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Lawyer.com: Early Adopter of HTTP/2, Speaks to InfoQ

| by Michael Redlich Follow 7 Followers on Nov 30, 2016. Estimated reading time: 14 minutes |

Lawyer.com, a service that matches consumers to lawyers, recently announced that they are adopting the HTTP/2 protocol. This innovation allows Lawyer.com to focus on page delivery speed and provide consumers with the best possible matches. According to Alexa, a data analytics website, Lawyer.com is ranked as the fastest lawyer directory in page delivery speed. Lawyer.com also claims to be the first lawyer matching site to accept Bitcoin payments.

While the concept of matching lawyers to prospective clients sounds simple, a recent article in Above the Law explained:

The reality is that finding two to three appropriate lawyers to connect to one potential customer is more difficult than one might think. Clients are generally looking for specific types of legal services, covering anything from class-action suits to personal injury, and they have specific geographic preferences, cost preferences, and human factors that influence the best lawyer for them. Lawyer.com has to take all of this into account to match prospective clients with a couple of attorneys from its database of more than two million professionals.

InfoQ interviewed Gerald Gorman, tech entrepreneur, CEO, and co-founder of Lawyer.com, to discuss their technology implementation, their position on microservices and lightweight containers, their unique search engine, and their use of social media.

InfoQ: What HTTP/2 implementation are you using?

Gerald Gorman: We have a pretty standard LAMP [Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP] stack and we've actually been operating on SSL for quite some time now. So once you're operating on SSL, it's pretty easy with a LAMP stack to start serving our pages using HTTP/2. So the big effort was to move our platform to SSL which we did roughly a year ago. And we were one of two sites in the legal directory industry that moved to SSL. Most of the sites in the legal directory industry haven't moved to SSL yet, so they can't even move to HTTP/2. We have a strong bias on speed and HTTP/2 lets us deliver our objects on an open pipe much faster. It just has a lot of advantages over HTTP/1.2. So we're focused on speed and HTTP/2 had our name on it.

InfoQ: Is Lawyer.com practicing the characteristics of reactive systems?

Gorman: We use a lot of external parties. We use our own cross-service, etc. But when we're trying to deliver pages, in the top tenth percentile, it's really tough to deliver pages where you’re dependent on some third-party asynchronous process. We try very hard to do as much as we can on our server in which case we're not dependent on third-party APIs or any other processes that might have variabilities. An example is when we make a connection to Twilio, that connection can take between one hundred milliseconds and a whole second. We don't want our whole page to be a second slower. Twilio is at the cutting edge of being one of the fastest third-party service providers. We try to do everything synchronous internally, but wherever we have an application that has a variable response time, then we try to figure out how to do it asynchronously. We don't use the term about reactive; it's just we’re focused on how we can deliver things fast. We just see enormous benefits to it.

 

We use a lot of third-party services, so if they fail to deliver within our time threshold, we can proceed without having to wait. We can time-out their service and proceed without waiting, but we see many advantages to speed. The customer gets a better page, sees more pages, our backend is easier, we deliver better customer support, the lawyers have better admin experience, we use less infrastructure, etc. So delivering speed determines a lot of what we do.

InfoQ: How are you handling big data to match consumers to lawyers?

Gorman: We get about a million page views a day and we accumulate all the data related to that to use to run our business. For example, it gives an ability to detect where our customers are for certain types of law practice. We have enough data then to do much more sophisticated matching. Our database alone has two million profiles- if you will, two million resumes of lawyers in sixty countries around the world. So we use big data to improve the quality of that data all the time. We have a good data science team that is very sophisticated at giving us data to help us run our business, to help us determine our marketing strategies, etc. We love data.

InfoQ: There is a lot of hype over microservices and lightweight containers these days. Are you using microservices and/or lightweight containers? If so, which ones? If not, have you considered migrating to microservices and/or lightweight containers?

