Social networking will change the way attorneys generate new business and distribute low-cost advice if a legal industry startup has its way.
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With iOS developers facing unexpected patent claims from companies like Lodsys and MacroSolve, many will be seeking legal advice for the first time while they wait for Apple to ride to the rescue.
But finding the right lawyer isn't easy. "The whole process of finding lawyer is a headache," said Nitin Gupta, co-founder of legal Q&A service LawPivot, in a phone interview.
LawPivot, founded in November 2009 and launched in August 2010, is backed by Google Ventures and other investment firms. It's goal, Gupta said, is "essentially to disrupt the legal industry."
The legal advice website previously only served California. As of Thursday, it is open to business nationwide.
LawPivot is at its heart a social question answering service like Quora, but one that recognizes the corporate need for discretion. "A lot of legal questions that companies ask are sensitive, so they don't feel comfortable asking publicly," said Gupta.
Using the service, companies can post confidential questions to as many as 10 attorneys and receive legal advice that, for the moment, is free. For participating attorneys, offering advice is a form of lead generation and may result in a paying client.
"What's happening with general legal advice is it's really becoming commoditized," said Gupta. At the same time, he said, many companies are not going to be satisfied by a search for publicly accessible summaries of common legal issues.
Gupta said that while lawyers are typically judged by how much business they generate, they usually aren't trained in business development, which is to say marketing themselves to new clients. And the old ways of maintaining a high profile for potential clients--writing articles, speaking at events--are being eclipsed by social media, he argued.
Using LawPivot, attorneys can build up a social reputation by answering questions. When a lawyer responds to a question, the fact that he or she responded is displayed on his or her profile and that's publicly searchable, Gupta explained.
"This is a way for lawyers to actually create a reputation online," said Gupta. "The more questions you answer, the more connections you make."
At the moment, LawPivot is free, but the site eventually plans to charge companies for legal advice, either on a per question basis or in the form of a monthly fee. It will also be offering attorneys the opportunity to enhance their profiles with certain features for a fee at some point.
"We feel like we have a solution that allows social media to be used by lawyers," said Gupta.
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