Businesses often succeed or fail thanks to the quality of their legal counsel, but despite these high stakes, the resources for finding good lawyers are shockingly limited.
Priori aims to change that.
The startup opened its marketplace up to public beta today. It connects small businesses with a trusted community of lawyers.
Priori’s goal is to improve the process of finding, hiring, and paying for an attorney for parties on both sides of the table.
“Small businesses need lawyers,” said cofounder Basha Frost Rubin in an interview with VentureBeat. “Without trusted, ongoing legal counsel, they often don’t know what the issues are or how important those issues are until it’s too late. Many simply don’t know how to find good legal counsel. We want to encourage small businesses to see legal services as an investment and something they can use proactively.”
Rubin and cofounder Mirra Levitt met at Yale Law School and worked in one of the legal clinics, where students have the opportunity to represent actual clients.
Finding a lawyer is an important and personal task, and Frost said that most individuals and businesses make the decision based on word-of-mouth. But following personal recommendations isn’t the most efficient method — different lawyers have different expertise, and what’s a good match for one business may not be as good for another.
They also saw that many of their clients were “terrified” of the billable hour and reluctant to procure legal counsel until things got so bad, they were irreparable (or near to it).
“We saw what a huge difference awesome legal services make for small businesses, and how difficult it was for the average person to find the right counsel,” Levitt said. “People know they need to talk to an attorney, but don’t know the name of the problem. We think Priori can really step into that vacuum.”
Priori users can search through lawyers by their specific needs and look at detailed profiles. Each attorney is vetted through credential verification, personal interviews, and reference checks. Once they find a potential match, clients can have a 30 minute complimentary phone interview to seal the deal.
All the pricing information is up front as well. Priori negotiates discounted rates with participating attorneys and works with them to put together “packages” with different pricing structures. Some may have flat fees, others hourly rates, or some a combination of both. Users can compare with multiple lawyers and select the package that suits their needs, without worrying about getting fleeced.
Rubin and Levitt said the lawyers are willing to do this because Priori helps them find new clients and takes care of back office tasks, like billing.
“Lawyers have really lagged behind in the tech revolution for lots of legitimate and understandable reasons,” Rubin said. “But they need to integrate tech so they can spend more time doing high level thinking and being advisers and less time paper-pushing. They would rather we do the back office work and marketing so they can focus on counseling, the bread and butter for being a lawyer.”
Every state has its own bar association and sets of laws, and growing state-by-state won’t be easy, but Rubin and Levitt said they are committed to finding the best lawyers out there and are being thoughtful about expansion.
They also have plans to enhance the suite of services they offer to lawyers and expand beyond small businesses on the client side into personal representation and other areas of law.
It is still early days for Priori though. The marketplace is currently active in New York state. It has 50 lawyers in the network from large firms, small firms, and independent practices, and hundreds of small businesses registered and “moving through the system.” Priori takes a management fee of 10 percent on all transactions.
Law is a $300 billion industry, but venture capital to the legal tech sector is “limping along.” Companies like LegalZoom and RocketLawyer paved the way with online document services, but Frost and Levitt said they want to move legal tech beyond that.
“There is a Byzantine set of ethics and rules that lawyers have to comply with that make them anxious to move into the tech era,” Rubin said. ” But we think its coming.”
Priori’s main competition is UpCounsel. It was founded in 2012 and is based in New York City. The founders have raised a friends and family round, and intend to bootstrap for the foreseeable future.