Laurie Ziffrin and Anna Ostrovsky say their site that hitches clients with lawyers beats using the Yellow Pages.
While social networks and dating sites are all the rage, sometimes the opposite kind of site is needed. Couples who meet via eHarmony can hit the wrong note and demand a divorce, while Friendster friends can turn enemies and sue each other. That's where LegalMatch comes in.
The San Francisco-based company started in 1999 as a way for people to search for qualified lawyers in their area with a given specialty. Clients fill out a questionnaire about their legal problem and LegalMatch finds attorneys with the right expertise. The site routes the request to different lawyers while guarding the client's identity, gives the attorneys an opportunity to respond, and lets clients pick the advocate they like best. It's kind of like a LendingTree or Priceline for the wingtip set.
Red Herring talked to Ms. Ziffrin and Chairperson and General Counsel Anna Ostrovsky, who practiced international tax law at PricewaterhouseCoopers, about the company.
Q: What kinds of advantages does the Internet give lawyers and potential clients when they need to find each other?
LZ: Consumers are utilizing the Internet in ever increasing numbers to find legal services. Yahoo research says there are 4 million people per month using the Internet to find legal services. They anticipate that number will reach 7 million by 2007.
Q: How are you paid for the service? Do you take a cut of the commission?
LZ: Everything is free for the consumers. We get the money from the attorneys. They get access to all the cases in their geographic area and in their specialty of law. The attorneys pay us an annual subscription fee. They don't pay on a per-case basis.
AO: There are actually regulations in all 50 states that prevent us from charging on every case. That's only something bar association referral services are allowed to do.
Q: Who's your biggest competitor?
LZ: The Yellow Pages are still very prevalent. Whoever has the biggest ad wins and the consumer doesn't really know anything about the attorney, whether they're still practicing or still taking clients or not.
Q: How do you screen the attorneys to make sure they're reputable?
LZ: We are very strict. We do a background check with state bars on their record of complaints and disciplinary actions. We get recommendations from peers and clients they have worked with, so the client knows without a doubt this is a competent, trustworthy attorney.
Q: What kinds of clients typically come to you?
LZ: Roughly 60 percent of the consumers who come to us are women. One of the benefits we afford is anonymity. If you're in a small community, you may not want to go into four attorneys' offices and tell them what's going on with you. You don't need to go out and air your dirty laundry.
Q: Have you received any VC or private equity investment?
AO: We were initially funded with a small round of investment from friends and family, but we have been self-funded since 2001.
Q: Do you have any plans for international expansion?
LZ: We've looked at international expansion, but the legal profession varies so dramatically from country to country. It makes sense to continue to focus on our core area. We are all across the country.
Contact the writer: MCohn@RedHerring.com