Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Need a lawyer do we?

Good Day Readers:

One important point the article neglects to mention is to check with the Law Society in your jurisdiction. For Manitoba, Google Law Society of Manitoba - Discipline Case Digests where results if disciplinary hearings are arranged by year and in alphabetical order.

Clare L. Pieuk
Picking the right one
Sites speed up search for lawyer

By Michael Benedict
July 6, 2012 Issue
Even lawyers sometimes have trouble finding a lawyer. Imagine the difficulties faced by a mere mortal. So, how does one seek out a legal professional best suited to navigate a condo closing, develop an online users’ agreement or handle a slip-and-fall, let alone a criminal matter? Should one just go ahead and hire that lawyer recommended by a neighbour, mother-in-law or colleague at work?

Most people have no idea how to search for a lawyer. They rarely need one, and when they do, they usually want one right away. Without a referral, people these days are likely to go online. Then what? Try, for example, Googling real estate lawyers in a particular city. A list pops up, but the information is very general. One still has to go through the effort of contacting several lawyers and interviewing them before finding the right fit.

Most lawyers, as well, have no idea how to seek new clients.

Two recent online legal matching services cut to the chase. MyLawBid and Legal Linkup take the hassle out of lawyer search. These eHarmony-like sites provide an efficient and fast way for people to find a lawyer who meets their needs, suits their timelines and fits their budgets. At the same time, these new websites are a potential bonanza for lawyers to connect with new clients at little or no cost.

“Our request-for-proposal format saves time and money for both lawyers and people looking for lawyers,” says Jeffrey Fung, founder and chief executive officer of MyLawBid.

Adds Shane Coblin, who launched rival Legal Linkup earlier this year: “We offer streamlined one-stop shopping for both parties.”

Fung and Coblin are both Queen’s University Faculty of Law graduates, although Coblin graduated seven years earlier. The similarities don’t end there. Their online approach to matching potential clients with lawyers is essentially the same.

The process begins with the user submitting a request for legal services. The issue is sketched out anonymously. Typically, the user asks about costs. The inquiry is sent automatically to lawyers who have registered with the website and have the stated expertise to handle this particular legal situation. These lawyers can respond any way they see fit, making a pitch, setting a firm price or seeking more information.

Replies are sent electronically to the user, who may request clarification anonymously. Indeed, the user may choose to conceal his or her identity until a deal is reached.

“I liked that one could do this anonymously,” says Holly Kent, who used MyLawBid to find a lawyer to help her close a condo sale. “My roommate is a lawyer and I have a good friend in law school, but no one knew a real estate lawyer.”

At first, she approached lawyers recommended by her real estate agent, but was not won over by any of them. Then a friend told her about MyLawBid. Kent signed up and in a short time received six offers to help. “I didn’t have to reveal any private information, and they pitched to me,” says Kent, sales and marketing manager for the Canadian Children’s Book Centre.

Kent evaluated all the bids and went with the lawyer she felt most comfortable with, not the lowest price. The condo deal closed smoothly and Kent is delighted with the process and her choice. “She’s been great,” says Kent.

Meanwhile, Legal Linkup user Shawn Mintz praises that service as well. He received an “amazing” response to his request for help with his startup online mentoring business. Says Mintz: “It’s better than referrals, because it saves time and you see more options.”

The search for a condo-closing lawyer is another common theme in this emerging e-business. It’s what spurred Fung to establish MyLawBid. He and his wife, both lawyers, also knew no real estate lawyers when they bought a condo a few years ago. And none of their friends did either.

“I went online, but found an avalanche of names, too many to deal with,” Fung says. “I wanted one place where I could post my needs and have lawyers respond. I wanted a site where I would not have to spend much time hunting for legal advice and where I had more control over the process.”

When Fung realized such a site did not exist, he decided to create one. He left his corporate insolvency practice with McMillan LLP in Toronto and launched MyLawBid last July. Fung devotes himself full-time to the company and has so far enlisted some 250 lawyers for his service. About half are in the Greater Toronto Area, but MyLawBid also has a “good showing” in British Columbia.

Legal Linkup also has a heavy presence in Ontario and British Columbia, with some in Manitoba, but not as many in total as MyLawBid. Co-founder Coblin realized the need for a matching online legal service when small business clients approached his Vancouver firm with questions they could not answer. “They had IP issues, or cross-border problems, or just wanted to set up a will,” says Coblin, who remains a commercial litigator with Kornfeld Mackoff Silber LLP.

At the same time, Coblin realized that, “people want to do all their shopping online, even if they are looking for professionals.” Legal Linkup, he adds, offers the “whole package, where price is just one factor.

“I want people to make an informed decision.”

While users pay nothing for either service, Legal Linkup charges lawyers $1,000 per year to register, or slightly more, pro-rated, on a monthly basis. Clearly, that accounts for its smaller roster, but Fung says he, too, is soon going to start charging. That’s a development welcomed by at least one lawyer on MyLawBid’s current roster. “It should whittle down the number of competing lawyers,” says David Gray, an associate at the mid-sized, full-service Toronto firm Macdonald Sager Manis LLP.

Gray adds that he is likely to continue his listing, at least for a while, to see if it is worth his while. “It’s a fabulous site. It’s an innovative way of matching lawyers with clients in a professional way and allowing clients to reach out respectfully to lawyers who can meet their needs.”

Legal Linkup lawyer James Fireman of Toronto personal-injury firm Fireman Steinmetz LLP is also prepared to pay a fee to be listed. “I’m willing, on a cost-benefit basis. We are always looking for new client sources, and this is a low-risk opportunity.”

He adds: “Even one client per year could make it worthwhile.”


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