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Tracers Ernie the Attorney Podcast

 

“So I would say every lawyer should know about this service and should use it or at least check it out … I mean, seriously, the thing is, as a lawyer, the law is the law. You don’t win on the law. That rarely happens except in appeals courts. You win on the facts. Tracers is a no brainer.” 

 

                                                                                                                                                 – Ernie “the Attorney” Svenson on Tracers

 

“Ernie the Attorney” knows legal.

With years of experience helping law firms move to a paperless office and coaching attorneys to become more successful, Ernie Svenson has established himself as one of the leaders in legal tech. His weekly podcast, “Law Firm Autopilot,” features interviews with a variety of people across the legal spectrum.

In this episode “Specialized search tools for lawyers,” Ernie sits down with Tracers President Erik Pickering to discuss how Tracers is helping attorneys complete their legal research software suite with public and private records search. Erik also shares business and management advice for small law firms from his time working at companies like Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, Amazon.com, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Procter & Gamble. 

Listen to learn about:

  • The difference between public and regulated data records
  • The “secret sauce” that powers Tracers proprietary search tools
  • How information is power (and how to get it)
  • Much more!

Listen to the Tracers “Law Firm Autopilot” Podcast.

Show Notes

In this episode, you’ll meet Erik Pickering, whose company (Tracers) helps lawyers and investigators turn up vital information that’s often indispensable to the outcome of cases. From doing social media research about jurors or witnesses to finding missing witnesses or missing heirs in probate matters, Tracers is a service that can probably help you more than you might imagine.

Show Transcription

Narrator:

Welcome to Law Firm Autopilot, a podcast for smart attorneys who want thriving practices that are super easy to manage. And now, join your host, Ernie the Attorney, as he reveals little known secrets for using technology to earn more, do more, and relax more.

Ernie Svenson:

Hey there, and welcome to another episode of Law Firm Autopilot. Today’s episode is going to be about information gathering, which is highly important for most lawyers, certainly for litigators, like I used to be. We’re going to talk about that, and we’re going to talk about how to get information that’s not available through Google, which is wonderful to use, but it has limits. So we’re going to talk about that, but first, I want to remind you that the virtual bootcamp will be happening soon, on May 7th, to be precise.

As you may know, we had to pivot away from our scheduled live event to make this a purely virtual conference, which we have done. And as good as the live conference was going to be … which I was definitely looking forward to … it’s turning out that the virtual bootcamp will be even better. The cost to attend is lower, so that’s good for you, and we have more presentations from more amazing speakers, which is also good for you, and it’s easier to attend because, well, we’re all stuck at home with nothing to do but use our high-speed internet to help keep us safe and warm. So you can check it out, register easily, and get immediate access to some amazing resources if you check the link in the show notes. The conference will take place over three days and everything will be recorded so you can have access to the sessions forever.

Ernie Svenson:

All right, that’s a bit about the upcoming virtual bootcamp, and now, I want to take a quick second and thank our sponsor, Smith.ai. Smith is a virtual receptionist service that is great for small business like solo and small law firms. I’ve been using it myself. I have been amazed by how good they are, how easy it is to get started. Their onboarding process is really simple, and it helps tease out a lot of things that you probably should be asking people when they call you but probably didn’t think about. Smith has an incredible range of services. For example, their receptionists can speak to callers in English or Spanish. They can screen callers, they can schedule appointments, and they can even take payments for consults. And they do this seven days a week, which is pretty amazing.

Ernie Svenson:

You can also use Smith’s receptionists to give status updates to clients, request online client reviews, to call prospective clients, or to request payments on past-due invoices from current clients, which is something that you should not be calling people about. And they don’t just handle phone conversations. They also have live agents and chatbots that can help you convert prospective clients who visit your website or who contact you via text message. And they tell me that Facebook Messenger and some other services are coming soon. So if there’s one simple and powerful hack to make your practice easier to manage, this is it.

Let Smith’s friendly phone agents keep your clients happy while you work uninterrupted. And best of all, Smith’s service is incredibly affordable. Plans start at just $140 a month for calls or chats, and they even offer a totally free chatbot. So if you have a website, there’s no excuse not to start trying it today. You can sign up for a free trial using the link the show notes, and you’ll get an extra $100 discount when you decide to sign up for a paid plan. Just use the promo code ERNIE100. That’s E-R-N-I-E 100. And you can trust me when I say that you shouldn’t let another day go by without trying Smith.ai.

All right, so let’s talk today about gathering information. With me, I have somebody who I’m really excited to talk about, and that is Erik Pickering. Welcome, Erik.

Erik Pickering:

Thank you. I’m super excited to be here.

Ernie Svenson:

So you work with a company called Tracers, and I’m going to let you give us a little background about how you wound up at Tracers. So you can tell us a little bit about your journey that led you to be part of this company, which I knew a little bit about, but now that I’ve been checking it out because I heard you on another podcast, I’m really impressed. I think this is a great service and you guys obviously do a great job. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about your company and how you wound up there.

