January is the usual month for companies to launch new products or make announcements. Most launches come before the tradeshow at LegalTechNY. Two announcements this month are of interest to the virtual lawyer. First, Rocket Lawyer acquired LawPivot.
Will this make a huge difference in terms of competition in the online delivery of legal services space? Probably not. I wrote about LawPivot as one of the case studies in my new book. Here was my run-down of what they offer:
LawPivot provides both the free question and answer service and the paid. However, it uses a crowdsourcing model that allows the individual or company asking a legal question to receive multiple responses from attorneys rather than being limited to just one response. The system analyzes user data and trends on its site to create an algorithm that matches the most qualified lawyers to respond to the user’s legal question. The company received $600,000 in venture capital funding from Google Ventures and other investors in January of 2011.
Unlike other question and answer sites, the lawyer network at LawPivot is more selective and focuses on “over 2,000 lawyers from some of the most prestigious private practices and law firms.” [This may change since Rocket Lawyer's network is not selective.] The focus of the company is to provide legal services related to startup entrepreneurs and business law. Consumers who post a question from the network online may receive responses from several lawyers in their jurisdiction. Unlike some services, the user is able to ask additional follow-up questions from the list of respondents before determining if there is one that he or she would like to retain. [This may be integrated into Rocket Lawyer's referral system to their lawyer network?]
For lawyers who wish to join the LawPivot network, the company has added a gamification component to motivate lawyers to respond to questions. There is a point system and lawyers may receive points for questions answered. This point system is based on an algorithm that determines how well and how quickly the lawyer answers the question. The acquired points move the lawyer up through different “levels” on their profile. This ranking is visible to the public as well as information about the number of public questions asked, private questions asked, thanks received from users, and profile views. Along with the point system, there is a “Confidential Q&A Percentile Ranking” which displays the lawyer’s percentages regarding “well-received answers”, “questions seldom go unanswered”, “answers promptly” and “contributes to the LawPivot community.” [I'm guessing this will stay in because that's what makes it such an effective marketing tool for the lawyers as a Q&A feature.]
But really, the only thing Rocket Lawyer was missing from it’s online menu of offerings to the consumer was a robust Q&A platform. Almost every other legal tech company that I studied for my book had a Q&A component and most started out with that basic piece of the SEO puzzle. I think this means that Rocket Lawyer will have an even broader reach of its services to the public. It will also mean the lawyers joining its network will have another engagement option to consider.
And for the second announcement of interest, Thompson Reuters has (finally) hopped on the cloud-based practice management bandwagon. Lisa Solomon does not give it a great review. But at this point, lawyers wanting a practice management system in the cloud have plenty of options to find the one that has the right mix of features that their firm needs.
I remember back at the start of 2009 when I was pitching the concept of online practice management, client portals, and other features for a virtual law office. It is extremely amusing to me years later to see how this has all developed out – which companies listened, what advice they choose to take, which features they choose to develop over others that I told them the legal market would demand.
What do I see with these two new year announcements? I see a lot more merging to come and maybe a few drop-offs. First adopters of innovative systems and business concepts who ignored the legal industry naysayers and pushed forward are the companies that are staying ahead. Legal tech startup business models that cannot effectively monetize or provide a truly unique online service in the legal marketplace will merge in with larger companies and become feature sets.
Here’s an open challenge to the legal tech industry for 2013: SURPRISE ME. I’m getting bored and unimpressed.
Really, this is pretty much business as usual and that’s never at the speed I would like. But hopefully, the consumers will benefit as the most effective technologies and business models are tightened down and push forward to deliver better legal services online. Maybe we can even have some fun getting there.