I was at a panel in San Francisco this week titled: Law + Tech - The Unpopulated Multi-Billion Dollar Industry .
By "La La Land" I don't mean Los Angeles or California, but rather "to be in one's own world" as defined by the Urban Dictionary. As I listened to the founders talk, I couldn't help thinking that given the absence of a clear business model, or the understanding of what it takes to market to consumers or to lawyers, that many of these start-ups will simply die after the founders run out of cash. However, out of the ashes one or two are bound to survive and have a lasting impact on the markets they are targeting.
This was an interesting group of companies - all focused on the idea that there is a need for changing the way legal services are identified, purchased, and delivered and the way that lawyers practice law.
You could classify these companies into three categories:
- companies that want to connect consumers with lawyers and plan to monetize the traffic stream in some way;
- companies that want to provide tools to increase law firm productivity;
- companies that aim to deliver direct legal services through a network of lawyers online or provide a legal solution to a consumer through the use of a digital application.
Here is a list of these companies, some of which were at the Panel, and one or two which announced within the past 30 days.
Companies linking consumers to lawyers:
MyLawSuit.com - seeks to link clients which have personal injury claims with personal injury lawyers. The company takes 5% of the recovery from the client side. Has a legal opinion that says this is not fee-splitting.
LegalSonar.com - potential clients find lawyers by searching social media to see which of the searcher's friends have had an experience with a lawyer and whether the friend would recommend them. Free to users, lawyers pay a fee for listing. Limited to Kansas City. Missouri for now, which is where the company is based. This is an interesting idea and makes more sense to me than traditional legal referral services offered by bar associations where recommendation of a lawyer for a client is more arbitrary. Company plans to expand nationwide.
AttorneyFee.com - company provides detailed legal fee information to users to help them evaluate legal services based on price.
LawGives.com - working on a software algorithm that would analyze a user's factual statement (submitted through a secure web form) of their legal problem and match the client to the most suitable attorney based on a software analysis of all of the attorney's experience, education, background, recommendations, and other selection factors. The proprietary algorithm being developed is based on advanced semantic search technologies. This is an interesting concept because if it works, it could be used in a variety of legal contexts such as in large law firms where there is sometimes a need to match the skills of lawyers within the firm to the needs of new cases and clients. LawGives.com would also be a challenge to typical bar sponsored legal referral methods which are based on antiquated pre-Internet technologies (telephone and categorized lists of lawyers). Ethics 20/20 Commission take note.
Start-ups that aim to increase the productivity of law firms:
LawLoop.com - comprehensive, affordable cloud-based practice management system that incorporates in one place document management, practice management tools, time-keeping and billing (next release), calendaring, Outlook email integration, and client communications. A unique feature is the ability to create client extranets between client, lawyer, and other third parties on the fly, by drawing a loop, not unlike creating a Google circle of contacts. Thus, for example, a secure deal space could be created instantly between all of the parties to a deal which would could contain documents, correspondence, and other supporting materials instantly. Price is affordable at $39.00 a user. More competition for RocketMatter and Clio.
LegalReach,com - Provides cloud-based applications for lawyers. An App Store now offers Referral Manager, an app designed to securely send and receive business to/from other attorneys while keeping track of vital statistics. Coming soon apps include: Website Builder, CLE Tracker and more. Attorneys can also create on-line Attorney Profiles so a dimension of the business model is to connect prospects with attorneys.
Kiiac.com - Contract analysis and contract standards tool that creates documents through the web browser using Google Docs. Create an NDA online. See also related Contract Standards web site. This is a fabulous resource for lawyers drafting contracts.
Startups that will offer legal solutions directly to consumers:
DocRun.com - DocRun is a SaaS solution that creates highly-customized, state-specific legal contracts and agreements instantly just by asking the user a series of simple, intuitive questions. Site is in alpha. The company has raised 1.1 in seed funding. At public launch, DocRun claims it will provide hundreds of personalized documents, including everything from prenuptial agreements to operating agreements to employment agreements, specially tailored to each individual user using a web-based Q&A engine. Sounds like they are building another web-enabled document assembly application.Claims documents will be very affordable.
UpCounsel.com - Company will offer sophisticated legal services from a network of lawyers to hi-tech start-up companies in California. Not yet launched.
Docracy is a new legal document start-up, founded by Matt Hall and John Watkinson, that grew out of a TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon in New York City. The idea is to provide a free depository of legal documents that meets the needs of small business and start-ups which are crowd sourced by individuals who register for the site. The concept is to provide an open source site for legal documents in the same way that GitHub is an open source site for code. Read more.
LawPivot.com - Free crowd sourced legal advice from lawyers. Rumored to be getting ready to launch an eLance type service for consumers to connect with lawyers on specific projects. Funded by Google Ventures. Will be interesting to see how LawPivot team creates an ethically compliant business model.
If you hear about other recent start-ups in the legal industry, funded or otherwise, we would like to know about them. Just mention them in the Comment field to this post. All of this recent activity reminds me of 2001, when we saw many law start-ups funded during the dot.com heyday. Most didn't survive the crash. (USLAW.com; AmeriCounsel; MyCounsel to name just a few).
Maybe it will be different this time around.