Erik Pickering:

Yeah. Well, how I wound up there is I had always wanted to do something entrepreneurial, and the last place I was at was Bridgewater, and he preaches a lot about, “Set a goal. What do you really want to do?” So actually, it’s pretty common that people have radical career shifts out of that. You know, go be a producer of movies or go to some SpaceX or something. So I always wanted to do that. I had worked at a lot of big companies throughout my career. Basically, it was never entrepreneurial, but I had run some units of companies, so I had a flavor of it. And so when I left there, I just went to go find a business to buy. I must have probably met 100 business owners and that in itself was a whole segment. It was fascinating. But Tracers just really stuck out head and shoulders above everything else.

It had been around for 25 years … coming up on 25 years … and just had these amazing assets of the founder of it was sort of a data guru and had been scraping public records back before people knew how to do that, so there was this really rich historical database and then amazing customer service. Those are the tenets of this company throughout this Tracers family of 10,000 users who are just diehard Tracers users.

So I bought it about three years ago, and that’s essentially pivoted … It was a classic entrepreneurial … very little investment, very bootstrapped. So the first year was investing in infrastructure and more data and products and front end and back end and relaunching and basically figuring out what’s the right areas to go target. It historically had done law enforcement was one of their primary users, professional investigators, insurance companies, and lawyers, but really, very little focus on the attorney space. As we looked at that, we thought, “Boy, this is a really, really great opportunity to help a lot of people.” So we have pivoted and really been focusing on that lately.

Ernie Svenson:

Yeah. Well, the name, Tracers, did to me connote skip tracing, which is one thing that I think a lot of lawyers know about. But that’s just a very narrow part of what kind of investigative services you do. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the different areas? I saw your website. You do family law, you help people with debt collection, asset identification. Why don’t you give us the big picture there with how you help legal professionals?

Erik Pickering:

Yeah. I’ll answer it in the data and how people use it as opposed to the practice areas. I mean, by and large, every attorney can use this tool to make their cases more accurate and more efficient. It depends on the practice area, but if you looked at the … There’s four categories that I describe to sort of boil it down. One is the first thing you said, which is very easy to understand, so finding people. Finding witnesses, finding persons of interest, if you’re in collections, finding people. So that’s pretty self-explanatory. But having one place to go that brings it all together is sort of the difference and why it’s so much easier to do with a professional tool.

Erik Pickering:

Then the second bucket is the due diligence, or background information, on people. We sort of call it the kitchen sink report. So you run a report on Erik Pickering and you see everything about that person’s background in seconds.

Ernie Svenson:

Wow.

Erik Pickering:

So it’s powerful in a lot of uses of both sides of the aisle as you’re not getting surprised in court by somebody’s background or even your own client’s background … because people tend to maybe give a rosier view than is reality. So that’s another huge bucket.

Erik Pickering:

Then the third one is finding assets and information about businesses. Family law is one of the big users of that, obviously, in divorces and you’re looking at contested divorce and understanding the picture of the assets and bankruptcies similarly. You can pull at that in and be efficient and have a simple … press a button and get all that data also.

Erik Pickering:

Then the fourth is … We call it the digital footprint, but it’s basically a social media report and it’s a massive time saver because there’s so many different places that people post stuff and it’s fascinating what people will post about themselves, feel free to post about themselves. It essentially is a way to get lots of information for each of those first three types of categories, whether you’re finding them, finding out about people, or finding information about assets. You can often get a different view when you look at it from a social perspective as opposed to factual perspective. So those are the big four common uses that people use us for.

Ernie Svenson:

Yeah. Well, social media, I mean, when I was still practicing law … I haven’t been practicing law for a couple years, but when I was still practicing law, I did business litigation and I was paying attention to technology and I would give talks to lawyers about, “You should check social media because it’s going to be useful.” And at first, they were like, “I don’t know about that.” I was like, “No, trust me. These people are talking about things that they really shouldn’t be talking about in public.” And sure enough, the kinds of things that people would say on their Facebook page or Twitter, and it was outcome determinative. I mean, it would change the entire … The old days, when I first started practicing law, you had to hire a private investigator to follow somebody around to determine that in fact their back wasn’t broken but they were skiing down the Alps or something. Now, these people self report, essentially, online.

Ernie Svenson:

But the trick is, as you said, finding that information, because it’s all over the place. So when it comes to social media, besides … well, I would say Twitter is obvious … what are the biggies that you can delve into in social media to help people find that kind of information?