Gorman: We're not really, given that we're focusing on building everything on our infrastructure and making sure it's extremely fast. We're not great fans of abstractions. Microservices could be the ability to lock the design in, but then we often would want to go in and change the microservice. I'd say we're much closer to a linear coding shop than an object-oriented shop and microservices tend to fit more in the object-oriented space. Also, we’re a very efficient small team where everybody, the whole tech team, sits next to each other. The communication, the requirement to containerize something so that it can be used by twenty-thirty engineers is not our challenge. If you're Yahoo or Chase Manhattan Bank, I can see it being phenomenal, but for us, a small lean mean machine all working together, we can bypass some of the overhead of that container. Other companies obviously can use it more. We've looked at Docker, we've looked at different options in the marketplace, but so far, [we’re] not excited.

InfoQ: So basically, you have no intentions of migrating to microservices or lightweight containers in any way?

Gorman: We don’t see it at the moment. When we’re ten times as big and we have multiple development offices, it could easily be a best practice.

InfoQ: What makes your matching engine unique and innovative over your competitors?

Gorman: You can understand that's pretty proprietary. We do believe that we are the best matching engine and I will tell you, if you want to be pleasantly surprised- if you or a friend or somebody who needs a lawyer, there’s two ways to go. You can go on the directories and find the names and phone numbers of twenty lawyers that seem to be related to your case, then you can cold call them and, if you're lucky, you'll end up with one lawyer that has lukewarm interest in your case after days of work. Use our platform and, on average, we get a qualified local lawyer who's motivated. We make a match, the median first claim within the first few hours during a business day.

 

I can tell you how complex the problem is. The problem is that lawyers are very busy. They often don't answer their phone. Their office staff are very busy, they often are preparing a paralegal work, etc. So trick number one is getting through to the lawyer, and then trick number two is finding a lawyer who's actually has extra capacity to go work on your particular case. So it's a really complex problem.

InfoQ: Would it be fair to say that it’s mathematical theory?

Gorman: That is fair to say.

InfoQ: What makes Lawyer.com the fastest online directory?

Gorman: I'm sure you've seen all the literature out there whether it be Amazon or Google talking about the importance of page speed, and we ran an arbitrage platform. We're a subsidiary of World Media Group. World Media Group has big platforms in travel and we're also sister company of doctor.com, and we learned first hand that if you can deliver a page one second faster, the whole economics of your business model is dramatically improved. So obviously, Google now gives massive SEO benefit if you're fast, if your mobile page loads quickly. And at Amazon I think, somewhere like an extra second increases their sales ten percent, something phenomenal like that. Since day one, we've built an architecture that's just fast and then we keep our page loads down. A hell of a lot of page loads these days are well over a megabyte. Sometimes two or three megabytes when you add the plugins. And it's very easy to just throw in another one hundred kilobyte plugin and the next thing you know, there's a law of physics, you can't squeeze three megabytes down a pipe. It takes three times as long as one megabyte or for instance, our new home page is only two hundred thirty kilobytes on a mobile device. You go and check- a lot of our competitors' home pages on mobile will be north of a megabyte; automatically four times as long to squeeze it down a pipe especially a mobile pipe. So rule number one is, we make our pages lightweight and we don't load them with bloatware, plugins, etc. Rule number two is we take advantage of all the infrastructure to deliver it. For instance, Akamai. We pay a lot of money to Akamai to deliver as a content delivery network. It's a lot faster than Amazon CloudFront and more reliable, more expensive, but it's a way to get our objects to the end user much faster so we make sure our network is extremely fast. We run in a very low latency data center in Virginia, [a] very fast DNS. Everything in the network is fast and then our backend, whenever we build code, we look at it and we say, how much overhead is this piece of code, can we streamline the code? So from start-to-finish, [the] first thing we think about is speed and, ironically, our biggest customer is Googlebot. And Googlebot is manic for speed. We like to keep all our customers happy including the bots.

InfoQ: Have there been any issues with accepting Bitcoin as payment?

Gorman: It's interesting. We launched it on the site and I don't think any lawyer has paid with Bitcoin today. So why is that? Well, today I believe there's only about ten million active Bitcoin wallets in the world. So if you say there are ten million active Bitcoin wallets in the world and, then you say, that is like a billion people who are using payments. It means [that] one in every two hundred people actually know how to do Bitcoin transactions. It was an experiment at the very cutting edge, and actually we’re great fans of Bitcoin. They've just started the program to double the capacity of the network. They've been doubling the usage rate of Bitcoin; the number of wallets have doubled in the last year. I saw a chart on your site about the sort of the early adopter phase of a business product and we're way at the beginning of it, but Bitcoin now is at its all-time highest market cap. It’s got to be around thirteen billion dollars and we believe that Bitcoin is going to be the Internet of payment systems in the next ten years. So we're looking forward to it becoming a very serious form of payment.

