Crowdsourcing the Law? Apparently You Can, With Jurify

Seems a blasphemous concept, but how about getting top-tier legal resources from the finest legal minds for free? Jurify is looking to secure content from the best and the brightest lawyers to include on their site, offering in exchange recognition via direct attribution and inclusion on top ten lists by category. They are soliciting information from lawyers, double-checking its accuracy with other lawyers, and then offering the content to still more lawyers and the public at large for free or cheap. Up the Revolution!

Jurify’s brand new, slickly designed site, is the brainchild of law grads / lawyers Eric and Nicole Lopez who hope to change the way people access legal resources. They are so hip, they look like they are even using Instagram photos on their about page! So, what kind of content are we talking about here? Really anything – memos, blog posts, client alerts, white papers, videos, cases, articles, websites, news stories, training materials, sample briefs, sample forms, whatever. All tagged and searchable, with the ability to rate and comment on the content and awarded with Credibility Scores. What’s that? The Credibility Score measures a legal member’s level of engagement with a specific subject, generated via a proprietary algorithm. The algorithm factors include the type, quantity and quality of contributions, professional background and achievements. If you contribute quality content, the site promises to include you in lists that showcase your brainpower, presumably encouraging the public to choose you for more in-depth analysis. Oh, and you can even earn achievements, like little Foursquare badges. I want the Learned Hand badge – I have ALWAYS loved his name!

From their site:

Jurify is the home for top-tier attorneys and blue chip executives involved with the law. Created by experienced lawyers from global law firms who grew tired of the cloistered and outdated way law was practiced, Jurify is an invitation-only platform that channels the collective genius of the best attorneys worldwide to deliver high-quality legal resources in mere seconds.

Our content is contributed by carefully-screened attorney members who share without pay. These lawyers are rewarded withrecognition through direct attribution as well as placement in our practice-specific “Top Attorneys” lists. They also earn Achievements designed to showcase their accomplishments and provide additional validation to discriminating clients and employers in search of the best the legal world has to offer.

The site promises the mindware of the most accomplished practitioners, and invites viewer attorneys to apply for free membership, as inclusion in the site is invite only. I imagine they are pretty hungry for applicants right now – as it appears obvious the success of Jurify will depend heavily on getting quality material from a lot of quality contributors. While it may not be as attractive to busy lawyers already earning a decent living and finding it difficulty to piece two minutes together, I see it as a potential marketing tool for newer lawyers interested in getting their name out there. Which cuts against the promise of crowdsourced experience, but let’s overlook that small hiccup for the moment. There is also, as expected, a rather lengthy terms and conditions I recommend reading closely.

Jurify is indeed a novel concept. Can it take hold? In a world driven by social media, achievements and on-line recognition and promotion, maybe it could. I hope it does. Better access to legal help isn’t such a bad thing, is it? Check out their promotional video below and stop by their site. Let me know what you think – this is definitely a conversation-starter.

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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.

Guest Post: Flying Solo In The Cloud

Christopher G. Hill is lawyer, LEED AP, and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC. Chris has been nominated and elected by his peers to Virginia’s Legal Elite in the Construction Law category on multiple occasions and is a member of the Virginia Super Lawyers “Rising Stars” for 2011.  He specializes in mechanic’s liens, contract review and consulting, occupational safety issues (VOSH and OSHA), and risk management for construction professionals. Chris authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals. You can follow him on Twitter at @constructionlaw.

First of all, I’m thrilled to cross post for a third time here at the Studio. Today, you can check out Martha’s great post on changes and fun with Google after you read this.

When I contacted Martha for what she’d like for a post, we decided on “the Cloud.” I know, this has been done to death. The “cloud” is everywhere. SEO and other tech buzzwords rule Twitter and blogs. I feel as if it’s all around us and that we can’t escape it. Smarter folks than I have discussed the ethical, practical and legal implications of the use of the “cloud” (read Internet) in legal practice. If you are looking for a discussion of those types of high level thoughts and implications, you are in the wrong place.

As anyone that reads Musings will know, I am not anti-cloud (and I love to read the Advocate’s Studio to keep up on the latest tech). I use Web 2.0 (or whatever we call it now) for marketing, client development and other helpful things, so please don’t turn away at this point because you think I will be panning use of internet based practice tools in legal practice (or construction practice for that matter).

When I went out on my own on July 1, 2010, I embraced the mobility available through cloud based tools. I am the entire staff of my law firm, so I needed to streamline and go paperless (to the extent possible in legal practice) to keep my practice manageable. I signed up for Clio, hooked my trusty laptop to the internet, later purchased a ScanSnap scanner, bought a Blackberry Playbook (yes, I’m still using a Blackberry), and charged forward. While the scanner is not in the cloud, it keeps my paper to my goal of a two drawer file cabinet.

Now, when documents come in, I scan the documents; send them to Clio through its great document mail drop service that files the document to the right matter; and, stamp it “scanned” and either shred or file it away (there are still documents I need to keep in original form). I also keep a record of e-mails that go back and forth in the same manner. With the documents redundantly saved on Clio’s servers, I can get to them wherever I can find a web connection.

I bill clients by e-mail (often with just a web link allowing them to see and pay their bill). I accept credit card payments over the web. I occasionally collaborate through Dropbox and/or Google Docs. Without web based practice tools, my practice would not run as smoothly.

On the other hand (and you knew there’d be one, didn’t you?), I do not think that the Web is the be all and end all of legal practice and marketing. Particularly with my clientele (contractors and subcontractors), the value of a handshake, and having boots on the ground cannot be underestimated. While having a web presence is, in my opinion, necessary, it cannot be all that I use. The flood of web based possibilities seems endless, but trying to use all of them would kill my productivity and, frankly, cause my eyes to hurt from staring at a screen.

