Companies like LegalZoom try to replace the basic services offered by attorneys, but sometimes you still need to talk to a real, live lawyer. So a startup called Lawdingo makes it easier to find one.
When you visit the Lawdingo site, you search the site based on your legal situation and your location. Then you get a list of applicable lawyers, along with their Yelp ratings (Lawdingo is also building a review system of its own) and their rates. You can schedule an appointment to talk to a lawyer directly from Lawdingo, either through video (using TokBox) or voice chat (using Twilio). If they’re online, you can even hit a “talk now” button.
The main selling point of Lawdingo seems to be convenience — you don’t have to track down an attorney, schedule an appointment, then drive across town to meet them. But even though the company allows lawyers to set their own rates, founder and CEO Nikhil Nirmel said it can still save users money. For one thing, lawyers are encouraged to offer free consultations for a duration of their choosing (the average is 20 minutes). For another, users can consult with lawyers even if they aren’t nearby, giving them a broader selection and potentially connecting them with lawyers who charge less because they live in lower-cost cities.
Lawdingo makes money by charging lawyers a flat monthly fee. Nirmel said that if he charged a transaction fee, then lawyers would have a financial incentive to move the relationship off Lawdingo and onto phone or email as soon as possible. He also offers a moneyback guarantee for the first month, and he said no one’s asked for a refund yet.
There are currently 205 attorneys located in 36 states using the platform, Nirmel said. Five hundred live legal consultations have been initiated on the site, 180 appointments have been scheduled, and 1,550 inquires have been submitted. The most common type of inquiry? Family and divorce.
Lawdingo has raised about $100,000 in seed funding from Safe Shepherd founder Robert Leshner, Rohan Srinivasan of Google Finance, Causes engineer Adam Derewecki, and others.
How do you find a good lawyer to handle a divorce, start-up issues or a criminal defense case, anywhere? It's a hard thing to do because the market is so fragmented, both geographically and by domain expertise.
A new site and service, Lawdingo.com, makes matches between attorneys and people who need their help. It aims to do so more quickly and affordably than earlier alternatives on- and offline.
The founder and chief executive of Lawdingo Inc., Nikhil Nirmel, told VentureWire he raised $100,000 in seed funding from veteran engineers and entrepreneurs, with a commitment to double that capital if he hits certain milestones.
Now out of private beta, Lawdingo.com "lets people talk to a lawyer online," the CEO explained. Attorneys who want to use the site to connect with prospective clients are heavily vetted before they're allowed to join. Once accepted, they must be available to talk "now or within the week by video chat, phone or email," with potential clients, Mr. Nirmel said.
Users access qualified lawyers within their state via Lawdingo online, so they don't have to wait for an open appointment and drive across town to meet an attorney one month later. Instead, they get a free consultation in the virtual, and can decide to proceed and pay online, or move into some other long-term agreement, offline, with pricing established upfront.
The legal advice that users get via Lawdingo.com is tailored, specific and actionable, unlike content shared on general, social media sites or even law-firm blogs. It's not do-it-yourself or software-guided legal help, like that provided by LegalZoom or RocketLawyer, two other tech ventures trying to transform the market.
The average free online consultation given to Lawdingo users lasts for 20 minutes, said Mr. Nirmel. Lawyers set their own terms but must offer free consultations up to one hour in duration.
Attorneys don't have to pay a commission or lead-generation fees to Lawdingo for new business should they lock in a long-term retainer. Attorneys also get 100% of the fees users pay for consultation by the hour on the Lawdingo platform.
The start-up makes its revenue by charging attorneys a monthly fee for the software as a service. That pricing, in the company's pilot phase, was $95 per month per user. The monthly subscription pales in comparison to the time and money most attorneys, or their firms, spend to be seen in search engines, and directories from Yelp.com, more generally, to specialized sites like Lawyers.com.
So far, investors backing Lawdingo include a seed fund in Cambridge, Mass., called Stevens Ventures, a former Yelp Inc . engineer named Adam Derewecki, and Rohan Srinivasan, who is best known for his work in Google Inc.'s finance team. Other angels who preferred to remain unnamed include an engineer who has been with Google since 2004.
The founder of Stevens Ventures, Nathaniel Stevens-- also the founder of local search business Yodle Inc. --explained that he backed Lawdingo Inc. because: "Interacting with lawyers is still an inconvenient and costly pain, especially when you're in the retail or consumer law market. The Web is under-exploited as a channel, here."
Mr. Stevens also endorsed Mr. Nirmel's abilities to build products tailored for local and niche professional markets, while managing and scaling up his team.
The Wall Street Journal reported in June that only 55% of newly minted attorneys--those who graduated from law school in 2011--attained full-time, long-term jobs in the U.S. Lawdingo hopes to improve those numbers, too.
Mr. Nirmel said the site and service should help major law firms and sole practitioners all to become more profitable, by giving them visibility with and access to customers in markets beyond their brick-and-mortar offices.
So far, Lawdingo has 205 attorneys on its platform, located in 36 states. "If Lawdingo were a law firm, this would make it one of the 200 largest law firms in the U.S. or in the top 0.4% of all law firms by lawyer count," the CEO said.
Typically, it only takes a customer 1 1/2 days or less to get an appointment on Lawdingo.com with an attorney who resolves their problem, sometimes within the time of a free consultation. In the brick-and-mortar world, that usually takes more than a week.
Since the fall, when Lawdingo.com began operating in a private beta, the start-up has conducted 500 legal consultations, with 1,550 inquiries submitted by users online. The average paid consultation there has consisted of 28 minutes talk time at an average cost of $75, Mr. Nirmel reported.
Write to Lora Kolodny at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @lorakolodny