By Aisling Swift
Carol Thompson-Finn didn’t want to follow the traditional route and get pigeon-holed into the corporate track after she finished law school.
So, she opted to focus on the non-traditional side of the law.
“I noticed that so many of my friends were getting burned out working for the larger firms and billing the long hours,” said Thompson-Finn, 46, a graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “I knew that was not the life I wanted. I needed a work-life balance.”
But she got an offer she couldn’t refuse in 2005, a yearlong clerkship on the Mississippi State Supreme Court. It was during the end of her tenure as a law clerk that she started to explore areas of entrepreneurship — and the idea for a legal forms startup, MyLegalEdge LLC, was born.
Due to her passion for research, she continued to build on that experience, working at the Superior Court of Maricopa County, Arizona, first as the legal forms coordinator and then as a deputy criminal court administrator; at legal publisher Commerce Clearing House (CCH); and Lexis-Nexis, the nation’s top research platform.
“I love research and writing,” she says. “I love to get into the weeds and find the answers. “Because of my experience in the legal forms industry, it was my thought that I could improve upon the processes that consumers find valuable, such as locating the forms and the amount of forms offered.”
When her husband refused to leave Naples, she set up MyLegalEdge here and later moved into the Naples Accelerator.
“I found my passion was being an entrepreneur. It was the perfect fit, combining the law and technology. It’s been a wonderful experience moving into the Naples Accelerator,” she says, citing a “tremendous amount of support and resources” from mentors, the staff and Collier County.
MyLegalEdge offers forms for every state and is constantly being updated. Estate planning forms, living trusts, power of attorney forms, name changes, premarital agreements are among the popular forms — and Thompson-Finn wants to ensure MyLegalEdge satisfies every legal need.
For residents and families who make Florida home for part of the year, the website offers a valuable service by not only offering Florida forms, but forms for the other 49 states, as well.
For example, many people don’t bother with estate planning until it’s too late.
According to legal publisher LexisNexis, about 55 percent of U.S. adults have no will or plan for the transfer of assets when they die. Among African-Americans, the number jumps to 68 percent, and even higher for Hispanics, 74 percent.
As a result, grieving family members face probate court, a lengthy and often costly process. But MyLegalEdge allows anyone to put a plan in place, so others will know their wishes if they become incapacitated or die.
The website’s forms are Word documents that can be changed into “PDF fill-ables,” but Thompson-Finn is working on making the website more automated.
“Right now, they are blank forms that can be downloaded electronically,” Thompson-Finn explains, adding that she’d like customers to be able to fill them in as a document before downloading and signing them.
Potential customers also can browse the blog to obtain insights on various legal topics. The more information a person has, the easier it is to find the right paperwork.
“We also focus on excellence in customer service, that personal touch,” she says, adding that one customer, an elderly man not accustomed to the Internet called her because he wanted to download a form, so she sent it to him for free, which surprised him. “He called back to say that most people don’t follow through.”
Thompson-Finn uses Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+ and Instagram to promote her business. Because her website required coding to locate specific forms, it wasn’t an easy task, so she used Synergy Networks in Fort Myers.
“It takes time to really grow,” she says. “One thing I found out about being an entrepreneur is that everything is not a straight line; entrepreneurship has its twists and turns, but I just persevere. I find the more optimistic I am, the more opportunities are presented.”
She feels she has a social responsibility to give back by mentoring other entrepreneurs and donating to causes that are important to her.
“MyLegal Edge is poised to be a vibrant and valuable member of the Naples community,” she adds. “We seek to bring innovation, collaboration optimism, and well-paying jobs to the local community.”