Erik Pickering:

Well, like you said, the biggies, the obvious ones, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. Then there’s just sort of a litany of the next 10 that will come up, that often I don’t even know of them … and maybe because I’m old and I don’t know these cool places to post your stuff or whatever. But that’s part of the most powerful thing, is you know you can go look at Facebook. “Okay, I looked at Facebook.” Even though that’s time-consuming, you know you’ve covered a big one. But then you don’t have, “Oh, they have their own website and they post stuff there about themselves on their own website.” So it links the real world data to the social profiles so it can pull in all of that, which is … to your point, there’s the personal injury, bungee jumping most famous story, but there’s … In custody disputes also, people just feel free to post themselves doing drugs or other things that you don’t want kids to end up in a bad place. It really is, like you said, pivotal in turning a case. So it’s pretty powerful.

Ernie Svenson:

So when you acquired the company, they had access to X number of databases, which I’ll want to get into with you in a second. Have you been developing new databases that open up, or what is the world … Give me a picture of the world of proprietary and public databases that you’re able to harvest.

Erik Pickering:

Yeah. Let me just preamble that by building on what you were saying about Google, too. Because I think the majority of small solos do not have a professional investigative tool. Like I said, we have law professors that want to bring us into their course, so at least people know there’s a tool because it’s not … Anyways, it’s not intuitive and so you think, “I can search.” But the difference is, not only does it take a lot of time to do Google, a lot of times it’s inaccurate and incomplete so you just don’t know what you’re missing basically.

Erik Pickering:

The power of what we do is, a lot of it is public data. So there’s two big buckets. There’s public data, which is, by definition, you as a citizen can go find it. You can go to the courthouse and look up records. It’s an efficiency because we bring it all into one place and we tie it all together already for you so you don’t have to, “I found three things. Is that the one that matches this one?” And it’s-

Ernie Svenson:

Because otherwise, you’d have to go into each one individually, and that’s time consuming and bewildering for most people. So you solve that problem.

Erik Pickering:

Yeah, right. I mean, and you often … Anyways, they don’t make it easy. That doesn’t make it easy. It’s just like, “Yeah, it’s available. Go search around for it.” The other thing that … I love this example of … Oh, let me give the second bucket first. The second bucket, it’s regulated data, which as a general consumer, you do not have access to this. But if you’re a lawyer and you have a client and there’s a legal relationship there and you have a business, you have access to other data, which is absolutely not available in the open source searching on Google and et cetera. So you bring those two together.

Erik Pickering:

To your specific question, I mean, the numbers are so big they sound sort of silly, meaning we have 50 billion whatever records. Basically, we have 99% of the US adult population. And then the sources is somewhere in the 6,000 range, because you aggregate all of the … you just suck it all in. So all that means that … That’s actually not all that hard, meaning pulling all this stuff in. The real secret sauce is how you then link all those to the right people, and that is, again, not intuitive because you’d think, “Well, I don’t know. They’re all records. I’ll look you up and I’ll see these records.”

Erik Pickering:

But the behind the scenes … I love throwing the Levenshtein distance in here, which is … I didn’t know what that … One of my data scientists, he said that term. I’m like, “You’re making that up. That’s not real.” But it’s actually a way that you can look at data and score it. Say, “Yeah, Pickeringg with two Gs and the same address, that’s a distance of one from the other Pickering spelled correctly, so that’s the same person and we’re going to link that together.” There’s a ton of that dirty, messy data part that we do for you so that when you’re on there, you log on, you hit go, in three seconds, it’s all tied together. So that’s the part that is sort of behind the scenes that is super powerful.

Ernie Svenson:

Yeah. I do know a little bit about databases. Not enough. I mean, enough to get in trouble, but I do know … Because when I first started paying attention to technology, it was because there was this relational database called CaseMap that was created by some jury consultants who realize that lawyers, on the eve of trial … lawyers in big firms like the one I worked in … were surprisingly not prepared in terms of understanding their data and having it all cataloged. So they created a relational database that was prefabbed for the kinds of things that a lawyer going into court would need. Then I started studying, “Well, what are these relational databases and how do they work?” and all that kind of stuff, and … I guess you know this, but the whole key to a database is what’s the unique identifier for the record. And so if it’s one database that you have control of, the unique identifier could be a number you make up. Or in the case of the US population, the social security number, theoretically, is the unique identifier.

Ernie Svenson:

But you’re dealing with multiple databases that you have to aggregate that information. I mean, can you give us an idea of how you kind of wend it down to be able to say, “This is that person”? Give us some flavor to that. And maybe you have a story about this, but how does it work behind the scenes?

Erik Pickering:

Yeah, well, it’s tricky because different audiences want different things. It’s like a religious debate almost, in a sense, because there’s people … I’ll give you the poster child of this, is half of our users. When you type, “William Pickering,” or, “Will Pickering,” half of them only want to see if it is exactly Will Pickering. Then the other half are just infuriated that you wouldn’t show them, William, Bill, the common first names that go with a Will. So basically, what we do behind the scenes is we have … It’s a pretty bright line of, “This matches this person.” We use bridge tables in the background to say, “This criminal record matches this person,” and we do it … There’s a waterfall of 50 steps to score, and we basically cut it off. But we try to do it in a very … it’s undeniable that this is the person. We create our own ID, like you said. It’s not a social security number. It’s just a, “This person has this ID,” and we tag stuff based on that so you can look at the whole universe.

