Ambrogi on Tech

Lawyer-referral firm puts its emphasis on the human touch

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Adda Birnir had more than her fair share of trouble finding a lawyer to help her start her New York City-based business Skillcrush, an online “learning community” for digital skills.

She asked friends. She searched Google. She hired a big-name New York law firm only to quickly realize her little startup wasn’t a priority for them. A relative of a friend at an out-of-town firm was helpful to an extent, but was unable to handle her sophisticated financing issues. Another lawyer she tried turned out to be “really bad,” she says.

“At this point, I was sick and tired of the whole lawyer thing,” Birnir recalls.

Then she heard that an acquaintance of hers, a lawyer named Basha Rubin, was starting a service called Priori Legal that pre-vetted lawyers and matched them to business clients based on mutual compatibility of needs and location. Birnir tried it and was matched with a lawyer she immediately liked and trusted. Soon after, however, he died. But Birnir continued to work with his partner and his firm.

She also continued to work with Priori when she needed other lawyers for more specialized purposes, such as to handle her intellectual property.

“What’s cool about Priori is that when you have a specific issue, you can go to them and find specialists,” she says. “And I know that if I’m uncomfortable with the lawyer they refer, I have a simple method of recourse: I can go back to Priori and get another lawyer.”


Priori is an online service that helps smaller businesses find lawyers. But unlike some such services, it does not use an algorithm. It is not based solely on geography or a lawyer’s self-description. Rubin, its CEO and a 2010 Yale Law School graduate, describes it as a “curated marketplace” that connects business owners with vetted lawyers at transparent prices.

Two aspects distinguish it from other lawyer-matching sites, Rubin says. First, Priori screens every lawyer it admits to its roster. It interviews them—in person when possible or by Skype when not. It checks their backgrounds and references. Lawyers must have practiced at least five years and have malpractice coverage. Only a fifth of applicants are admitted to the roster and, once on, they must maintain a 95 percent client-approval rating.

Second, Priori strives to be transparent about fees and provide businesses with a discount over the open market. Lawyers on its roster agree to discount their hourly rates by 25 percent as well as to provide flat-fee packages for standard matters. Clients pay 10 percent of the discount to Priori as a service fee and get the savings of the remaining 15 percent.

It is an arrangement that New York City corporate and transactional lawyer Neil Jacobs is quite happy with. “They’re not a pure technology play, and that’s good,” he says. “While the practice of law is being disrupted across the board, there are still many things that require human intervention.”

Jacobs has worked with other lawyer-referral services and found that virtually every case he gets is a one-off. In contrast, several of the cases he has been referred through Priori have evolved into longer-term relationships.

Rubin and co-founder Mirra Levitt, also a Yale Law graduate, started developing Priori in 2011 after both had seen how difficult it can be for a small business to find a lawyer. They operate in five states so far—California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Texas—and plan to add others later this year. Rubin declined to disclose their revenues or investors. Their clients range from a solo entrepreneur to a 1,000-employee company.

After potential clients contact Priori through its website, staff members, many of whom are lawyers, provide them with names of lawyers who have the appropriate expertise and who represent a range of pricing options. Clients use Priori’s calendaring system to schedule initial consultations. Once the client selects a lawyer and they negotiate a fee agreement, all billing and payments are handled through Priori’s system.

For Birnir, the appeal of Priori is its vetting process.

“You have to completely trust your lawyer,” she says. “It’s a lot of trust to put in someone else. It’s really complicated.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “More than Formula: Lawyer-referral firm puts its emphasis on the human touch.”

Robert J. Ambrogi is a Rockport, Massachusetts, lawyer and writer. He covers technology at his blog LawSites and co-hosts the legal-affairs podcast Lawyer2Lawyer.

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