Posted Jan 01, 2004 07:46 am CST
Last May, Roxanne Mosley’s fledgling law practice was struggling. So she signed up with LegalMatch, a Web-based business specializing in hooking up interested clients with qualified attorneys. Shortly thereafter, she says, things began to change.
The Sacramento, Calif., solo practitioner says she’s had to move to larger quarters and hire an assistant to help her keep up with all the work generated by LegalMatch. Mosley estimates she now gets between 70 percent and 80 percent of her clients as a result of the company’s arranged introductions. “The results,” she says simply, “have been phenomenal.”
San Francisco lawyer Dmitry Shubov founded LegalMatch (www.legalmatch.com) in 1999 to provide people looking for lawyers an alternative to the Yellow Pages and word of mouth. Here’s how it works: Potential clients go to the LegalMatch Web site and answer a number of questions about their problem and the type of lawyer they are looking for (i.e., area of expertise and experience level). This information is then sent to subscriber attorneys. If the case looks interesting, an attorney sends, usually via e-mail, a bid and a bio to the potential client.
The potential client can then review the bids submitted by lawyers and decide which one to hire.
Driving clients to the site are online ads and word of mouth. “We’re all over MSN if any legal term pops up,” Shubov says.
At the close of the case, LegalMatch offers clients an online evaluation form where they can rate their lawyer’s performance; the results are then attached to the lawyer’s LegalMatch profile.
Shubov says thousands of lawyers have joined the site, most report getting clients within two months and most first-time members have renewed their contracts.
Joining LegalMatch isn’t as easy as simply signing in. For one thing, its services don’t come cheap. Although clients don’t pay anything, participating attorneys must cough up an annual fee of between $4,000 and $20,000, depending on which legal specialties and geographic areas they sign up for. And it’s not open to all qualified attorneys. LegalMatch will do business with an attorney only if the company is confident that its referrals can provide “a major source of business” for that attorney, Shubov says.
Critics say clients would be better off going to bar-operated lawyer referral services. These resources often provide information that can help people solve their problems without paying for an attorney, says Sheree Swetin, executive director of the San Diego County Bar Association and former chair of the ABA’s Standing Committee on Lawyer Referral and Information Service. They can also steer someone to related support services such as government agencies, which LegalMatch doesn’t do, says Swetin.
And unlike ordinary lawyer referral services, LegalMatch limits the number of attorneys who can participate which limits the client’s choice, says Swetin. “The attorney who just got rejected [by LegalMatch] might be the best lawyer for that client,” she says.
Shubov, however, contends that clients of these regular referral services often get no choice at all because they’re just told to contact an attorney whose name happens to be at the top of the referral list. But clients who use LegalMatch, Shubov says, can compare and contrast the experience and prices of the responding attorneys.
Meanwhile, back in Sacramento, Mosley is planning to expand her practice into real estate law. And she expects that LegalMatch will be a big help.