Cutting Edge Research Alternative Ravel Law

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Here’s another one for you: Ravel Law, a 2012 startup out of Stanford Law, promises radically easier, faster and more intuitive legal research option through its visual search engine. Apparently, Ravel (which promises to UNravel the law), is a collaboration between law, computer science and design. I can’t help but agree that the interfaces offered by the traditional legal database giants continue to fall WAY behind the curve on UI and ease of use.

Ravel uses a graphical visual interactive interface to display key information about cases. It is really something else entirely. I searched in the SCOTUS database the terms “insurance” and “mccarran ferguson” and got the result below:

insurance mccarran ferguson

 

When you hover over a circle, it takes you to a case in the results. You also can drop down in the list on the right to see the citing sources, click on them and get a new visual representation of how that case has been interacted with. You can quickly move along research trails using the visual interface, or scan in a more traditional model using the list on the right. I think it is a truly brilliant and novel approach to parsing out how court decisions interrelate – you can easily map out the history of cases and how and when search terms are cited in a manner completely different from traditional models.

Right now, the information being mined includes  cases and statutes from the federal circuits and SCOTUS back to about 1950. They are expanding as they can, but are somewhat limited to the extent that the underlying data is or is not presented in a machine-mineable format. The service is currently in beta and is free. Check it out and let me know what you think about it.

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.

Social Scavengers – Your Data, Social Media-Style (Infographic)

By DonkeyHotey

By DonkeyHotey

With PRISM, SocMint and other hair-raising on-line privacy news, it isn’t a bad idea to stop and take stock of what your favorite social networks are taking away from their relationship with you. Bear in mind that when you share online on a free service, you have to reasonably expect that the service may be getting something in return. As I always like to remind: read the fine print of the privacy policy, make informed choices about what you share and what you do online and never post anything that you wouldn’t want available to some random stranger. With that idea firmly entrenched, check out this infographic by Baynote, via LeadersWest.

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Congrats, Rocket Lawyer, on the LawPivot Acquisition

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Rocket Lawyer, the do it yourself legal document creation tool site, has just announced its purchase of LawPivot, the Quora Q&A site for legal advice. Seems a decent match. Rocket Lawyer leverages the mindset of the new Web – the belief  that anyone can leverage web-based information and tools to accomplish whatever the task at hand, in this case legal document drafting. Rocket Lawyer also taps into attraction of  a la carte legal services – when the drafting process gets onerous, Rocket Lawyer will connect you with legal counsel to help you with the details. However, the cost of admission to the document generating process is free. Rocket Lawyer is all about improving access and simplifying the process in an affordable way. For lawyers, Rocket Lawyer offers a place to build a profile and means to connect with clients who need more assistance than the free legal forms generator can provide.

LawPivot, on the other hand, takes a slightly different approach to matching lawyers with potential clients. Over 2,300 lawyers in 37 states, to be precise. Site visitors can ask confidential legal questions on the site. Attorneys will then message the visitors back with legal advice. Users can ask unlimited, free, follow up questions. LawPivot can assist with questions on corporate, intellectual property, contracts, employment, tax, and immigration law, among other areas. Like Rocket Lawyer, the lawyers on LawPivot can create profiles to provide some background to site visitors about the lawyer’s competencies. LawPivot also attempts to connect users with lawyers who are best suited to answer the particular question. The more a user interacts with LawPivot, the better the site can track usage trends and improve matching of lawyers and potential clients.

I definitely see the overlap between these two sites and it seems to me that a purchase / merger makes a great deal of sense. Between forms generation and Q&A legal advice for discrete legal questions, the combination of Rocket Lawyer and LawPivot can cover a great deal of legal need with agile on-line tools. It appears that Rocket Lawyer will build LawPivot into the Rocket Lawyer experience. It will certainly be interesting to see the end result of this marriage. Best of luck to both businesses in reforming the practice of law.

I'm Gonna Be A Google Power-Searcher!

Summertime – the best time to go back to school! I just enrolled in Google Search Education’s upcoming free Power Searching with Google Course. So, what is it about? Here’s the description:

 

Google Search makes it amazingly easy to find information. Come learn about the powerful advanced tools we provide to help you find just the right information when the stakes are high.