Erik Pickering:

Then we essentially open up the things and we can recommend, like, “This is close.” For example, one of the views is you basically can type in what you have and we’ll show you, “Here’s the first 16 that match 100% of what you just entered. Here’s the next 14 who don’t match one of them, but either it’s a shortening …” It’ll show it in yellow. So you can sort of choose, depending on the type of person you are and type of researcher you are, which flavor you want to look at. Like, “Bundle it all up for me because I don’t have time and I don’t know how to do it,” or, “Let me get in the guts and I’m going to pull it out myself.”

Ernie Svenson:

Right. Yeah, so this whole thing about trying to optimize the search results or understand them or define the parameters you want to use, this has been going on in the e-discovery world for quite a while, right? I have a really good friend named Craig Ball who he’s a lawyer who then turned forensic examiner kind of person. I listen to him give these talks all the time and he has to educate people that computers, they’re fast, they’re precise, but they don’t think like humans. They don’t make judgments like humans do. So when you’re looking for a document and people say, “Well, I’m going to search, and I’m going to search for every document that has this person’s name,” and we have this problem. Like, “Well, they misspelled the name. Do you want the misspelled document?”

Ernie Svenson:

So I think lawyers should go back and start training themselves and understanding digital search, because that’s really what we’re talking about here. It’s not simplistic Google search. It’s sophisticated search where you’re trying to get valid, usable information. It can’t be haphazard, right? There’s a thought process behind this. So when people come to your service, do you help them understand how to do this? Or how do they go about initially searching? Let’s say somebody shows up and says, “Okay, I’m a family law practitioner. My clients says the spouse is hiding assets. I want to do a search.” What kind of information do they need to give you to help you do what you need to do?

Erik Pickering:

That’s right. It’s a great question because as we talk about this, it’s almost like I relearn for myself why so many people don’t use a tool like this, because it’s not a one-sentence answer.

Ernie Svenson:

Right. Yeah, yeah. No, I figured it wasn’t.

Erik Pickering:

Yeah. So to your question, that truly is such a differentiator for us versus our competition. I love our competition because they’re these monster companies that just can’t get out of their way to do anything friendly anymore. And every new user on Tracers has the option to either self serve, and you can go watch how-to videos … because a lot of people don’t want to talk to somebody. They want to just watch a video, and people are used to that. Or you can have a one-on-one, I’m going to take you … One of our expert searchers gets on a WebEx and says, “Here’s how it all works. If you’re looking for this kind of thing, you ask your questions, I have this case here, how would I do that?” Because there is definitely art to it. I mean, there’s a lot of science, but the art of the most common thing is … People think if you enter everything you possibly have, that’ll help, but oftentime that hurts because it narrows people out and it’s, “If you remove this one piece.”

Erik Pickering:

We basically offer to attorneys, if you want, we’ll also monitor … If you get a no hit, we’ll go back and check, “Could we have done better?” And we’ll call you up and say, “Hey, we found a hit. We saw you looking for this person,” and that is sort of a mind-blowing experience for anybody nowadays in terms of customer service, this proactive, “Help me use your tool.” Pretty neat.

Ernie Svenson:

Yeah, I saw that … I mentioned to you before we started recording that my friend Chelsea Lambert had done a review of your service, and so I went and checked it out. That was one of the things she wrote in the review was, she said, “To give you an example of how committed Tracers is to helping the law firm clients, every morning the support team receives a report of searches that garnered zero results, and then Tracers then proactively reaches out to those users to offer assistance.” That blows me away. But that’s what, I think, a good company that does this should be doing, because you’re going to recognize that people, if they get the results, they’re going to want to come back because that’s what they’re looking for is results.

Erik Pickering:

I was just going to say … I mean, that’s sort of amazing, but almost equally amazing, if you just call, a human will answer the phone. Which to me, that’s …

Ernie Svenson:

Right. Oh, well that’s-

Erik Pickering:

That’s like just a warm place, a home-like place for me. It’s like I miss that, so we do that. The other thing that I just tie back to the previous thing we were talking about is all those things we’re saying and I’m telling people it’s helpful, and it’s sort of like, “All right, I guess it could be helpful.” The thing I just want to say to push it over the finish line is … Just two weeks ago, I was talking to a attorney who’s been with us for years. We’ve got attorneys that have been with us for 20 years, like almost the whole time. And this guy, man, he could not stop talking about two or three of these amazing things he had done. “I found this about this business and I told my client this,” and then I was like, “This is going to be an amazing success story.” He’s like, “No, no, no, no. I don’t want to share any of this.” He’s like, “This is how I wow my clients and I don’t want my competitors to know about this tool.” And I was like-

Ernie Svenson:

Makes perfect sense.

