The changing legal marketplace
By Gloria Song
The Internet has provided a world of creative opportunities to help lawyers in their practice. Law firms search through profiles on LinkedIn before deciding to hire potential candidates. Clients learn about their law firms by googling their websites. Recently, a criminal lawyer described his average day at work to curious law students using an interactive “Choose Your Own Adventure” style narrative on the online discussion forum LawStudents.ca. What are the newest developments in the legal marketplace? Just like the rest of the social network-based world, the growing trend in the legal services has been toward building web-based connections for lawyers in their practice. In particular, three types of new services have emerged, providing valuable connections between lawyers and clients, lawyers and service providers, and lawyers and relevant cases.
Connecting lawyers with clients
One popular concept on the Internet is online bidding, as can be noted in the early success of eBay. In the legal world, several companies have now used this concept as a basis for connecting lawyers with clients. One project is MyLawBid, founded by Toronto lawyer Jeff Fung in July 2011. MyLawBid operates as a web-based bidding marketplace, where clients submit a request for legal proposals. Lawyers respond with proposals outlining the cost of their services. The clients then select a lawyer after reviewing each lawyer’s profile and comparing the proposals. This allows the public to save time and money in searching for a lawyer while providing lawyers with direct access to prospective clients. Lawyers have the option to pay for a membership either at a yearly or monthly rate, or per response. The service is free for prospective clients seeking lawyers.
“The idea came about in 2009 when my wife and I were buying our condo,” Mr. Fung explained. “We needed a real estate lawyer to close the deal but didn’t know where to start. We asked around and searched online, finally settling on a lawyer. After going through that process, I thought there had to be an easier way for people to find a lawyer online.”
Another similar service is Legal Linkup, founded by Vancouver lawyer Shane Coblin and Toronto businessman Lawrence Tepperman, which describes itself as e-Harmony (an online dating site) meets Priceline (an vacation bidding site), but for lawyers. For French-speaking Quebec lawyers, there’s Selexion, run by Quebecois lawyers Anthony Battah and Sam Tardif Malek.
Connecting lawyers with service providers
A similar online bidding concept providing a slightly different service is JusticeBid, a brand new service founded by Omar Sweiss on May 15, 2012.
JusticeBid connects lawyers to service providers such as translators, storage, appraisals, court reporters, data destruction, document reviews and video depositions. Like the lawyer-client sites, legal professionals submit a project requesting a service, and then select a service provider after review bids by comparing service providers’ profiles. Unlike the lawyer-client sites, lawyers use the website for free, while the winning service provider pays a commission to JusticeBid that is deducted off their final invoice.
“Essentially, our service is free to use for service providers until they are paid by the attorney,” explains Chief Operating Officer Justin Strane. “If the service provider does not receive payment, we do not receive our commission.” According to the company, this service saves lawyers countless hours spent on bidding out projects such as document review to third-party service providers to assist during litigation. Although the company is based in Chicago, JusticeBid is currently open to Canadian users.
Connecting lawyers with case precedents
Lawyers have been using online databases for jurisprudence research such as CanLII and LexisNexis for many years now. Recently, the legal community has observed the emergence of a new generation of online case law research, one that moves away from text-based searches.
One example is rangefindr, a legal research tool for criminal sentencing, founded by Toronto-based research lawyer Matthew Oleynik. Generally, finding precedents to determine a sentencing range can be laborious and tedious, due to the number of factors that can affect a sentence. One problem with text-based searches is that it may provide countless irrelevant cases that happen to contain the search term, while missing important cases that may use a different phrase than the search term, such as “eleventh hour” rather than “at the last minute” or “on the eve of trial.”
“For rangefinder, rather than manually entering search terms, criminal lawyers select a number of “tags,” factual and legal issues describing one’s case such as “assault” and “remorse.” Based on these tags, Rangefindr then retrieves a list of similar precedents and the types of sentences that were imposed in those cases. Rangefindr’s cases are mainly drawn from CanLII, with some unreported cases submitted by rangefindr users as well.
Mr. Oleynik claims that rangefindr’s method of searching is superior to text-based searching. “When you do a traditional text-based search for a term like ‘conditional sentencing,’ you get back every case that uses that term whether it’s useful or not,” he noted. “The researcher then has to do mental work to sort the useful from the non-useful results. In rangefinder, the research can just click ‘conditional sentence’…then you can select other tags (like ‘Record: First offender’) and find only cases that have all of them. Someone already did all the mental work for you.”
Gloria Song is a Judges Law Clerk at the Federal Court of Canada in Ottawa.