Illustration by Hal Mayforth
everal impishly named web sites—such as WhoCanISue.com
, and Suing101.com
—are hoping to hit the big time by linking lawyers with prospective clients.
"We think the legal system has been wrongly maligned as a playground for the rich that is off limits for people with no money," says Kevin Yu, who launched HelpMeSue.com
in Los Alamitos with another Bay Area tech worker in April 2008. "We give folks a forum to post their legal issue, and then lawyers either bid on the case or ignore it—without much wasted time for either party."
Once a consumer provides information about a particular legal problem, most of these new sites generate a list of local lawyers that match the consumer's legal needs. The potential client is then free to contact any of them.
Internet traffic statistics from the rating service Alexa
suggest that, so far, the new sites rank far behind established attorney-listing services: Thomson Reuters's findlaw.com
is among the Internet's top 5,000 most-visited sites, and LexisNexis's Lawyers.com is among the top 12,000. By comparison, HelpMeSue is only among the top 2 million.
Still, in today's economy attorneys increasingly are leaving no stone unturned in their search to procure clients. And the new generation of legal sites cost attorneys little or nothing to screen out or contact potential clients—compared with the thousands of dollars it can cost to be listed in a top online legal directory or to place an ad in the Yellow Pages.
It's little wonder, then, that more than 1,200 California lawyers are already paying customers of SueEasy.com, launched last year in Mountain View. "California represents our largest demographic of lawyers," says SueEasy cofounder Sahil Kazi, whose site charges as little as $195 for three months of client referrals.
Though attorney feedback about these new services indicates that many are still a work in progress, earlier lawyer-matching startups—such as LegalMatch.com
, and RocketLawyer.com
—have managed to climb in the Alexa rankings.
"What consumers value is information—about practices, about attorneys and fees," says Anna Ostrovsky, general counsel at San Francisco–based LegalMatch, founded in 1999. At LegalMatch, consumers can see information about an attorney's fees, clients, education, and standing with the bar, while attorneys pay a minimum of $300 a month for the right to contact potential clients. The price goes up for personal injury law and other practice areas that are particularly suited to online-matching sites, with monthly fees to access clients running up to $2,000 in the most popular geographic markets.
At the other end of the spectrum, lawyers can post their profiles for free on Advice Company's AttorneyPages. The same is true at RocketLawyer, launched in 2007, but the San Francisco–based site charges lawyers $89.95 monthly to use its extensive practice-management tools. This approach seems to be working: LexisNexis
acquired a minority ownership in RocketLawyer in December.
"As things slow down, RocketLawyer makes more sense," says Ted Kim, a former shareholder at Heller Ehrman who now uses RocketLawyer's tools at his firm, Kim Law Advisers, in San Francisco. "It helps us to have access to forms and services."
Ultimately, the success of such sites requires more than just a catchy name. For example, in 2006 securities attorney Thomas C. Bradley secured the domain name stockmarketattorney.com
. It cost him only $10—but it didn't attract much business. Only after the first rumblings of the financial-market mess were heard last summer and Bradley spent $60,000 on radio advertising did he begin to see his online inquiries soar.
"I've gone from a few good calls a month to 20 a month," he says.