Erik Pickering:

Yeah, so it was pretty neat.

Ernie Svenson:

Yeah, well, I mean, that’s the example. Information is power, right? And there’s all this information out there, but it’s overwhelming and how you can get it changes and so forth. So yeah, it’s no surprise to me that people would need guides. I mean, I consider myself tech savvy and I don’t mind watching videos, but if I were going to use a service, I would for sure avail myself of the opportunity to speak with somebody, just because it gives you greater confidence that you’re doing it the right way, you’re not wasting time. I mean, back in the day, when Westlaw first came on board and there was computerized legal research, that was one of the things that they offered for free, which smart lawyers would use. Like, “Let’s call up the Westlaw rep if I feel like I’m not really getting the results and ask them.” And they would do the search for you and tell you, “Actually, here’s what you want to look for.”

Ernie Svenson:

So I would say every lawyer should know about this service and should use it or at least check it out. It’s like everything with technology. You can’t really understand how it can benefit you simply by listening to this podcast episode. You need to go use it, and when you use it, you’ll see for yourself. Either it works or it doesn’t, but of course it’s going to work because information is power. So how does it work in terms of the cost? Is it a subscription model that you have to pay for on an ongoing basis, or how does it work?

Erik Pickering:

There’s, very broadly, two offerings. There’s if you are closer to retiring and you have one case every other month and you’re dabbling but you don’t have a lot of volume and don’t care to grow, there’s a pay-as-you-go, $39 or something a month minimum. But then if you don’t search, you don’t pay for anything else, and if you do, you pay for your searches. Those searches go toward that $39, so it’s very reasonable for-

Ernie Svenson:

So it’s $39 per month for one search or a couple searches? Or is that just to hold the possibility of doing a search?

Erik Pickering:

Yeah, yeah, sorry. So it’s $39 minimum per month, and then every search has a cost.

Ernie Svenson:

Got it.

Erik Pickering:

Those searches … 50 cents or it could be $14.

Ernie Svenson:

Okay. But the $39 would count … if you do a search, it was $50, the $39, you’d subtract that?

Erik Pickering:

That’s right.

Ernie Svenson:

Okay. Got it.

Erik Pickering:

And then-

Ernie Svenson:

So the minimum is $39 a month, so basically $400 a year, essentially.

Erik Pickering:

Yep. That’s right. And then what most people do, though, if they’re in sort of a … I would say most of your people who follow you, who are growing and wanting to grow their businesses and run them more efficiently, there’s essentially … It’s an unlimited … It’s not quite unlimited, but it’s basically unlimited, like you would never really run as many searches as we’re giving you, which is a flat … I think it starts at $175 a month. So you can do as many as you want and there’s one or two things that are add-ons. Like if you go to a state courthouse that has a $50 fee …

Ernie Svenson:

Got it.

Erik Pickering:

… you have to add things like that.

Ernie Svenson:

Got it.

Erik Pickering:

But basically, it’s unlimited. And once an attorney does a demo with us, they say, “You should be doing this on every one of your cases,” basically. They do it with their cases and they’re like, “Oh my God, this is …” So it’s sort of done once we get them to that phase. That’s the plan that most people go with.

Ernie Svenson:

And if you’re paying $39 a month, there’s no minimum … Well, you could do it for two months and back out, or is there a minimum?

Erik Pickering:

That’s right.

Ernie Svenson:

Oh, well, then this is a no brainer. This is a classic example … And I’ll just say this again. People have heard me say it before. The way you learn about technology is you try stuff. You can’t know if it works until you try it. And so a lot of lawyers tend to think, “Well, let me figure this out in my head.” And then they come up with all the reasons why things can’t work, because that’s what lawyers are really good at. And clients don’t really like that, but that is what lawyers think that they like. What you need to do is say, “If this only costs me $39 a month …” Here’s my jog. Go run a search or think of something I need to search and spend that $39. Just go do it. And you’ll find something. You’ll figure out something you need. And then when you figure that out, you’ll see something else you probably need.

And of course, this is a cost. You pass it on to your clients, so why are you even worrying about this? This is totally within the budget of any small firm or solo lawyer. Everyone should absolutely be doing this. Now, I guess the next question I would have is-

Erik Pickering:

[crosstalk 00:26:26] Let me just push your …

Ernie Svenson:

Go ahead.

Erik Pickering:

… people over the finish line on that one. And we started this with the COVID craziness of people’s businesses shut down. You can try it for free, two weeks.

Ernie Svenson:

Oh, wow.

