their effort into the website that there was tremendous potential. So it was at that point I knew that was the only thing I was going to do. My third year was completely focused on Lawline.com. I only went to school 2 days per week so I could work on the site the other 3 days. I hired a fellow law student to help me with all that needed to be done. The most important deciding factor to making it happen was building a new website. The way it was setup we did not control the money or the software so we were at another company’s mercy. I knew if this was going to be viable option I needed a new website up before I started studying for the Bar Exam. Luckily, I called on the web development company I met at TrueNYC and they were able to do it for a few thousand dollars.
LT: In 2006 you presented your father and his partner a detailed business plan for taking Lawline.com to a new level of success. Was this before or after finishing law school? What was your vision then compared to what has actually happened during the past five or six years?
DS: The amazing part is it is exactly the same. I spent a lot of time on the plan and I was quite proud of it. I had a lot of aggressive numbers in there and I knew we were on the right path when I kept beating them!
LT: I especially admire the core values driving you and your team forward. Please tell us about your five corporate core values and why they matter to your progress:
DS: It is the acronym AS TED. That stands for
● Actively Learning
● Seeking Creative Solutions
● Taking Time to Help Others
● Exuding Optimism
● Driven to Find a Better way
In life, many of us spend more time at work on a weekly basis then we do with our families. Therefore, it is important to me to create an environment that you not only enjoy but allows you to excel and keep growing. The core values drive who we attract to work at the company. We share them with the world through our culture blog, core values newsletter, core values card, and of course questionnaire when applying for the job. It attracts the right people from day one. It also helps steer the direction of the company; all decisions we make must fit into one of our core values. At the end of the day it does not matter what your core values are just that you use them religiously and they are reflected in your company.
LT: Not long ago, you mentioned to me via Twitter about the upcoming ability for private webcasting for law firms. What can you tell us about this new service?
DS: We recently Launched Lawline.com 2.0 which not only allows you to watch all the courses for free, we also upgraded e-learning platform. From the beginning we built this new platform with scalability in mind as we have big plans for the future. As part of this upgrade it is going to allow private labeling of the course center for others to use for their own teaching purposes. It has a lot of cool features in the works that I believe will be a win/win for everyone!
LT: In closing, what is one thing we might be surprised to know about Lawline.com?
DS: We were one of the few companies written about in the top selling book The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur!
LT: Visit Lawline.com to begin taking advantage of an impressive library of CLE offerings.