Q&A With a Legal Start-Up

There are already lots of ways to find a lawyer on the internet. Some sites aim for comprehensiveness and produce pages upon pages of results -- accuracy notwithstanding.
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From Obama's recent call to make law school 2 years instead of 3 to Dewey & Leboeuf's 2012 filing for bankruptcy, the law profession is bursting at the seams for change. Last week I emailed with Basha Rubin and Mirra Levitt, co-founders of Priori Legal, a new start-up that I think represents the kind of changes that are likely to come. Here, they answer some questions about their new venture.

How does Priori work?

There are already lots of ways to find a lawyer on the internet. Some sites aim for comprehensiveness and produce pages upon pages of results -- accuracy notwithstanding. Others are bargain-basement cheap, where you can hire a lawyer for $99.99 without the slightest nod toward quality.

What we're doing is different than anything else out there. You get a short-list of vetted lawyers and pre-negotiated pricing options at a 25 percent discount off market rates with fixed fees, where possible, for comparison. Then, after you've chosen a lawyer, you schedule a half-hour complimentary phone call through the site. If you decide to work with the lawyer, all payment and billing happens through the site, as well.

Who can use Priori? Your site says "for small businesses," but what does that mean? Could an artist who is a freelancer use it?

Anyone who wants to talk to a lawyer for a business-related matter. Our lawyers practice in a wide range of areas that service small businesses and can help from a straightforward trademark matter to complex litigation. Which is to say: Freelancers can definitely use it, too. Freelancers encounter many of the same legal issues and questions that small businesses do but often don't have the time or business infrastructure to handle those issues. We have many lawyers in our network who are extremely interested in working with freelancers -- both to resolve legal issues and think more proactively about avoiding future problems.

What kinds of lawyers use it?

Small-practice lawyers with an entrepreneurial, innovative mindset who are passionate about providing high-quality legal counseling to small businesses. We vet all the lawyers we work with through personal interviews and reference checks. It's certainly no free-for-all. These are people who went to top schools and worked at top firms, but decided they wanted to strip away many of the inefficiencies of big firm practice to offer services and advice to small businesses owners and individuals at competitive rates.

How much does Priori actually save people on legal fees?

Straight math answer: 15 percent. Priori negotiates a 25 percent discount with each lawyer on our site, and we take 10 percent on fixed fees for our Management Fee.

More holistic answer: In our conversations with small businesses, we hear a lot of, "I meant to hire a lawyer to deal with [insert issue here] but I couldn't find the time and I didn't know how to go about finding the right lawyer in the first place." Time is money for small businesses. Our business makes it possible to easily connect with a lawyer saves money down the road.

How is the field of law going to change, and do you envision Priori playing a role in this?

Economic pressure on fees has existed for years now. New technologies-everything from document production services, e-discovery, predictive coding, and services like ours-are changing the way lawyers spend their time, increasing the value of certain legal skills and decreasing the value of others.

Many consumers have noticed the proliferation of do-it-yourself (DIY) document sites, such as LegalZoom. These sites make it easier for consumers to go it alone and not hire a lawyer. Though proceeding without a lawyer is problematic except for the most basic legal issues, these site have already -- and will likely continue to -- greatly enhance access to the forms required to complete simple legal tasks.

But these kinds of DIY services have barely scratched the surface of how technology is going to change the way consumers find and relate to legal services because they address such a limited swatch of the legal market. Though there may have to be a contraction in the total number of lawyers, many of these technologies mean lawyers can have more control over their practices and be able to spend more time advising clients and less time processing paperwork. We see Priori as very much part of this movement.

Is Priori like the health insurance marketplace for law? Are there tiers named after metals?

Yikes. We hope it's less confusing!

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