Verizon announced this morning that it is selling its media business – AOL and Yahoo – for $5 Billion.
I couldn’t help but recall how AOL launched me from a practicing lawyer to a legal tech entrepreneur. The same was true for many other lawyers.
AOL was the entry to the Internet in the 1990’s. Heck, we did not even call “it” the Internet or the World Wide Web (WWW).
We called AOL an online community that we accessed via our home phone lines plugged into a disc we picked up at Barnes and Noble.
Lawyers, like myself, answered legal questions posted by consumers, business people and other lawyers on all sorts of AOL message boards broken down by areas of the law.
We could also post documents and informational summaries by area of the law.
99.9% of lawyers were afraid to use AOL for fear they would be breaching confidences, practicing law in another state, talking to someone who had a lawyer or giving away legal information for free. The rest mostly thought AOL and the Internet was a joke.
What the participating lawyers saw, regardless of risk (it as minimal), was the huge potential of AOL and the Internet. The ability to connect people located anywhere and to exchange information in the process. A natural fit for the law.
Lawyers also connected with other lawyers for referrals. I received referrals and referred a lot of clients to lawyers around the country. Clients got to the best of lawyers rather than guessing who was good via an ad.
Rather than use a lawyer in our firm for research, we hired clerks from law schools around the country. These clerks had free access to WestLaw so we cancelled our subscription, and just used WestLaw, piecemeal.
AOL absolutely took off during the time the early lawyers were using it.
From 300,000 paying members in 1993 to 5 million members, only three years later. Numbers not to be sneezed at as this was long before the day of computers on everyone’s desks, let alone Google.
AOL reached a valuation of $222 billion just three years after, in 1999.
I had seen enough, after answering questions and building a reputation on AOL, by that time to close my law office in Wisconsin and move to Seattle to start an “AOL on the law,” Prairielaw.com. Later, merged with Martindale’s directory for lawyers.com.
Sure, all Internet entrepreneurs and companies experienced a market correction from 2000 to 2002.
But the net for people, lawyers, and the people that lawyers serve was here to stay as a result of AOL and how AOL opened the eyes of lawyers using it to the possibilities of the Internet.