To some lawyers, the phrase “legal services industry” is a series of bad words. Out with the collegial profession, in with commoditizing legal “products.” But that’s a very shortsighted view.
The emergence of the legal services industry is not only a result of market demands and advancements in technology. Technology expands the ways you can practice law (or “deliver legal services”) to the benefit of clients and lawyers. It also creates new marketing and business development opportunities.
Options for Building Your Client Base
Joining a lawyer network website is one of many methods now available to lawyers to build up their client bases, by enabling online outreach and communication to potential clients they would not otherwise have been able to reach. The sites come in different shapes and sizes, offering a wide variety of optional services. But in general, their primary goal is to help lawyers develop new business through immediate access to potential clients.
Here’s a roundup of lawyer network sites at the end of 2012.
Avvo. It emphasizes business development efforts by offering a search-engine-optimized profile, and it includes a Q&A Forum where any lawyer can answer questions submitted by consumers. Your answers are sent to the consumer with your profile attached, and also posted to the Q&A Forum so other potential clients can find your answer as well. The more answers you give, the more prospective clients see your legal mind in action. You also receive email alerts when a question is posed by someone in your jurisdiction and practice area, and can embed your answers in your own website. Avvo has developed “Call Now” (in beta), which connects answering lawyers to the consumer by phone, if the consumer has permitted this access.
Findlaw. A robust Thomson Reuters platform, Findlaw offers a variety of services to lawyers and consumers. Its consumer site offers legal forms and informational products as well as the ability to find a lawyer from an information database, searching by legal issue and location. It allows the consumer to select a lawyer from the search results, and then lawyers and clients make their own fee arrangements. The lawyer site offers limited research capabilities, access to legal documents, law management resources and more.
Lawdingo. This site allows consumers to either browse its network of lawyers or ask a quick question. They can talk immediately or schedule a consultation. Lawyers in the network will offer a free consultation from two to 90 minutes, and then choose how and what to charge if representation ensues. Consumers can also connect by email or phone by joining Lawdingo and giving credit card information for phone charges after the first 30 minutes.
LawPivot. It offers free sign-up for lawyers and enables consumers to ask detailed questions online, for a fee of $29 per question for personal law and $49 for business law. It then matches the question with networked lawyers who meet area-of-law and location requirements. Consumers receive several answers, and all follow-up is free. They can also search lawyers in the network, and review questions others have previously asked and answered.
Law99. Lawyers who join this network can maintain either free or premium accounts. Consumers complete a short questionnaire sufficient to enable the site to select lawyers appropriate for the case, and the consumer then makes a choice from the results. All lawyer fees are set at $99 per hour or less for the duration of the representation.
LawQA. LawQA builds a robust profile page for registered lawyers and includes a variety of social media tools as part of its marketing program, all for free. When lawyers provide answers on the site, the content is distributed through social media to increase exposure. Consumers complete a short form to ask their questions anonymously, and for free, and are then matched with prospective lawyers based on locations and areas of expertise. This site is affiliated with Total Attorney’s marketing platform.
LawZam. A new player on the block, it was the first to offer videoconferencing for initial consultations. Clients can either ask a question and be matched to networked lawyers, or browse the LawZam network to find a lawyer based on location and practice area. Lawyers can respond immediately to any question or schedule a videoconference. The service is free to both lawyers and clients.
MyLawsuit. “Equal access to justice for all” is the mission of this service uniquely designed for contingency-fee lawyers only. Lawyers sign up for free. Clients submit their disputes, lawyers review the case and respond if they are interested, and clients are free to choose the lawyer they want to work with. As with all contingency cases, they only pay if they win. The site does not perform a matching process. The developers are also creating a community forum looking for ways to improve access to justice.
Pearl.com (formerly justanswer.com). This site offers a Q&A format for a variety of professional services. Clients pay $20 to $60, according to scope of need and urgency, and get immediate access to lawyers who are standing by via a chat service. Professionals register for free and are vetted via testing of subject matter expertise, credentials and reviews.
RocketLawyer. This site has a fee-based membership model for consumers, where they can create documents, search legal information and connect with lawyers. Networked lawyers join for free, agreeing to pass on the savings by negotiating deep discounts for complex matters that go beyond a telephone call. The “On-Call” service enables clients to contact networked lawyers directly; lawyers schedule a free phone conversation within 24 hours.
Shpoonkle. This is a bid-based model, where consumers submit their legal issue, and lawyers in the network quote a cost for the matter. Since lawyers can see how much others are bidding on the project, the process tends to drive down prices. Consumers then choose who they want to work with. The site also provides limited articles and videos as informational resources for consumers.
Total Attorneys. Its lawyer-connection component is part of an overall marketing and management strategy. Called LegalLeads, it offers free answers to questions from lawyers in Total Attorneys’ marketing program when a consumer completes a case evaluation form. Lawyers must pay once they receive a lead. The company also partners with a variety of other practice-related apps and offers a fully functional case management SaaS platform for just $1 a month.
UpCounsel. Lawyers sign up for free. Prospective clients submit information on their cases, and UpCounsel matches the job to the right lawyers in the network. The lawyers submit competitive quotes for legal work, which clients then review, and they also have access to other clients’ reviews of lawyers to help with their hiring choice. Clients pay their fees via UpCounsel, but only when the work is complete. In addition, they can receive a one-hour consultation for $99.
Virtual Law Direct. This site is packed with resources for consumers and features for attorneys, including case-management-lite. Consumers enter their location, answer questions about their legal matter, then click “Search” to browse available attorneys, and either send a message or chat live. The attorney can then take details, answer questions and also request payment to open a case in the lawyer’s case management platform. Consumers, who can also post anonymously and invite attorneys to connect via a “contact me” button, get to monitor their case in the case management system.
Be aware that, so far, the processes employed by these sites have met with little ethical scrutiny. So, as always you’ll want to check with your state and local bar to ensure that use of a particular site complies with your jurisdiction’s rules.
Overall, though, these sites could definitely prove valuable, especially for lawyers striking out on their own and for smaller firms that want to grow their business. It costs little to nothing to try a marketing approach that can help to do just that.
Donna Seyle is a blogger, writer and founder of Law Practice Strategy, a resource center for lawyers seeking to establish a solo or small firm or wanting to take their existing practices into the 21st century. She is a graduate of Southwestern University School of Law and has 22 years of professional experience in the law in California, Hawaii and New Mexico. Donna regularly blogs at the Law Practice Strategy Blog.