“Life Dot Com”

Several times in human history, radical change has come during a relatively short period. Consider the Industrial Revolution from 1780 to 1830. However, as we contemplate the “internet revolution” now underway and the change in the affairs of mankind that is likely to occur in the next 50 year period, it is tempting to want to put one’s head in the sand, ostrich style. It is hard not to be overwhelmed when you open up any business or financial publication and find everything is now a “dot com”. It is equally difficult not to be concerned about what will be the effect of all this electronic commerce on the bricks and mortar real estate and business establishments that our clients own and operate or depend on. Happily, the latest buzz word is “bricks” and “clicks”, which is a shorthand way of referring to e-commerce businesses which also have a strong “old fashioned” physical presence. Many established businesses are also learning that the internet and the world wide web have utilities far beyond the retail side. Access to research and data bases is becoming an important part of both small, medium and large size businesses. The best business advice seems to be adapt to the internet or risk obsolescence. Recent studies indicate that one in four U. S. businesses (all sizes) now have some presence on the internet.
In the practice of law, our cherished law books have given way to CDroms and web-based research. Correspondence formerly entrusted to the U. S. mail, (now called by many “snail mail”), later to FEDERAL EXPRESS and telefax, is now frequently going out by way of e-mail, directly from the desk of the attorney to the client, and back again. You can reach any attorney, or for that matter, any staff person at WL&P, LLP by addressing e-mail to us using the first letter of our first name, then the last name followed by “@WJLplaw.com”, for example, twells@WJLplaw.com. More and more, we find our clients are also comfortable transmitting their documents to us as attachments to e-mail and we, of course, can do the same in reverse. We also have a website. When the website was created 6 years ago, it was one of New Jersey’s first for a law firm. On our site is information about our firm, our clients, our areas of practice, our legal staff, and current and back issues of the Legal Update. Visit us at www.WJLplaw.com. At our law firm we try to practice what we preach to our business clients, that is to utilize the best aspects of new technology to provide the same old-fashion one-on-one service that has been the benchmark of our practice since its inception in 1986.

As a second quick study of a small business adapting to the internet age, let me give as an example the independent community-based bookstore that I own in Bristol, Vermont. Deerleap Books is a 2,200 square foot bookstore stocked at any given time with approximately 15,000 titles. Lots of books, you say! Not really, when you realize that there are approximately 2 million books in print in the English language at any given time. However, our little bookstore, like so many others, is now connected electronically to major distributors, publishers, and databases, and thus, usually within several days, can deliver virtually any one of these in print books, as well as many that are out of print. This is a remarkable change from the way book selling was done just a few years ago.

Recently Deerleap Books upgraded our website (we were one of the first bookstores on the web in the state of Vermont) to a fully interactive site, www.dearleap.com that allows customers to not only visit the store, learn more about us and our bookstore events, but to browse and order from a million title data base. In our own way, our small business is attempting a “bricks and clicks” strategy of preserving the importance of a small independent community based book store, and yet adapt to customers that are increasingly looking for the convenience of shopping from home 24 hours a day. Yesterday, orders came in from California, New Jersey and one from a customer who frequently comes in to the store, and who lives only a few miles away. The close-by customer had eye surgery recently, and decided that this was a great way for him to shop for books without leaving the house. Unlike some of the giants of e-commerce, Deerleap Books offers real people at the other end of the telephone line or by e-mail, so questions are easily answered. The best of both worlds? We will see! Hopefully, small businesses like Deerleap Books can adapt to the new cyber world. If not, our downtowns and regional malls are headed for some serious decline and then transition to other uses, and this may be a little more change than any of us are ready for.

As you plan your business strategy for the internet revolution, please feel free to give us a call. We will be happy to help in any way we can.

Thomas M. Wells is the Founding Partner of WJ&L. He practices in the Land Use, Real Estate, Business, Corporate & Commercial, and Non-Profit areas.

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