Successful Lawyer Turns Dot-Com Entrepreneur
With over 700 clients and a patent, Bob Meltzer builds a unique and growing Web-based business.
After 15 years of traditional legal practice in immigration law, Bob Meltzer launched VisaNow.com four years ago to automate the inefficient immigration application process that hadn't been updated since the advent of the telephone.
Today, Bob Meltzer is the founder and President of VisaNow.com, a dot-com that is an anomaly in this day and age - his company is profitable and making money. Corporate clients such as Cingular Wireless and American Airlines use the service because of its low fees. He expects sales of $3.5 million to $4 million this year. "Bob has lasted because VisaNow is not just a dot-com," said Bill Reichert, president of Garage Technology Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture-capital firm that has invested about $3.5 million in VisaNow. "It's a true service that was technology-enabled."
Meltzer was not always an entrepreneur but has his roots based in law. While attending Northern Illinois law school, he attended a symposium in France on human rights. That got him interested in international law, and after graduating from law school in 1985, he went on to receive a master's in the specialty at the University of Salzburg in Austria. While overseas, he had an internship in the legal office of the United Nations World Health Organization. When he moved back to Chicago in 1986, he found there was little demand for international law experts at the big law firms. So he went into private practice. Within four years, he had nine employees and a thriving practice that included immigration law. After another local firm acquired his practice, Meltzer joined Chicago firm Arnstein & Lehr in 1993. The managing partner at the time, Howard J. Swibel, liked his aggressive, business-minded nature. "He was looking to penetrate new markets and to expand the business," Swibel said. At Arnstein, Meltzer's immigration practice thrived as companies hired droves of foreign workers to fill high-tech jobs. The tedious administrative work of filling out forms, sending documents back and forth, and tracking cases, however, began to overwhelm him and his staff.
Opened Web site
He came up with idea of a Web site and, with the help of a Web developer, put together the first version of VisaNow.com for under $12,000 in early 1998. To attract corporate clients, he charged $3,500 to process a green card that gives immigrants permanent resident status. That's about half the fee a conventional law firm charges, Meltzer said. As human-resource professionals discovered the site, business started to grow. Meltzer left Arnstein & Lehr in 1999 to devote his attention full-time to the fledgling start-up. "We were a little surprised," Swibel said. "The majority of lawyers don't have the guts to try something like that." That was just the beginning. Meltzer went on to successfully streamline the immigration process for HR professionals and general in-house counsel at over 700 U.S. corporations. VisaNow.com automates the U.S. visa and immigration process for U.S. corporations that hire foreign nationals for employment within the country. The company is the first to automate this process via the Internet and in 2002 received the first-ever patent for providing "Network Based Legal Services Systems".
Bob Meltzer, VisaNow.com's Founder and President, explains. "A significant part of the immigration process consists of non-legal administrative work -- it is a document-intensive practice that requires multi-party, instant access to information. The Internet is the ideal medium for improving the way this process is handled, on both the client and provider side. I have my roots in the international and immigration law arena. What I saw with the advent of the Internet was an opportunity to not only improve visa and immigration processing but to lay the groundwork for the way that law will be practiced and delivered for the next fifty years," reflected Meltzer. "Receiving our patent and meeting client demand has reinforced the precedent that our online legal services platform has set-that the future of legal services is on the Internet."
VisaNow.com introduces VisaPrep for attorneys
Meltzer now is trying to persuade other immigration practices about the benefits of the Internet. VisaNow.com has now introduced VisaPrep, a private label version of its automated system automating and streamlining the practice of immigration law.
VisaPrep is the most complete, integrated and proven way to automate the practice of immigration law for attorneys, paralegals and administrative staff. It goes beyond forms automation and date tracking to do for immigration processing and client/attorney communications what Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw did for legal research.
VisaPrep's private label processing allows law firms to start, manage and complete U.S. visa and immigration applications using a fully transparent (accessible without the mail/courier) process. The system automates every aspect of immigration law:
The result is an opportunity for law firms to handle more client applications with less staff at greater efficiency thus building a higher volume, more profitable immigration practice. VisaNow.com's automated system frees up valuable time, and allows an attorney to focus on the critical aspects of immigration law: advising clients, developing legal strategy and resolving issues. After its formal introduction two months ago, six law firms from around the country have adopted VisaPrep.
- Forms, documents, letters and templates creation
- Client data collection
- Retainer agreements
- Client/attorney communication
- Case status tracking for attorneys and clients
- Electronic billing and payment
- Electronic document management for attorneys and clients
"The introduction of VisaPrep is a milestone in the practice of immigration law. For the first time, attorneys and their staff will be able to use the power of the Web to affect a faster, better and less expensive legal process," says Bob Meltzer. "This will be a model for automating other paper and process-intensive law practices in the future." "And importantly, in terms of its adoption and usage, our system offers the attorney user the flexibility to do everything online for maximum time savings or be customized to the online needs and integration capabilities of the client."
About The Author
Michael Kahn is the Vice President of Marketing for Chicago, Illinois-based VisaNow.com, Inc. He can be reached by calling 312-279-1900, ext. 230, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about VisaNow and VisaPrep can be found at www.visanow.com.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.