Maker of Keyboard for Lawyers Eyes Resale Agreement, Second Product
A 2010 study on computer ergonomics by researchers at DePaul University found that selecting menu items using keyboard shortcuts was more efficient than doing so with a mouse. However, many organizations routinely erase some of the short-term memory stored on their employees’ computers. For these workers, adding custom “hot key” shortcuts is essentially futile because they get erased when users log out of the network.
That was the situation Brian Potts, an environmental and energy attorney, found himself in early last year while working at the Madison, WI, office of the firm Foley & Lardner. Inserting symbols that appear frequently in legal briefs—section (§), copyright (©), and pilcrow (¶), to name three examples—required a time-consuming sequence of pointing, scrolling, and clicking with the mouse.
“Practically speaking, I didn’t have any hot keys because they would be wiped out every time we logged off,” Potts says. “It was driving me absolutely crazy trying to insert the section symbol.”
From there, Potts set out to build a custom keyboard for lawyers. About a year after inspiration struck, he unveiled the LegalBoard at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Potts says the patent-pending keyboards, which sell for $75 apiece on the company’s website and Amazon, have been shipped to 49 states in the U.S. and to other countries—even as far as Australia. He declined to reveal the number of keyboards sold to date.
The startup company that sells LegalBoard, Pro-Boards, was officially incorporated in April 2016. Potts and a few other investors put together close to $75,000 in seed funding, he says. One major milestone was striking a deal with Phoenix-based DS International, which agreed to manufacture LegalBoard.
Pro-Boards is in the process of finalizing an exclusive resale agreement with a business that specializes in selling office supplies to law firms, Potts says.
“I have a day job, so I probably haven’t focused on marketing as much as I should,” says Potts, who along with his startup is still based in Madison but now works at the firm Perkins Coie. “That’s why we’re exploring the reseller agreement. They’ll have a full marketing team.”
Pro-Boards is also getting set to release a second product in the coming months, Potts says. He says it’s focused on laptop computers, but is otherwise keeping mum on specifics.
Potts says he first had the idea for a keyboard optimized for legal professionals in January 2016. He began working with an electrical engineer, who created dongles—cables with USB plugs on both ends—that Potts says essentially function like “little computers.” These dongles allowed the Pro-Boards team to reprogram dozens of the keys on a traditional keyboard—mostly function keys along the top row and keys on the numeric keypad.
“There’s 36 keys that are different, and then some of those have two functions,” which users can toggle between using the Shift key, he says.
About a dozen other attorneys who live in Madison helped with beta testing of prototypes, which were regular keyboards with stickers over some of the keys corresponding to symbols, words, and phrases commonly used in legal documents.
Potts says that when most of the keyboards sold today are plugged into a computer, the computer rapidly (and without alerting the user) downloads a software driver from the keyboard. LegalBoard is turnkey, Potts says; just plug it into a USB outlet and you’re ready to start typing. He declined to say whether Pro-Boards’ next product is hardware, software, or a combination of the two.
LegalBoard is currently designed only to work on Windows-compatible computers, Potts says. He and others at the company hope its second product will be compatible with Apple computers.
Having a legal background allowed Potts to keep his startup costs down.
“I did a lot of the work myself in consultation with friends,” he says. “I’m not a corporate lawyer. But frankly, it’s not that complicated.”
Pro-Boards is considering creating keyboards for other professions, such as physicians, accountants, and engineers, Potts says.
Asked if he thinks he might make enough money from sales of LegalBoard and other Pro-Boards products that he could stop practicing law, Potts shakes his head.
“I didn’t want to grow up to be a keyboard salesman,” he says. “I don’t have any intention to leave my day job. I like being a lawyer.”