 

We send a lot of wire transfers and, I tell you, you have a smile on your face when you send a transfer of Bitcoin as compared to wire transfers; cheaper, faster, more transparent. It's just a wonderful thing.

InfoQ: What is the ratio of normal payments vs. Bitcoin payments?

Gorman: One hundred percent to zero.

InfoQ: So nobody has really taken advantage of this yet?

Gorman: That’s correct. I think the bottom line is that there are very few lawyers in the country who have Bitcoin wallets yet. We actually reduce the price of our service by ten percent if they use Bitcoin because it has economic benefits to us and to them and we’re happy to reduce the price.

InfoQ: Are you in tune with your competitors? What are they doing? Will they eventually follow your lead?

Gorman: I was kind of surprised. Google has been encouraging sites to go to full SSL for a year or two. Certainly, Google, Gmail, and all the Google apps are SSL-level security. So we did that over a year ago and, at the time, only one of our competitors, Justia, was full SSL, or mostly full SSL, and since then only one more competitor has come on board, and that’s Avvo. Some of the big players in the industry- FindLaw, Martindale, Nolo- are still not on SSL. I believe like two years from now, every single major site will be on HTTP/2; already it's something like fifty percent of the Internet traffic because Google, Facebook, etc. are all on HTTP/2. But, maybe our industry is slower to adopt that despite the speed and security benefits.

InfoQ: How is Lawyer.com taking advantage of social media?

Gorman: We've been on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. We've been on all of them for a long time. As a general rule, social media doesn’t work for law firms or people in the legal industry. But, you got a DUI and you found a great lawyer, you’re still probably not posting it to your Facebook page.

 

Part of the challenge is most people view the legal industry as something they deal with when necessary, but it doesn't excite them as much as Miley Cyrus. On top of that, most people need a lawyer once every ten years, so it's not even on the top of their mind. If a person is interested in a lawyer, they don't go to Facebook or Twitter- they go to Google or Bing or Yahoo and they do a search.

InfoQ: I suppose our question was about how you market yourselves.

Gorman: Certainly we understand marketing ourselves. But again, a billion people will follow Kim Kardashian, but people don't follow a legal site just on the off-chance they might learn something that's useful in ten years. It's also true of law firms; it’s very difficult for law firms to get an ROI on social media- maybe friends and family, but not so good for clients’ prospects.

InfoQ: What’s next for Lawyer.com?

Gorman: We're obviously looking at adding new features and products for our lawyers. One of the things we've noticed is that if a lawyer responds to a case within an hour, it’s ten times as likely to get a client as if they respond the next day. So you don't want to spend a lot of marketing dollars if you're going to wait a day to answer an inquiry from a possible client. So we've launched a lawyer line. The lawyer line gives us the ability to handle the frontend receipts, the frontend calls and forms and chats that occur from prospects interested in talking to that lawyer. We handle all the frontend, and of course, because we handle the frontend, we make sure that the customer is responded to almost instantaneously rather than put off with voice mail or take-a-message or call-back-tomorrow. Our lawyer line is very sophisticated because it can basically replace or complement the front office of the law firm, but make sure that they don't drop the ball. So it's a very sophisticated Voice Over IP platform and it's actually a very big development for us, so we’re excited about that.

 

We keep up-to-date on AI trends. We see some interesting opportunities in the new AI platforms to further enhance our algorithms for matching, to further enhance the quality of our data, so [we’re] quite excited about that. And we're always focused on speed. We're focused on speed and we're fleshing out a lot more value-added products for lawyers once they join us.

Testing websites for HTTP/2 support

Gorman recommends a tool to check websites that support HTTP/2. He stated:

You can go and check who is adopting it, but you’ll find Google and Facebook; they all got together to put this standard through the Internet RFC process. So obviously the big guys who are focused on speed are already on the platform and they represent a lot of the Internet.

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