UpCounsel: Another Take on Online Marketplaces for Lawyers

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I have posted before about web services poised to take  on the high cost and price of traditional law firm engagement by offering a virtual meeting room for lawyers and potential clients to save time, effort and money. The latest site that has come to my attention on this topic is UpCounsel. It offers an online marketplace for legal services, with the bid solicitation twist: businesses post their desired work on the site and lawyers submit bids (either fixed fee or hourly) for the work. Presumably, the lowest bid wins, although there apparently is an algorithmically driven system at work behind the scenes to match potential clients and attorneys. Its free to use for lawyers and jobs can be posted by businesses for free. Communications are handled through the site, as are payments via the client’s secured credit card data – once the client approves the invoice supplied by the attorney.

The monetization comes in the form of a 10% paid by site customers – the potential clients once they become actual clients. It appears that the average hourly rate for work on the site is about $140, with a range anywhere between $100 and $250. Not quite the $1000+ per hour per partner found at the big guys.  Interestingly enough, UpCounsel proudly displays some of those big guys on their welcome page to show where some of their participating attorneys have come from. There are about 700 attorneys with an average of 11 years of experience currently on the site; they have been screened and must have malpractice insurance in place. The target customer demographic is the small business and, with its California base, UpCounsel naturally encompasses  a lot of work for tech startups.

What’s in it for the attorneys? Access to a marketplace of potential clients, the ability to set up a virtual page and promote services, build  online reputation, secure payment easily and quickly through the online credit card bank, network and obtain referral opportunities, and access  a forms and docs library generated by site users. Apparently, UpCounsel is also trying to integrate seamlessly with other online tools well used by lawyers, such as Dropbox, Box, Google Apps and Microsoft Office.

UpCounsel offers some guarantees – one to clients dissatisfied with work who can get reimbursement of up to $5,000, as well as a payment guarantee for lawyers of up to $5,000 in services. Makes it kind of a win-win situation.

UpCounsel is currently serving California, and shows on its site that it is planning near future expansion into Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, New York and the lovely Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Admittedly, UpCounsel isn’t the first out of the gate with this eBay-like, bid-for-work model. Shpoonkle is another, earlier entrant in the field. ExpertBids offers legal along with access to other professionals with a bidding model as well. Virtual Law Direct also offers a forum for potential clients and lawyers to connect. What I like about UpCounsel is the guarantees on both sides of the relationship as well as the platform for creating a virtual law office – the combination has to be attractive to disillusioned former large firm attorneys who are looking to strike out on their own.

It is nice to see more and more of these online options popping up, creating new lines of communication between lawyers and clients. Welcome to the Brave New World.

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