Guest Column | November 1, 2018

How Fluid Designs Stays Very Vertical

By Matt Pillar, chief editor

and why being an IT service generalist isn’t in the cards for Fluid Designs’ Stanley Louissaint.


Stanley Louissaint
While his story serves as an instructive case study in vertical specialization, Fluid Designs’ service to the legal vertical wasn’t the result of some grand plan hatched 19 years ago when a teenage Louissaint discovered he could make money using his IT skills. Early on, it was more organic than that. Louissaint simply realized one day that law firms comprised the most significant percentage of his client base. The legal vertical didn’t officially become Fluid Designs’ “thing” until Louissaint stopped to reflect on how that came to pass. Those reflections revealed the early sketches of a detailed road map that the Union, NJ-based MSP would refine on its way to distinguishing itself as the IT services provider to the greater NYC law scene. Here are some of the highlights.


Louissaint’s analysis of his prowess with law firms began with an assessment of where those clients came from. Identification of the pattern was easy. Back in 2006, he met a lawyer in a networking group. The lawyer, who then went on a job interview at another firm, realized the new firm was experiencing some serious IT downtime while its IT guy was on vacation. The attorney suggested they call Louissaint, who sold them a $20k server and Fluid Designs’ then-early version of a managed service contract at about $2k per month.

That lawyer told his ex-partner at a different law firm — whose office manager was constantly fighting with the firm’s outsourced IT company — about Fluid Designs. Louissaint landed them. And on it went that way until the day Louissaint realized that law firms were snowballing much faster than the other small business accounts his firm was winning. Referrals were the primary driver. “Lawyers are a highly collaborative bunch, and there’s an unspoken assumption that if respected peer law firms use a third-party service, that service must have been vetted properly,” explains Louissaint. Still, he wasn’t content to let word of mouth drive his fate in the space. One phrase that suits Louissaint well is “all in.” When he chooses to engage in something — anything — from a client to a vacation to a conversation — he’s all in. In the context of driving his company deeper into the legalsphere, that meant learning its systems next.


As it pertains to the business part of running a law firm, everything is related to time. “On one hand, in no other industry does the phrase ‘time is money’ mean more than it does in the legal space,” explains Louissaint. “Time is billable, so if a lawyer misses a minute, they’re losing income.” That’s why most attorneys bill in .10/hour (6-minute) increments and purchase software systems to support as much. “To serve this space, it’s important to be familiar with software packages like Time Matters and PCLaw and cloud-based platforms like PracticePanther. As selling services goes, lawyers can relate to the revenue lost when these systems go down.”

Another law-specific system Louissaint became intimate with is electronic discovery. “Attorneying is research- intensive work, and attorneys take in incredible volumes of documents for review,” he says. “The networks and platforms we build for them must accommodate receipt of massive volumes of documentation and the e-discovery of those documents, whereby keyword searches, annotations, indexing, and the redaction of privileged and confidential information can be handled efficiently and handed off to another, often opposing, party.” In today’s legal environment, IT plays an important role in helping attorneys efficiently find the proverbial smoking gun.


Louissaint isn’t afraid to drop a little coin to create exposure for Fluid Designs, but he says doing so in the legal vertical requires speaking in a specific vernacular and associating with a specific community. “There are nuances or trigger words that relate to this particular industry that may not relate to others. You have to know those before you tap into the core infrastructure of the vertical: the associations, trade shows, and publications through which the industry meets and communicates.”

To that end, Louissaint actively seeks engagements that cement his presence as an IT expert to lawyers. He’s a regular columnist for the New Jersey Law Journal, where he weighs in with expert commentary in its technology section. He regularly presents and guest lectures at national, state, and county-level bar association dinners and events. He writes for the American Bar Association’s GPSolo magazine, a title dedicated to small and single-owner law firms. That raises another important point about the way Louissaint engages the vertical. He’s looking for firms that aren’t so big they have their own IT resources, but aren’t so small they can’t pay Fluid Designs’ rates. The best contract clients in the legal space, he says, do more than a million annually in gross revenue. “They’re not thinking hard about $50k in annual IT services; that’s not even a blip on their radar,” says Louissaint.


