Here is a tale of an exceptional entrepreneur/solo lawyer who has built a thriving Internet-based law practice of large scale in less than seven years. Raj Abhyanker, 37, started his law practice in Palo Alto in a small office above a rug store in 2005 (sounds like many Palo Alto start-ups like Apple and Google!). The law firm's focus is patent and trademark law which is Mr. Abhyanker’s specialty.
In September, 2009, Mr Abhyanker launched a web site called Trademarkia which is designed to help small business secure a trademark for an affordable fee. Trademarkia contains an easy to search data base of all of the trademarks of the USPTO office. The site has been written up in the New York Times.
Little more than two year after launch, Trademarkia has become the leading trademark site on the Web generating more than as 1,000,000 visitors a month, more than either LegalZoom or RocketLawyer. The law firm now employs more than 60 lawyers, including a team of lawyers in India trained in U.S. trademark law.
This is an example of how a single lawyer with a deep knowledge of the power of the Internet, together with a background in knowledge process management and outsourcing, can create a world-class enterprise from nothing in a relatively short period of time.
Mr. Abhyanker is now moving his concept to a new level by creating LegalForce, a new national legal services retail brand, similar to the Quality Solicitors concept in the UK.
Quality Solicitors is a national network of retail offices serving consumers and small business by linking together a network of small law firms that share a common brand, advertising and marketing budgets, and an online presence. Mr Abhyanker's goal is to create a Quality Solicitors type network in the United States.
LegalForce is creating, in a historically-preserved building, a retail law center in downtown Palo Alto in the heart of Silicon Valley, (right across the street from the new Apple store on University Ave.) The LegalForce center is set to open in the Fall of 2012.
Mr. Abhyanker's idea is to create a physical space, that is as much about education as it is about "retail", like an Apple Store. In this innovative legal space clients can meet with their lawyers in a comfortable and non-formal setting. Like Starbuck's "Third Place" consumers and small business entrepreneurs will be able to meet their lawyer's in a casual friendly environment. Part coffee bar, self-help book store, legal education and legal research center, the idea is that a LegalForce center will be a nexus where people can connect and get to meet their lawyers in an accessible environment. Legal services won't actually be delivered from the store - instead the store will be designed as a gateway to legal and other related services and the visible manifestation of a national retail legal services brand.
There have been other attempts to create a physical retail space where clients can meet with their lawyers in a comfortable and accessible environment. LegalGrind, based in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, advertises coffee with your counsel, but has never been able to expand beyond a few locations. Chicago has their LegalCafe, which is a similar concept, but remains a limited operation.
My opinion is that the failure of these two operations to scale is the absence of an online strategy which offers legal services over the Internet as well as in a physical setting.
Unlike these smaller operations, Mr. Abhyanker plans to create a national branded legal service that links together lawyers working in the real world with a powerful online legal service strategy.
Unlike a typical law firm, Mr Abhyanker employs a team of software engineers capable of creating an innovative Internet legal services delivery platform that can create referrals for law firms that are members of the LegalForce network.
LegalForce has the promise of creating a true national retail legal services brand that will offer a range of legal services – from limited legal services online to full service legal representation.
I have often thought that what serves consumers best is a business model that combines a strong online presence with lawyers who provide a full range of services within their own communities.
Online legal form web sites, like LegalZoom, CompleteCase, RocketLawyer, and our own SmartLegalForms, are limited in scope.These are alternatives that consumers choose because (1) there is no existing national trusted legal service brand; and (2) consumers don't understand what they are not getting when they purchase just a form from a non-law firm.
The LegalForce idea is designed to be a counter-force to these online insurgents which are capturing market share from the legal profession.
It will be interesting to see how this LegalForce idea develops and whether Mr. Abhyanker will be successful in this venture. LegalForce is one to watch.