 

The stakes are ALWAYS high, whether I am looking for a very recent agency alert or the best Chinese food in Northern Maine. So, naturally, I enrolled.  Here’s the Schedule:

 

Schedule

  • Pre-class assessment
  • Class 1 – Introduction [ available July 10 ]
  • Class 2 – Interpreting results [ available July 11 ]
  • Class 3 – Advanced techniques [ available July 12 ]
  • Mid-class assessment
  • Class 4 – Find facts faster [ available July 17 ]
  • Class 5 – Checking your facts [ available July 18 ]
  • Class 6 – Putting it all together [ available July 19 ]
  • Post-class assessment

 

The class starts July 10th. If you care to join me, sign up with your Google account at the registration page here. It is six 50 minute classes – take them over a two week window. There will be traditional exercises, interactive searching, Google+ Hangouts, and Google Groups in which you can talk to other students from around the world and Google Search team members. How freaking cool is that? Bring your own search and they can give you hints and tips.

 

Signups are open until July 16th. Course starts on the 10th, so run, don’t walk. And, you’ll get a nifty Certificate when you are done. Professional “High Stakes” Searcher or something like that. I’m all in on this one.

Shop For a New Lawyer By Video Chat, via LawZam

 

Back when online video chat was just starting to break, with apps like Seesmic and 6Rounds, and later with Google+ Hangouts and even mobile Facetime on iOS (and now on OSX), I recall discussion in the legal community about the utility of such applications for legal professionals, and questioning whether video chat could be useful at all. As someone who is always looking for a way to find the fit for new tech, I firmly believed that such applications could serve a useful professional purpose.

Enter, LawZam. I heard about it over at Bob Ambrogi’s LawSites blog and, frankly, I am intrigued. Bob quotes founder Claudio Dunkelman who describes his site as “speed dating for the legal world.” As long as we are not talking about “Chatroulette for the Legal Profession”, this is an eyebrow-raising, but not altogether inappropriate mash-up of concepts, LawZam offers a platform for video consultations and two-way chat between lawyer and potential client. If a match is not made, then the client can initiate chats with other attorneys until he or she achieves the right fit. All this with no cost to attorneys or clients – revenues will come from advertising and an as yet undisclosed premium service.

 

The site allows the consumer to “ask a lawyer”, “post a job” or submit a query to “review my case” and promises that the consumer will receive a response from an attorney within minutes. You can also search for lawyers by area of law, location or name. Right now, the front page shows available lawyers from California and Florida, with a bit of detail about the lawyer and/or firm. I dug a bit deeper and found some lawyers from Texas and New York as well.

 

From LawZam’s about page:

LawZam is committed to increasing access to legal assistance by providing a platform for the public to receive free legal consultations by videoconference. Finding a lawyer can be a frustrating process for many people. LawZam seeks to address that problem by enabling people to find lawyers quickly, and conduct face-to-face video consultations with lawyers online.

Attorneys registered with our service do not charge fees for initial consultations, and users of our website have no obligation to hire the lawyers they meet. LawZam does not get involved or receive any fees from agreements between lawyers and clients. Simply put, LawZam is a venue for communication–not a law firm.

We hope to facilitate the communication of helpful information to people seeking legal assistance, so people can make informed decisions and protect their legal rights. If you have any questions or suggestions to improve our service, please feel free to contact us at support@lawzam.com.

 

There is also an extensive terms of use and privacy policy, along with repeated assurances that this is not a referral service and that no attorney client relationship is created via the video chatting interface. For those interested – attorneys and consumers – there is a registration link on the front page.

 

I have not actually tried the service out, so I cannot speak to the fit and feel of the experience, but I do very much like the idea. In keeping with our brave new economic world, in which consumers take it upon themselves to go online and “do the research” and are savvy enough not to commit without some understanding of the potential value, services like LawZam may be very beneficial to attorneys. Video chat offers a means for lawyers to get out in front of that process with an actual personal, moving presence — far more compelling than a static website, or even a tweet stream or Facebook page.  For those attorneys that speak better than they write – and I know you are out there – then LawZam might be the modern advertising answer for you.

Run, Don't Walk, To 50GB Free Cloud Storage Via Box

Ever watching out for the free goods, I clapped with delight when I saw this great deal. If you are the lucky owner of an Android device, and you find the idea of free cloud storage and collaboration pretty nifty, then download Box’s mobile storage application for Android, log into your account and, Voila!, you will be gifted with 50GB of free storage. That ain’t no chump change – you can hold a lot of stuff with 50GB.