In other words, the cloud is great, but there’s way too much out there to use it all so take what you need and leave the rest. I have on more than one occasion referred to myself as a “MASH unit lawyer,” dealing with claims and practical, non-cloud based issues, with what I hope to be a level of pragmatism. I take this same ethic to the “cloud” with me. Judicious use of the cloud allows my practice to run and it can help yours too. Just be sure to get your head out of the cloud on occasion.

Instant Legal Assistance? Just Fill In the Blanks

While the practice of law will always be a professional pursuit, the purchasing of legal services is becoming more of a consumer product, whether or not we lawyers welcome this shift. Take, for example, Legal River (link here), a website devoted to providing lay people with just enough legal assistance to get them going.  It is a web locale designed to faciliate “connection” between lawyers and business people. The free service has been around since 2009. What are they all about? Take a look at their own explanation, from their site:

Legal River brings legal information to the consumer. We at Legal River understand how confusing it can be to run a legitimate business and still not fully understand the law. Legal River was created to solve this problem.

Whether you are a small business owner, an attorney or an individual, there is a place for you on Legal River. As a small business owner or individual, you can find legal information that will save you countless hours later trying to figure out how to fix an issue. Also, you can ask any law question you might have. As an attorney, you can use Legal River to learn about laws in different geographical regions or areas of law. You can also submit guides and answer questions; these will help you win points, unlock badges and reach new clients.

Interesting, huh? On the surface, Legal River looks to be part information repository, part social network and part video game, complete with badges. Underneath, Legal River is a form of referral network, matching attorneys with business owners, although this is expressly disclaimed on their site. Their “referral” page promises to “let the right lawyer find you” as well as a response from five attorneys on legal questions within 24 hours. There are more than 300 law firms connected with the site and it appears their distinction (compared to Findlaw or lawyers.com) is their rapid turn-around on RFPs.  

But, if you aren’t so interested in getting hooked up with fee-based representation, there is a lot of information just laying around the site. The search box on the home page invites users to “find questions, answers, topics, or guides on legal matters.” “Insurance” gave me very general information on workers compensation, licensing agreements, sole proprietorships and C corporations. I was also offered an opportunity to “vote up” an article or comment on it. Or, I could peruse previously-answered questions on various topics, filtering them by recency, month or all-time popularity.

There are tabs for questions, guides, tags, badges (more on that in a minute), open questions, a guide submission form, and a place to ask questions. The badges are interesting, to say the least, ranging from good to super questions or guides submitted to various levels of generalist, researcher, professor, paralegal, law student, law clerk, senior associate, partner, name partner, and LSAT through Bar Exam.

Very, very interesting.

At the top of the page, I noticed two links: terms of service generator; and, privacy policy generator. Apparently, Legal River rolled out this feature within the past year. If you doubt Legal River’s handiwork with respect to terms of service, just take a look at their own very lengthy TOS on the site. To get your “document”, Legal River invites you to simply fill in the blanks – the appropriate document is returned online quickly. The user also ges an HTML code version and an emailed copy.  As can be seen on the header for the page, the tools are a combined effort of Legal River and General Counsel, P.C.

For what it is worth, Legal River is not alone in this endeavor. Other firms have offered similar “fill in the blank” document generation, likely in an effort to win customers with freebies. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, P.C. host a similar Term Sheet Generator. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP launched their version about a year ago. Private investors are interested too – Legal River secured two infusions of seed funding within the first year.

What does it all mean? While it is hard for old school attorneys like me to stomach the implications of “one size fits all” when it comes to legal document crafting or any aspect of lawyering, the new school part of me recognizes that this is where all services are going – law is moving towards commoditization. Lawyers must develop sensitivity to cost concerns in response to the concerns of web-savvy consumers. While some of Legal River’s trappings make me smirk a bit (read, badges and points for intellectual output), the gist of what they are trying to do makes more and more sense as our economy moves on-line. If we are comfortable living and sharing in social networks and virtual worlds, why wouldn’t we feel comfortable shopping for legal information in similar venues?

I will be watching to see where this move leads us. Perhaps down the Legal River, hopefully with paddle firmly in hand.

Suffering the Consequences of Incomprehensibility

1st third of 16th century
Image via Wikipedia

Haven’t posted one of these in the while. The ABA Journal reports here on another lawyer taking a beating from a judge for poor writing. The Dayton, Florida lawyer, David W. Glasser, was the attorney on the receiving end of U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell’s ire. Apparently, Attorney Glasser filed a Motion to Dismiss with the District Court and Judge Presnell denied the Motion without prejudice. Attached to the Judge’s Denial is a copy of the original Motion complete with red editing marks. The Judge ordered Glasser to copy his client on the criticism.

I read the ABA’s blurb listing the grammatical errors pointed out by the Judge: several examples of excess spacing; typographical errors; incorrect placement of punctuation outside of quotation marks; incorrect capitalization; wrong word use; and, one very long sentence. Procedural errors aside, I thought to myself “sure, these are problems, but the Judge’s actions seem pretty harsh.” And then I read the example quoted by the Journal:

“A review counsel’s file subsequent to the court order indicates that for some reason full which counsel is unaware, the defendant named in the complaint was changed to the current defendant. Counsel believes this was changed by counsel’s prior assistant it was no longer with counsel’s firm.”

Whaaaat? Case closed.

[if you really want to, you can read the Motion here]

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