‘Why Not Text?’
How Jacob Stuart Jr. got the state Bar to agree to a 21st-century kind of solicitation
Published in 2016 Florida Super Lawyers magazine
By William Wagner on June 9, 2016
Jacob Stuart Jr. is a bit of a rarity when it comes to lawyers: He’s also the owner of a software company.
It was precisely Stuart’s love of the law that led him into the realm of tech startups last year. His company, George Stuart Legal Supplies, is developing software to obtain the cellphone numbers of Floridians who have been arrested or received traffic tickets, then solicit them via text message. Stuart himself isn’t a techie—he majored in philosophy and religion at Emory University before getting his MBA and law degree at Stetson University—but he surrounds himself with people who know the ins and outs of coding. His plan is to make the texting service available to lawyers throughout the state.
This, he says with the conviction of a preacher, is an important part of the legal profession’s future.
“There’s a Pew report that says 81 percent of millennials gather their information from mobile devices,” says Stuart, 31. “So you have this growing population of people who are getting traffic tickets and being arrested, and they don’t know their rights and certain things they’re entitled to under the law. How do they get that information? This allows lawyers to stay relevant and to be active participants in the new direct economy.”
The idea came to Stuart and his firm colleagues out of the blue: “We were spending $12,000 a month in direct mail, and we just started thinking that there’s got to be a better way,” says Stuart, an Orlando native. “Literally, we were having a beer after work, and it just hit us: ‘Why not text?’”
The idea was simple, but the road to achieving it was filled with obstacles. The Florida Bar’s advertising committee felt texting would be intrusive and violate the spirit of the rule allowing direct-mail solicitation. In July 2015, however, the Florida Bar’s board of governors overruled the advertising committee and approved texting, thanks in part to the advocacy of Bar president Ramón Abadin.
“This is a sign of the modern times,” Abadin told the Daily Business Review. “I’m happy to see a Bar board committee contemplating and reflecting decisions on those changes at the request of a group of young lawyers who want to communicate with their clients over a mobile platform.”
Florida became the second state to allow lawyers to solicit by text message, following Ohio in 2013. Stuart sees a day when it will be approved in every state. “I think it’s inevitable,” he says.
Stuart’s company, which he co-owns with attorneys Chris Kaigle, Bruce Mount Jr. and Charity Tonelli, is still in its incubator stage and plans to go “live” sometime this summer.
“Quite honestly, we thought the Bar would never approve this,” he says with a laugh. “When they did, it was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. There are a lot of things we need to do now to ramp up.’”
The idea is straightforward: searching public records for cell numbers of potential clients whose mobile-device service plans include free texting. The execution, however, has been daunting.
“We’re making sure it’s perfect,” says Stuart, who stresses that Stuart, Mount & Boylston is a separate entity from George Stuart Legal Supplies.
“We want to make sure we’re doing it legally and complying with the Florida Bar and federal law. … There’s certain statutory language you have to abide by that makes the texts unusually long.”
“It’s not for everyone,” Stuart admits. “Lawyers have to balance the responsibility to maintain our professionalism, but at the same time, we have to remain relevant and also make sure the rights of Floridians are protected. … Lawyers who don’t adapt will become obsolete.”
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