Starting a business right out of law school: An interview with Julian Kurland, NDLS 2015

By the time you reach December of  your first year of law school, you probably start to notice that Notre Dame Law School is filled with entrepreneurial students. Brimming with ideas for new student clubs, finding unique conferences and sources of funding, and building brand new organizations, Notre Dame students are always up to something new and interesting.

While most Note Dame law students go on to pursue strictly traditional lawyer positions, some of our graduates can’t help but inject that entrepreneurial spirit into their careers. Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with one of them, Julian Kurland, 2015 Notre Dame Law Graduate, and the Co-Founder of BillFixers, a company that negotiates with companies like Comcast to save customers money on their bills.

KMB: Tell me about BillFixers. What does your company do?

JK: Basically, we take money out of the pockets of giant corporations and pass it on to the customer without the customer having to spend time on the phone dealing with the corporations. The customer sends us their bills, we negotiate them lower, and we split the savings down the middle with the consumer. We negotiate both residential and business bills, which are newer for us. Most of our work involves easier companies such as cable companies but we will negotiate pretty much any bill other than complex medical bills.

We are profitable but I don’t pay myself. I invest everything back into the business.

KMB: So if I get a bill from Comcast that I think is too high, I can turn it over to you and you will call for me to get it lower?

JK: Exactly. In fact, the business started with us negotiating Comcast bills exclusively.

KMB: That is a very cool idea. How did you come up with it?

JK: In college, I would help my college roommates negotiate their bills. It really started with Comcast. I would call Comcast and negotiate and was successful in getting the bills lowered every time. Later in law school, I had been so good at negotiating my roommates’ bills that a former roommate called me and asked me to help him again. I didn’t have time so I said no but then he offered to pay me so I did it. I realized then that I could build a company and make money doing this so that is what my brother and I did.

KMB: How often can you successfully negotiate bills and save customers money?

JK: We have a 94.9 percent success rate. We have helped 10,000 clients save over $2,500,000, and now have a team of almost 20 people working at our Nashville office. An average client saves at least $250.

KMB: What does your daily life working for BillFixers involve?

JK: I spend my days making partnerships and finding business. I am not as involved in negotiating and making the daily calls anymore. My big priority now is growing our business.

KMB: Who does make the daily negotiating calls?

JK: While the original calls were all done by my brother and I, we have sought out and hired some really talented negotiators to handle the bulk of the work we have nowadays. When they first start training, they work on “easy” bills like TV and internet, before we move them into the more complex bills: wireless, utilities, and eventually smaller business bills.

KMB: Did you go to law school wanting to build a company?

JK: I have always been interested in building a business from the ground up. Originally when I started at Notre Dame I was hoping I’d be able to open my own law firm. If BillFixers hadn’t taken off, who knows? Maybe I would be doing that right now.

KMB: When did you realize you wanted to focus on building BillFixers rather than working in a traditional law career?

JK: It wasn’t one particular moment. After graduation, I was working for a judge from 8-4 and then going and working on BillFixers from 4-9. Over time, I realized that if I devoted myself full-time to BillFixers, we would be able to run a successful business so that is what I did.

KMB: What kinds of work experiences did you get during law school?

JK: I worked for a judge in Chicago over my 1L summer and for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation during my 2L summer, both of which I really enjoyed and would highly recommend to any current law student.

KMB: How do most customers hear about BillFixers?

JK: We got our first 20 customers from reddit by posting there about our business. From there, we have gotten several repeat customers and referrals. We were written up in the New York Times and on the website of the tech and consumer journalist, Bob Sullivan and that press brought in a lot of business.

KMB: Do you face a lot of legal issues with your business?

JK: We’ve really only run into one main issue: we aren’t entirely honest with the cable companies we negotiate against. During the negotiations we might stretch the truth about what a competitor is offering, or if we’re willing to move services to a competitor, etc. Our clients love it, and often provide us ammunition to use on their behalf, but if you read the New York Times article, it’s clear the writer was very opposed to the idea of “lying” to these companies we negotiate with.

He reached out to the FTC, the FCC, the CFPB, even the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility, trying to get any of them on record saying that what we were doing was illegal or wrong. Fortunately we’d done our research ahead of time and were well above board. The writer even reached out to Comcast and Time Warner Cable, who had to admit that we weren’t even violating their terms of service (though unsurprisingly, the companies did say they didn’t approve).

KMB: How did law school prepare you for a career running your own business?
JK: One really important thing I learned from law school was the importance of a good contract and I have definitely made sure that BillFixers has rock solid contracts.

KMB: What advice do you have for law students?

JK: Don’t wait to study for finals. Get on top of it early. Engage as much as you can with your professors. They’re a wealth of information and advice all in one place. Take advantage of office hours!

If you’re interested in using your legal degree to start your own business, think creatively. The options are vast and even a little hobby that you had in college can turn into a full-time career. We love seeing the unique and varied things that NDLS graduates are doing with their law degrees and the CDO is always here to help you talk through an interesting idea!

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