Erik Pickering:

And if you stay on as a customer, you get 100 bucks worth of searches. So it’s like take what you said and say now, “Why would you not do it?” So it’s-

Ernie Svenson:

Yeah, you’re sitting at home. Pick up the phone or go online, and this is your research project. Figure out how to use this, because … I mean, seriously, the thing is, as a lawyer, the law is the law. You don’t win on the law. That rarely happens except in appeals courts. You win on the facts. And all the lawyers I know who are litigators and lawyers in general say, “Law school is useless.” That law is the easiest part of figure out. The job of a lawyer 90% of the time is figuring out the facts. That’s it. Well, here you go. These are the facts you need. Or at least you need to know if there are none because that’s also useful. If you say, “Well, now I’ve established … My mind’s at rest. I did the best job I could to figure out if there was any information about this.” This is a no brainer.

Ernie Svenson:

So now, with transactional lawyers … Any kind of litigators, this is obviously you have to sign up immediately. Transactional lawyers, I guess it would be estate planning, looking for missing heirs. What other use cases are there for transaction lawyers?

Erik Pickering:

I have to plead ignorance.

Ernie Svenson:

That’s okay. That’s okay.

Erik Pickering:

When you … transactional, what do you mean by that?

Ernie Svenson:

Well, in other words, lawyers who go to court and who gather information, that’s obviously going to apply. Transaction lawyers would be deal maker people, real estate closings, M&A deals, things like that.

Erik Pickering:

Okay. So there’s the diligence from any sort of deal. Buyers, sellers. That was one of the … The guy who wouldn’t let me share his success story, he basically stopped his client from doing a transaction because he did the diligence on the sellers and he was like, “You just can’t do it.” So there’s always that level of diligence.

Erik Pickering:

So very back to the beginning when I said, “Almost every lawyer.” I mean, it really is almost every lawyer because when you take a client on and you have a system. The first thing I do is I run a diligence check on my client, and then the other people involved.

Ernie Svenson:

Well, that’s true. Yeah, that’s true.

Erik Pickering:

Again, maybe it only catches a surprise one every 50 times or something, but it’s either it saves you, or it’s a wow factor. And it really is, like, in a referral, like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe my attorney found that.” That client is happy and spreading the word about you, and so it’s almost a-

Ernie Svenson:

Right. And do you get credit check information for clients?

Erik Pickering:

We don’t.

Ernie Svenson:

Yeah, I figured you didn’t.

Erik Pickering:

Because that’s a regulatory … This doesn’t apply in this case.

Ernie Svenson:

And then circling back to Facebook real fast, because I know a little bit about that one. Lawyers were trying to get Facebook information at one point by getting their associate or somebody else, an intermediary, to friend people. So how is it that you can get information off of Facebook? Because I thought you had to be friends with somebody to see their data? How does that work?

Erik Pickering:

Well, I am certainly no Facebook expert.

Ernie Svenson:

That’s all right.

Erik Pickering:

But when I go on my wife’s account … because I still don’t have one … you can see people’s profiles.

Ernie Svenson:

Yeah, yeah. That’s true.

Erik Pickering:

And so it’s just based on … You can only get the stuff that they show as public.

Ernie Svenson:

Right, okay. Got it. Got it.

Erik Pickering:

So there’s no trickiness of like-

Ernie Svenson:

Got it. No, I figured there wasn’t, but I just wanted to clarify that. Because I know that lawyers will be thinking about that. All right, well, is there anything else that I didn’t touch on with regard to Tracers that you feel like needs to be covered or brought out?

Erik Pickering:

I just think about … Let me just say it one different way, which is I simplify the legal, like a law firm, into … really simply … you got to acquire clients, you got to do the lawyering, and you got to service your clients. We don’t really have anything to do with acquiring clients, but if you take those next two and you think about the quality triangle of cost, accuracy, and time and efficiency, we help on all three of those for your lawyering … like getting back to your point of not missing the facts and doing it more efficient. And we’re also cheaper than the big guys, so you can save some money while you’re at it in these times. And then the servicing is … there’s several parts in there, also, that whether you’re trying to collect more and you lost track of somebody, they moved … So there’s several ways that you can use this in that bucket, also.

Erik Pickering:

So just as people are trying to think about, “Where would I use this and how would I use this?” I would say it’s one of the arrows … I just love all your … You have got so many very specific, “This is how you can do something that can make a meaningful difference.” It’s one of those.

Ernie Svenson:

Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, I really do think this is a no brainer, that every lawyer as part of their … Instead of going to a CLE program where you’re not going to learn anything useful, you’re just going to get your ticket stamped, this is the kind of continuing legal education that lawyers should do. They should say, “Oh, wait. You mean there’s a way for me to get more information that could help my clients or help me when I have new clients that I want to check out and see what they’re up to?” Yeah, $39 a month, no brainer. Now, I realize a particular search could cost more than $39, but the issue here isn’t that. The issue here is you’re not going to understand this until you start using it. And clearly, it’s easy to use because you’re going to call people up if they get zero results and they didn’t contact you to begin with.

