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If you are in New York City today (Friday 7 Feb) for the ReInvent Law NYC conference at Cooper Union (too late to get tickets, as it is sold out) check out the presentation at 3:30pm (Eastern) by Basha Frost Rubin, one of the founders of Priori Legal, on Everyone is an Expert – Lawyering in the Age of Self Diagnosis. We spoke to Basha yesterday about Priori Legal and her presentation – and it seems she and her team may have just disrupted the online lawyer referral model.

The elevator pitch is that Priori Legal is an online platform that connects small businesses* with a curated network of lawyers at below-market, transparent and (wherever possible) fixed fee rates**. The service is currently available in New York state and is being expanded into other states. (There are currently no plans to offer the service internationally.) So how does it work – and haven’t we heard it all before?

According to Basha Frost Rubin, what differentiates Priori Legal from other services is the quality of the lawyers on the panel, which is due to the way they are curated. In otherwords, lawyers can’t just pay some money to be added to the list. Instead, all applications are vetted, with particular reference to malpractice cover and that the lawyers are admitted where they say they are. This followed by a face-to-face in-person interviews after which two references are taken up.

But where’s the money? There are no subscription fees however in return for leads lawyers are required to offer clients a 25% discount off their usual rates. Then, the client pays Priori a 10% management fee on fixed rates, so the client realizes a 15% discount off the open market – hence the claim to offer below-market fees. Rubin says that since the service was launched in the fall of 2013, its reputation for generating leads has resulted in more and more lawyers applying to join up.

Now let’s look at the service from the client perspective, which is also where today’s ReInvent Law presentation comes in. In the digital age, Rubin says the typical response of a prospective client to a legal problem is to first of all search online for and answer – or as her presentation title puts it “everyone is an expert, we live in the Age of Self Diagnosis.” But, rather than seeing this as a disadvantage, Priori Legal takes advantage of the prospects’ initial research to create a detailed questionnaire, which is then used (by people, not a computer) to handpick a short-list of 3-to-5 lawyers with the appropriate skills.

Rubin concedes that many lawyers feel challenged by the internet and the rise of online legal document services but believes Priori Legal offers an alternative that will not only generate new business for lawyers but also make better use of their time. This is because they are already effectively well briefed (they get to see the client questionnaire) when they meet the client for the first time, so they can cut straight to the billable nitty-gritty.

* Small businesses = businesses that typically do not have an inhouse lawyer. There are currently no immediate plans to offer a similar service to consumers.

** As well as fixed fees, Priori Legal can also handle hourly rates, contingency fees and alternative fee arrangements – however fixed fees are the simplest.