UpCounsel

Since Lat tweeted this past weekend about my UpCounsel profile, I thought I would share some thoughts about my experience with the service to date. First off, compared to leaving a Biglaw partnership to open a new firm, trying out a new legal platform was easy. I first heard about UpCounsel from a former in-house client who had struck out on his own. He happens to now be back in-house, but at the time we discussed UpCounsel, he was very enthusiastic about his experience using the site. Since I happen to like trying out new things, signing up once I left Biglaw was an easy decision.

Notice how I did not join UpCounsel while a Biglaw partner. Such things are simply not done. For all of Biglaw’s talk about encouraging partners to be “entrepreneurial” or to “try new marketing ideas,” there is a lot of resistance to using “new ways” to reach potential new clients. Couple that inertia with a general distaste towards marketing individual lawyers at the expense of “firm branding” (aside from a select group of key current rainmakers), and platforms like UpCounsel face a Tough Mudder-level set of obstacles to overcome if they want to break into the Biglaw firm marketing rotation. But I don’t think UpCounsel and their “evolution of legal services”-oriented kin want to….

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Today’s Wall Street Journal reports on the growing new crop of online matchmaking services designed to help small and mid-sized business clients connect with qualified and affordably priced lawyers.  The sites profiled include UpCounsel, which allows clients to bid projects, handles payments, and collects feedback (sort of like Elance for legal services); Priori Legal, which provides clients a list of pre-vetted attorneys with 5+ years of experience and negotiates discount rates; and IP SmartUp, which also charges discount rates for patent services.

From what I can tell, in the short term, these sites make money through various ethically permissible transaction fees (read: no referral fees, though some of the models tread dangerously close). My guess is that in the long run, these sites’ greater value will derive from big data gleaned from transactions that may shed insight on the factors that inform lawyer hiring (and in turn may hold value for lawyer marketing operations).

No doubt, from a small business perspective, these sites are golden. With their clean modern look and easy navigation, these platforms give prospective small business clients a far better user experience than any bar referral or local chamber of commerce site I’ve ever seen. Plus, many of the lawyers registered for the sites so far boast stellar credentials.  And the price is right — the WSJ piece shares the experience of one happy user who procured legal services at a price of between $100 and $600 per project (though the average cost of a transaction on UpCounsel is around $1000, the story notes).

Still, do these sites work for solos and smalls?

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* According to Altman Weil, law firm merger mania is on pace for record highs as firms desperately attempt to stave off financial problems by gobbling up smaller firms’ clients. [Am Law Daily]

* The NCAA better watch its back: Jeffrey Kessler, the Winston & Strawn partner who helped bring free agency to the NFL, wants in on the potential case for unpaid college athletes. [Bloomberg]

* Lawyers doing regulatory work are very afraid that the shutdown will decimate their fourth quarter billables because “[t]he longer it goes, the more problematic it will be.” Yay government. [Reuters]

* GrayRobinson partner Philippe Devé is in need of a bone marrow transplant, and his firm is using its social media presence to crowdsource a donor. Will you lend a helping hand? [Daily Business Review]

* UpCounsel has successfully raised $1.5 million in funding to beef up its international patent practice, proving the point that it costs a pretty penny to protect clients from the world’s patent trolls. [TechCrunch]

* Law schools in New York State are feeling the pain of the drop in applications, and some are now willing admit that their graduates had to start “cannibalizing each other” in the job market. [New York Law Journal]

* But really, so what if applications are down? Lots of law schools consider themselves lucky to be keeping the lights on with the assistance of generous alumni donations in the millions. [National Law Journal]

* Another day, another “diploma mill.” Sorry to disappoint you, law students and alumni, but Charleston School of Law is moving forward with its plans to sell out to the InfiLaw System. [Post and Courier]

* Who’s bad? Not AEG Live. A jury made up of people unable to answer yes or no questions during the reading of the verdict found that the concert promoter wasn’t liable in Michael Jackson’s death. [CNN]

Are you interested in building and growing a virtual law practice, or hoping to obtain new clients for your existing law practice? If so, here’s a new tool that you might want to investigate.

The team behind it includes two lawyers who used to work at major law firms. Let’s hear more about the platform they’ve designed and how they made the move from counseling start-ups to launching one of their own….

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Is the slowdown in Biglaw that we’ve seen since the Great Recession a long-term trend or just a temporary blip? Only time will tell, but in the meantime, the debate rages on. (The latest salvo: New Republic editor Noam Scheiber’s response to critics of his controversial article, The Last Days of Big Law.)

Because of its power, prestige, and profitability, Biglaw gets a big proportion of the media coverage that’s aimed at law firms. But let’s not overlook small firms and solo practitioners, who make up about 70 percent of American lawyers in private practice.

One often hears stories about small firms, especially boutiques formed by ex-Biglaw attorneys, that are thriving. The tales are inspiring; the small-firm lawyers talk about how they enjoy their practice more, have greater autonomy, and make the same or even more money than they did back in Biglaw.

But such information is anecdotal. How are small law firms doing compared to bigger firms on a broader level? A new survey has some answers….

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