Ernie Svenson:

So my final word on this is, every lawyer who’s listening should go sign up for this at least for one month and check it out. This is part of your R&D. Put this in your R&D budget.

Erik Pickering:

I think our most expensive search is $20 or $14, so it’s not like there’s $100 searches or something like that.

Ernie Svenson:

Oh my God. No brainer. No brainer. In fact, I might go sign up for it and just start playing around with it myself. I do want to pick your brain about one other thing, because earlier you mentioned Bridgewater and Ray Dalio. I want to say that one of the reasons besides … I had wanted to talk about Tracers because I think it’s important. But the other reason I wanted to have you on is because you worked at Bridgewater under Ray Dalio, and I think people like him … he and Charlie Munger, who look at human decision making and talk about, “How can we make better decisions?” and provide some frameworks for doing that, those are valuable people for everyone, especially solo and small firm lawyers because running a small business is a difficult thing and you can’t make bad decisions because you’re not a big company that the government’s going to come bail out.

Erik Pickering:

That’s right. That’s right.

Ernie Svenson:

What did you learn working with Ray? Just give us a little background. I guess you can maybe start by explaining who he is, because you know him better than I do, for people who have no idea who Ray Dalio is.

Erik Pickering:

Yeah. Ray is the founder of Bridgewater Associates, which is the biggest hedge fund in the world, and has made more money than anybody else in the world. The numbers are crazy. And then he’s also a fanatic about management and leadership and the systematic approach to that. He does systematic investing and he applied that to the way he managed the firm and he developed 200, 300 principles of, like, “Here’s how you approach this.” And he’s sort of semi-retiring and now really focusing on spreading what he believes, and I believe also, this super helpful approach to life, basically. I mean, he wrote it with a business approach, but it’s a life approach, also.

Erik Pickering:

I was there for seven years, and he had his first draft of the principles. It was this folded up paper set when I started, and it was on the iPad by the time I left. So, I mean …

Ernie Svenson:

Oh wow.

Erik Pickering:

… I was there through that time. It’s a pretty amazing place. He’s one of my favorite people. He’s not only brilliant, but he’s just super generous and I can’t say enough about him. I would love to spend more time with you on this because it’s a fascinating thing. I would say this. The thing that people have been asking me as we’ve fallen off this cliff, “What are you doing? What should I do?” There’s a lot of conversations like that, and it’s sort of gelled in my head. My approach from distilling everything I learned from him is this five-step process of … Sounds very simple, but it’s basically, have a goal, create a plan, have people poke holes in your plan, whether it’s a coach or a friend, execute it, and then reflect on what went well and what didn’t go well, and then start over and basically change it.

Erik Pickering:

Then as I’ve been talking with small firms and small businesses, I’ve basically … to steal your term of the atomic … I’m giving an atomic approach to that, which is just pick a goal. What do you think the most important thing is in 30 days or 60 days, and just try this. Just baby step your way into a systematic way to think. I was trying to reconcile that with your decisions, and I think the way I think about that is that five-step approach essentially … It’s interesting because better decisions is baked into that, but you don’t spin on this first step saying, “I want to make the perfect decision around this goal.” You just start and go, and in the fifth step, you’re reflecting with your coach or your peer or people telling you, “You screwed that up and you did this great,” and then you make better decisions because there’s an evolution of you understand yourself and what you know and don’t know and can learn. Then you start over again. So it’s very complementary to that, basically.

Ernie Svenson:

Yeah. I mean, so many people are afraid to take action, especially perfectionistic type of people, which many lawyers are. They’ll try to figure out all the things that could go wrong before they do anything, and the problem with that is, you don’t have any real feedback. That’s all blackboard, chalk stuff. That’s not the real world. You have to go do something, then you get a result or you don’t get a result. And if it’s a “failure” … which, I hate the word failure because it implies something that’s completely negative. Really, what failure is is feedback. You didn’t get the result you wanted. Okay, well, that’s feedback. Why didn’t you get the result? That’s the fifth step. And I guess people postpone … The sooner you start, the sooner you get to step five.

Ernie Svenson:

And of course, if you want to get better results faster, the middle result, get a coach. Because if you’re a human being, you have built-in biases that are just part of the way we perceive the world. Just like there’s visual illusions, there’s cognitive illusions, and those are just kind of baked in. So you have to learn how to see those, which is very difficult if you’re doing it by yourself, or you can get a coach, somebody who looks over your shoulder and says, “You missed a step here.” So yeah, those sound simple, and maybe they sound simplistic to some people, but that’s only because they probably haven’t done it. If you do it, you realize, like, “Oh, okay. Life can be simple and we can have some good results by doing these things.”

Ernie Svenson:

So when you worked with Ray, I guess you got to see him talk to his team and so forth. I know that one of the big things he tries to do is eliminate these tendencies in a group setting, which is incredibly difficult.

