Twenty-some years ago, Larry Jordan pedaled his way between 20-some downtown law firms and the Indianapolis courthouse. His job: get vital case filings to the right place, at the right time, every day.
“I was the first to introduce bicycle messengers” in Indianapolis, Jordan, 55, said of his Legal Feet courier service that started in 1994 and became a bike-messenger service the following year. “I started out, believe it or not, with a beeper and a bag,” he said.
He planned his business shrewdly, though, and for years it paid off. Jordan stuck to just the 46204 ZIP code, the heart of Indy’s law-firm community, and he grew his business by word of mouth. “If you narrow your focus instead of trying to please the whole city, you develop a good rapport with that whole group downtown, and that’s what I did,” he said.
“I developed trust. That’s the important thing. They trusted me.”
Jordan’s service to the legal community provided for his family — a daughter who’s now just out of college and two sons now serving in the Air Force — and his work also allowed him to nurture other business interests including a real estate company that bears his name.
These days, though, hardly anyone calls Jordan to ferry a filing to the City-County Building. “Business has diminished drastically now that electronic filing has come into play,” he said. Nevertheless, his entrepreneurial spirit has paved new roads for his talents, guided by the trust his longtime legal clients placed in him.
E-filing and digital communication have changed the way law firms use couriers, if they use them at all anymore. But Jordan and others who once served as runners for lawyers are finding new avenues to provide valuable support services.
At Lewis Wagner LLP, legal administrator Debra Shrum remembered the old daily drill for attorneys who needed to get a filing to court that day: “Get it to the copy center by 1:30, because the courier leaves at 2,” she said.
Now, the filing process that required a trip to the courthouse has been reduced in most cases to attorneys or staff hitting the send button from their computers.
Shrum said Lewis Wagner no longer needs a daily courier run and now only hires outside couriers on an as-needed basis. That might be when an old case reopens and archived records must be retrieved, for instance, or when an original paper document requires signatures from people in different locations.
E-filing has changed the way staff works for the better, she said, allowing firms to better allocate human resources.
Heather Wilson, Frost Brown Todd LLC member-in-charge for the Indianapolis office, said the firm has a dedicated messenger service, DTI Global Legal Process Outsourcing, that carries documents within a six-block radius. Deliveries outside that area are coordinated through an outside courier service.
“E-filing has cut down significantly on their going to the courthouse,” Wilson said of DTI.
But the company serves the firm in other ways — copying, scanning, printing, stocking supplies and handling facilities issues that arise. She said DTI has increased services in those areas as demand for couriers has declined.
Still, there are instances when Wilson believes only a courier will do. If the firm wants to obtain an affidavit of service, for example, or needs prompt two-way delivery for signatures on an original document, she said the call goes out to a courier.
Harrison & Moberly managing partner Lisa Adler said staff at the firm in the past served as their own couriers. “That’s really changed quickly over the last few months,” she said. “You realized suddenly, no one’s having to do that anymore,” which allows staff to better use their time.
Indy Express owner Mark Vander Kooy said about 25 law firms make up about a quarter of the courier service’s total business. E-filing has taken a toll on daily runs, but Indy Express saw different law firm needs it could fulfill.
Vander Kooy said the company noticed several law firm clients were struggling with “right-sizing.” They either were using potential office space for storage or they had more stuff than space. One, he said, was an office of five attorneys with two offices of stuff.
“What has picked up is what I call space-finder services,” he said. Indy Express now couriers and stores excess furniture, marketing and trade show materials or other clutter for firms, delivering the stuff back whenever it’s needed.
“By keeping good relationships, you end up finding a niche,” he explained. “That’s what we’re constantly trying to uncover.”
Likewise, Vander Kooy said the company has shifted its courier focus from daily courthouse runs to inter-office mail route service for firms that have offices in multiple locations in and around Indianapolis.
“I would say the number of deliveries is down, but the revenue is up,” he said.
Jordan said e-filing has not reduced the need for personalized process service, an area he and other couriers see as a means of replacing some of the business lost to e-filing.
The human touch
Adler said one of the things she misses in the e-filing era is just getting out of the office and going to the courthouse. She doesn’t see friends and colleagues as much as she’d like — usually only when she has a court appointment.
Marion Superior Civil Division 7 chief bailiff Bridget Mitchell said that not so long ago, she could almost set her watch by Jordan’s daily courthouse deliveries. “Has Larry been here yet?” she said with a laugh.
Jordan dropped in recently, and he and Mitchell both observed how quiet it was in the office where lawyers, law firm staff members and couriers used to bustle in each day to open or enter filings in cases.
It’s been awhile, but Mitchell and Jordan talk like old friends, reminiscing. Then Jordan said, matter-of-factly, “This job saved my life.”
He told Mitchell about how he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer about a dozen years ago. How it changed his outlook. How he kept working but never told many people, though he suspects that as he endured treatment, people could tell something was wrong.
He talked about how he’s fine today — fit enough to have participated in an Ironman competition. And he said he doesn’t want to sympathize with people diagnosed with cancer; he wants to energize them to stay positive. He nodded and smiled.
Mitchell volunteered, “I’m a survivor, too,” and she and Jordan high-fived. She talked about how she survived breast cancer years before Jordan battled cancer in his neck and throat. How they didn’t have the treatments back then that they have today.
After a few minutes, they marveled again about how quiet the office is these days. Like a ghost town.
But it’s not all bittersweet. Jordan saw e-filing coming a mile away, and he found ways to keep serving the people he considers friends as well as customers. He taught himself computer systems well enough to become the de facto IT guy for one law firm client. “I kind of hang out with the firm,” he said.
For another, he’s still the person responsible for making sure documents get where they need to go. That small firm’s attorneys were older and didn’t wish to learn e-filing, so Jordan does it for them.
“I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed what I did. After 27 years,” he said with a laugh, “I kind of like not doing a whole lot.”•