The legal industry is experiencing a marked increase in online tools, both those targeted at legal professionals, and those aimed at businesses and individuals looking to connect with those pros. One of these tools is UpCounsel, a marketplace that connects businesses with legal professionals. The company, which launched in beta in May, allows businesses to post jobs, and lawyers to bid on their projects. Focused in the San Francisco Bay Area right now, the company hopes to launch in additional U.S. cities after leaving beta this fall.
The first version of UpCounsel launched in February 2012 as an open source legal document and information platform, what founder Matthew Faustman, a former lawyer for Latham & Watkins, calls “eHow meets Quora for legal services.” He said they kept receiving the same feedback from clients: they wanted more affordable legal services from local lawyers, and attorneys and legal consultants needed help with business development and admin work.
They reworked the platform in April and opened the new site in beta in early May. So far they have over 100 lawyers and 500 clients signed up on the site. “Word of our product has spread throughout the Bay Area attorney community,” Faustman said in an interview. “We interview and screen every attorney that comes onto our system, so attorney growth has been a tedious process, but essential to the quality of the service.”
While right now UpCounsel is strictly a marketplace targeted to businesses, next month the team will be launching personal legal services. “We realized that individuals have same problems when it comes to finding and hiring cost-effective, local attorneys,” Faustman said. “People literally forced personal legal issues onto the system. After manually helping them find good local attorneys, it was an easy decision to expand into personal legal needs.”
While there are plenty of other legal-focused startups, including case management tool Lawyerfy, to open legal document marketplace Docracy, and firm management tool Clio, the company’s biggest competition is likely Lexspot, which is billed as ZocDoc for lawyers, and helps people find lawyers in their area. It’s more search tool than marketplace, and is more focused on individuals than businesses.
UpCounsel is mainly focused on solo practitioners, which means it will likely appeal to smaller companies that don’t need a giant law firm (and the hourly billing rates that go along with that kind of help), or to individuals who would rather set their own price for legal services. As with any online marketplace, there will likely be questions about quality of work, and the reliability of the professionals using the system. But if the company can provide high-quality work at a price that meets the needs of SMBs and individuals, it might be able to scale its model across the U.S. successfully.