Erik Pickering:

The tendencies to not want to make a mistake, you mean? Or-

Ernie Svenson:

Yeah, well, the tendencies to … In a group setting, humans tend to be even more on guard about … People say good ideas go to die in committees, so a lot of people think, “Well, groups of humans are always going to make bad decisions.” But in his world, he tries to leverage the group knowledge, but he has to adjust it for these problems of humans tending to let their ego get involved, misunderstand things, and so forth. So I guess that’s … I know from watching his 60 Minutes episode, he let them peek into this process and he has all kinds of things that he does to try to help people get over that or not let that enter into the equation.

Erik Pickering:

Yeah. I mean, that’s sort of the essence of the whole thing, meaning the whole principle process is open to that evolution and learning about yourself and understanding what you’re good at, what you’re not good at. Because then you know what to do with that. I think that this might have been in the 60 Minutes one, but I think it is the most tangible example of it and it’s pretty fascinating, which is basically the approach in Bridgewater is, if you’re in a meeting and you have something to say … I don’t care if you have no basis to get into the conversation or whatever, but you should always say … If you think you have something to add, you should always do it because you will always learn something out of that. You learn something about the individual … maybe that’s good or that’s bad. You might learn something that moves the conversation forward because there’s a different perspective. So it’s not only encouraged, it’s mandated.

Ernie Svenson:

Wow.

Erik Pickering:

The tactic that was just starting when I left was the iPads and using that to what they call as a dot. So I think Ernie just asked a compelling question that moved the conversation forward. I’m going to go in and find Ernie and I’m going to say the characteristic of that is conceptual thinking. He saw that. I’m going to score you high on that. And then Erik said something dumb that was completely off point because it missed … You were taking the conversation somewhere good. I basically took it the wrong direction. People will go in real time and say, “Here’s what Erik just showed, is he’s not good at that.” So at the end of the meeting, you can get your feedback, and also in the middle of the meeting, you can actually see it as it’s happening, and it’s-

Ernie Svenson:

Yeah. That was what was covered in the 60 Minutes thing, and I was astonished. I thought, “That’s genius,” because it’s anonymized data, obviously. You don’t know who-

Erik Pickering:

No.

Ernie Svenson:

It’s not anonymized?

Erik Pickering:

No, no.

Ernie Svenson:

Oh really?

Erik Pickering:

Nothing’s anonymized.

Ernie Svenson:

Oh wow. Wow. Okay.

Erik Pickering:

Well, you disagree with … If I think my question was really good and I think you were showing something about yourself, feedback giver, because you missed completely what I was saying, then I would give feedback to you. The point about those dots is each one doesn’t even matter because you’re going to get thousands over a month … picture of you first to become gelled, so it’s pretty insightful.

Ernie Svenson:

Yeah. No, that’s cool. All right, well, I didn’t want to go down that path too far because I really do want to end talking about Tracers. I really appreciate you coming on and sharing that information. Of course, if there’s a special for two weeks where you can try it for free, even greater reason for people to try it. So what should people do who are interested in trying it? Just go to the website and sign up there? Sign up for a demo? Call? What’s the best way for them to get started?

Erik Pickering:

Yeah. Any of those. Tracers.com and sign up for a demo, or contact us, sales. It’s the two-week, 14-day trial, and then the $100. So you don’t have to do anything special. I mean, you can say … the special thing is, “Here’s where I heard about you,” and we’ll apply that.

Ernie Svenson:

Good. Well, I definitely encourage everyone to go do this. This is your homework if you want to improve your law firm and make better decisions. Here’s an easy better decision to make. Go learn more about how to gather information in a way that’s going to help you and your clients in a really powerful way. So thank you very much for sharing all that information with us today, Erik.

Erik Pickering:

Yeah.

Ernie Svenson:

Thank you.

Erik Pickering:

I appreciate you having me on. Nice to meet you.

Ernie Svenson:

Yeah. So that does it for this week’s episode. You guys know the drill. If you would do me a favor and recommend this podcast to other folks, that’s how I find more people that I can help. And if you appreciate it, you can also leave a review. So far, 69 people have left five-star reviews. All five-star reviews, that’s all I’ve gotten, so that’s much appreciated. You don’t have to leave a five-star review. Whatever you think. Give me as many dots as you want.

Ernie Svenson:

If you have questions, thoughts, or comments, shoot me an email at [email protected] Or if you have ideas for episodes, that’s something I’ve gotten and I act upon. And finally, I want to thank Smith.ai for their valuable support with this podcast. If you want to learn more about their exceptional and affordable services, you can sign up for a free trial by clicking on the link in the show notes. You can get an extra $100 discount when you sign up for a paid plan by using the promo code ERNIE100. Okay, once again, thanks for listening and I will see you next time.

Narrator:

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