Virtual law firm plans to multiply like magic
Posted Apr 1, 2013 2:00 AM CDT
By Rachel M. Zahorsky
One part law firm and one part business entity, Washington, D.C.-based Clearspire aims to expand its nontraditional legal-services model across the country with the addition of 50 to 100 former BigLaw lawyers each year for the next five years.
With brick-and-mortar outposts recently opened in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco—and several more planned—Clearspire operates primarily through a $5 million online platform, Coral, that connects lawyers and clients through virtual offices and high-end videoconferencing.
Clearspire’s co-founders are Bryce Arrowood, who previously built one of the first temporary legal staffing firms in the U.S., and civil trial lawyer Mark A. Cohen, an early adopter of information technology in the delivery of legal services. They spent two years creating the infrastructure and network platform for Coral, and brought in ethics professor Sheldon Krantz, formerly of DLA Piper, to ensure the company’s compliance with all ethics requirements.
The model allows Clearspire Law Co.—a law firm that outsources all business processes, technology administration and commoditized legal work to its sister company, Clearspire Services Co.—to cut overhead costs by 50 percent compared to traditional firms. That reduces client fees on complex legal matters and maintains market salaries for lawyers and staff, the firm says.
Lawyers and staff stay connected by navigating Coral’s virtual hallways, where they are grouped by geographical location, practice area and client matter. They can see what their colleagues are up to through photos and icons that update in real time. The system alerts others when a fellow lawyer is on the phone or free to chat via email, phone, webchat or video.
Clearspire has attracted the attention of 165 general counsel of Fortune 500 companies, a sign of the model’s validity among heavy-hitting clients, says president and CEO Arrowood. The company aims to raise $3 million more from outside investors in 2013.
“When Mark and I looked at the legal landscape and what was happening in 2008,” Arrowood says, “no law firm was looking at changing their model the way the market was telling them they needed to.”
“While a lot has been done to bring costs down,” he says of outsourcing and contract attorneys, “nobody looked at how firms could be more cost-efficient at the high end.
“If everyone sticks to what they do well, and firms let businesspeople manage projects and tech people build robust systems, lawyers are liberated to focus on the law.”