Box offered a similar incentive for iPhone / iPad users back in the fall. Now Android fans can partake of the free-ness.

Box distinguishes itself from services like DropBox by focusing more on easy collaboration. It most closely resembles Google Docs with file / folder sharing, version tracking and collaboration tools. It bears noting that the per file size limit is 25 MB for free users, which may not be enough for certain of your file types. You can upgrade to 1GB file sizes for $10 / month. Another important limitation: there is no desktop application for the free version like DropBox – you have to download your docs, edit, and then upload and can’t get auto-updates in all places – not quite as handy as Google Doc’s ability to permit edits in the cloud. Nonetheless, free is free and 50GB is 50GB. And, on the plus side, Box integrates with a lot of other services like Gmail, Google Docs, and Microsoft Office, so there are work arounds to be had.

So, grab that storage while its hot. There must be something you can put in the Box.

Tap Gmail for Storage with Gmail Drive

There is about 7.5 gb of storage space in your Gmail account. Presumably for emails. Even voracious emailers, however, are unlike to put a major dent into that kind of space. It bothers me when an untapped resource remains essentially untapped, so I was pretty excited to happen upon MakeUseOf’s piece on Gmail Drive.

GMail Drive is a Windows only application that allows you to create a virtual file system in your Gmail account and permit direct access to that system through Windows Explorer. After installation and set up, you will see Gmail Drive in your list of storage spaces in Explorer.

The way it works is via the email process – dragging and dropping files into Gmail Drive creates an email with the file as an attachment. Depending on how you manage your mail, this may or may not work for you. At the least, you can create a filter that sends these emails into an archived location, so you don’t need to deal with them regularly in your inbox. Or, set up an additional Gmail account to simply hold your Gmail Drive documents.

When you select Gmail drive in Explorer, you will be prompted to log into the Gmail account with your credentials and then you can execute whatever action you need:

Access Gmail Drive docs from the browser on any computer – you can work via the Web and your Gmail account or you can install Gmail Drive on another computer and work with documents from there. There are some limitations – file size for Gmail hovers around 25gb and it isn’t practical to share docs with others via Gmail – you would need to give invitees your Gmail log in. But, still, what do you want for nothing? Put that empty space to work for you!

Cloud Experience For Online, Real Time Backups

I have had people ask me about the best options for backing up data and media. Invariably, the discussion centers around local storage versus cloud storage and some combination thereof. Studio readers know I am a big fan of cloud storage (particularly if it is free), and that I use DropBox quite a bit to manipulate my content in the cloud. But I don’t really use DropBox for online backup – I tend to use it more as a way station and sharing option when I need to use certain files across devices or work with someone else on something. The free limit is rather small to be used to backup tons of data.

Cloud Experience is a great cloud option for online backup. The service starts at 10gb for free for both consumers and developers, as well as quite reasonably priced for added storage if the 10gb is insufficient. You can sync documents, photos, calendars, contacts – pretty much any data worth saving in multiple locales. You can sync these backups across a plethora of devices, so you need not wring your hands when your trusty smartphone bites the dust or you find yourself remote from your main address book needing to call that contact whose number you haven’t memorized. Files can also be shared with lots of networks, including the social ones.

There is no harm in adding a layer of protection to 10gb of your content when the price is free. Check out Cloud Experience – you may find yourself thanking me.

Mimedia With 7GB of Free Cloud Backup/Storage

As we look ever skyward, instead of downward at our desktops, for apps and storage, newcomers will have to offer more to compete for attention. Enter Mimedia: an online storage site that offers 7GB free storage (or $9.99 per mo / $99 per year for 250GB or more) within a more interactive environment than the average online storage site. In addition to the usual, secure online storage locker, you can get instant, on demand access to your files from anywhere. This becomes extra useful when you are storing music or video, but still works nicely with files and photo galleries. To avoid the upload hassles, you can use Mimedia’s physical “shuttle drive” – they will send you the drive, you load the media as encrypted files and send it back, and they will upload it for you. New files and changes are backed up automatically in real-time.  Once in the cloud, you can access the information from anywhere with an internet connection. There is a local Mimedia application that is required for interacting with your acccount. The interface on the Web has more visual appeal than some, ahem, more well-known competitors.

All in all, Mimedia offers an affordable package with enough bells and whistles to make you want to take a second look. And, if free is what you are after, 7GB is a whole lot more than 2GB, last time I consulted my math skills.