UpCounsel uses an online platform to match individual attorneys directly with SMBs that require legal assistance.
Being able to consult a lawyer when you need one is an essential factor in the development of any young business, and especially so for a startup in an innovation-related field where conflicts regularly arise over intellectual property. However, legal services are usually expensive and sometimes quite ponderous. Most corporate legal work is carried out by large law firms with very opaque pricing. But as UpCounsel co-founder and CEO Matt Faustman points out: "Mega law firms don't deal with your average individual or small business". UpCounsel, founded by a group of former lawyers and entrepreneurs, sets out to connect lawyers directly with technology startups. The online platform contains the details of a large number of attorneys who have been very carefully screened and are available for small firms to call on. UpCounsel differentiates itself from other similar services such as LawGives and LegalSonar in that it specializes in the tech field and preselects the legal providers accordingly.
Simple interface offering ‘on-demand’ legal services
Over 1,000 startups have already made use of the UpCounsel service for needs ranging from obtaining a visa for foreign staff to drafting technology transfer agreements. As with Yelp and ZocDoc, the platform lists the profile and area of residence of each attorney so that a potential client can consult a list of lawyers sorted by geography and field of expertise – such as the nonprofit sector, patents, tax law, etc. The initial contact can be made free of charge and takes around three days to complete. Entrepreneurs can also opt for legal assistance exclusively by phone, which may well be safer and more efficient than seeking online advice from non-vetted advisors. In this way, UpCounsel is looking to get around the fact that law firms focusing specifically on small but growing companies are practically non-existent.
‘Disintermediation’ model applicable to other basic services?
This type of online marketplace might be equally useful for law firms looking to simplify the process of recruitment or the partnership structure. UpCounsel also encourages attorneys to make contact with other lawyers with a view to getting together or for the purposes of recruiting temporary staff. Given that some major law firms have recently begun to make sizeablelayoffs, this approach might even in the longer term make legal partnerships’ traditional ways of working obsolete. This type of ‘disintermediation’ or direct-matching platform might also lower the entry barriers to a variety of markets for young companies. A key advantage for UpCounsel lies in its competitive pricing. As Matt Faustman points out: “The hourly fee is half that charged by a traditional firm.”