Fluid Designs further hones its focus by seeking out law firms that serve specific disciplines. “You know early on if you’re a fit, cultural or otherwise, even within the vertical,” he says. If they try to work you over on price, for instance, Louissaint says to move on. More importantly, he says the type of lawyer — the specialty within the specialty — matters. “Take personal injury attorneys, the folks who advertise that they don’t get paid unless you win, in which case they take 33 1/3 percent. We generally don’t target those folks,” he says. “They don’t know when their next meal ticket is coming, so they try to minimize their costs.” To ensure their own longevity in the space, MSPs need to understand who’s making the money. “Social Security disability attorneys and those who focus on DUIs are generally not as lucrative either, with the exception of the heavy hitters,” says Louissaint. “We don’t want the firms defending DUIs. We want the firms defending white collar criminals. We want the firms handling federal cases.”

Louissaint says despite lawyers’ propensity for legal jargon and analysis, Fluid Designs has never lost a potential law customer due to a contract impasse, nor has an attorney attempted to negotiate one. “Lawyers tend to believe that everything is negotiable on the back end — that they can fight it later, on the back end, if they had to. But I’ve never had to fight a law client in a contract dispute. It doesn’t look good for them to be sued or become embroiled in a legal battle of their own as officers of the court.”


One of Louissaint’s new passions is serving the legal field he sells to in a different, but high-value capacity as an expert witness. “It’s excellent exposure to firms of all types and sizes,” he says. The top 20 law firms in New Jersey, for example, earn between $37 million and $144 million in annual revenue. They have their own internal IT associates. At present, with a focus on smaller law firms, it’s not likely that Fluid Designs is equipped to serve tier-one law firms — nor is it likely that those firms would outsource much of their IT anyway. “Lawyers deal in liability, and at that size they tend to want immediate resolution to IT liabilities in the form of in-house support.” Louissaint has, however, worked for several of the big guns in computer and mobile forensics and cyber investigation capacities. “I am their expert. When they pull me in as an independent member of the team, I get to see what’s happening behind the curtain and understand how it all works. I see my clients in a whole different light — how they work and interact with their clients and in a courtroom — which makes me a smarter servant of the industry. Additionally, they get to see me as an asset to their arsenal, helping them to ultimately reach a resolution, for their client, in the ongoing legal matter.”

Louissaint’s courtroom experience on IT-intensive cases serves his practice well beyond the legal vertical. “When we see what’s being litigated and how IT is either creating business risk or protecting from it, we can pass that learning on to our clients in all verticals,” he says. Louissaint says employment and intellectual property laws are common examples. “Top salespeople leave companies and steal sales or client data frequently. Those cases often devolve into expensive and drawn-out lawsuits that aren’t as clean to litigate and decide as you might think,” says Louissaint. “There are solutions, such as data loss prevention and e-mail message archiving, that a good IT person can implement that go a long way toward protecting the corporate entity.” Louissaint takes so much knowledge away from these court cases, in fact, that Fluid Designs presents education sessions to a host of organizations and associations on how IT service providers can protect companies from legal risk.

Asked for a parting shot of advice to would-be law firm-serving IT service providers, Louissaint pulls no punches. “They tend to be behind technologically, which at once creates a challenge to demonstrate value and fast-forward their IT infrastructures a couple of generations, and an opportunity to sell more and demonstrate the efficiencies of new IT.” He also warns, in a way that’s careful to avoid stereotyping, that law firm partnership dynamics are highly political, yet emotionless. “The politics of partnership in law can best be described by partners’ acceptance that they don’t need to like each other to be in business, as long as they’re making money together.” And that’s perhaps the soundest advice for would-be service providers looking for a seat at the law firm partners’ table, where IT decisions are made.