LawGuru answers questions using new technology
Since 1997, LawGuru has provided an interface that allows its visitors to:
- submit free legal questions to its lawyer members (currently over 6,000 active law firms); and
- search its existing database that houses over 700,000 lawyer-provided answers to more than 500,000 questions.
For free questions, the process is quite simple: visitors submit a legal question via an online interface, along with their email and postal code. The question is then distributed to the lawyers based in that jurisdiction and who practice in that specific area of law. Once answered, the visitor is notified by email and provided a link to the answer
1. Can you briefly describe the innovation, the problem it tries to solve and why is it necessary?
LawGuru provides an online interface that provides users the opportunity to ask a free legal question to its network of lawyers. The legal system can be quite confusing and scary, especially for low to medium income people who may not have the resources to hire a lawyer. Often it truly is one confusing issue, question or process that can stop a person from addressing their legal problem. LawGuru.com offers a needed alternative for these people, assisting them through the bottleneck or over an obstacle so that they can more effectively deal with their legal situation and make progress toward a solution.
2. What makes your innovation unique?
LawGuru is unique in three main ways:
- the breadth of distribution of a submitted question (depending on the jurisdiction and area of law – the question may be delivered to literally hundreds of lawyers);
- the speed that answers can be attained (because lawyers can answer the questions via a mobile/online interface, there is no need to schedule an appointment); and
- the lawyer interface (lawyers are provided an online “dashboard,” which includes a running list of open questions in their area of law, past answered questions, and profile information).
3. What triggered the development of the innovation?
The two founders of LawGuru are lawyers. When they began their practice they included a mechanism on their website which allowed potential clients to ask questions. Soon after launching, they began receiving dozens of questions from users all over the country with a myriad of problems. It soon became clear that there were literally thousands of users who had questions and inadequate access to legal information, legal professionals and affordable solutions.
4. Which persons and organisations were involved in the development and what role did they play?
Bahman Eslamboly and Kamran Barlavi originally began the site as an offshoot of their legal practice website. In time, LawGuru.com was funded through their online businesses including WebsiteBroker, Inc. and FindLegalForms, Inc.
5. What kind of resistance have you encountered and how have you overcome it?
The legal profession is an old profession and one that has been slow to adopt innovation and technology. Because of this, there is often a cultural resistance in adopting new techniques and processes. LawGuru, being one of the pioneers in online legal solutions, has faced considerable resistance from lawyers who were concerned about the ramifications of participating in this type of service. In addition, in the United States each of the 50 states maintains its own separate rules that regulate the profession of law, making it very difficult to navigate and produce a workable solution.
6. How did you make the goals realistic and attainable, and at what time will which quick wins be available?
LawGuru.com has grown organically. What started with two lawyers has now grown to more than 6,000 active law firms. Our expectations for the types of problems addressed and the number of questions that could be answered on the website grew as the extent of the need became clear.
7. Will the innovation have an effect on other organisations in the chain and if that is the case, how will it affect them?
LawGuru.com has inspired a number of other companies to include a similar type of lawyer question answer service. We are quite proud to have been the pioneer for these other organizations.
8. How was the development funded and what were reasons for the financing organisation?
LawGuru.com has operated for over 13 years and has been funded primarily by resources contributed by its parent company, WebsiteBroker, Inc., as well as revenue from advertising on the website. In July 2010 we launched a paid answers version, which allows our lawyer members to charge for certain questions that are governed by a limited representation agreement.
9. Can you name 3 to 5 characteristics of the innovation that are most essential to making it work?
- A software platform that efficiently and effectively distributes both the questions (to participating and qualifying lawyers) and answers.
- A network of lawyers willing and qualified to answer questions for free for the public.
- A website where answers to past questions can be displayed, thereby providing a valuable archive to thousands of other users.
10. How do you measure whether it is a successful innovation?
LawGuru has distributed more than 700,000 free legal answers to the public, eradicating, at least in small part, some of the confusion and fear surrounding the legal system. In addition, we have received hundreds of emails and phone calls from appreciative users and satisfied lawyers who have benefited from the service, making the whole process worthwhile.
11. How many people or organisations benefit from this innovation now?
LawGuru receives over 300,000 visitors a month and has a network of over 6,000 law firms.
12. How many people or organisations could potentially benefit from this innovation today and in the future (scaling-up)?
With additional exposure, millions of additional users could find help at LawGuru. In addition, we have begun an international expansion having recently launched a beta version of the LawGuru U.K. website.
13. Can you quantify the financial benefits? (Cost savings, additional income or otherwise)
LawGuru has facilitated more than 700,000 free answers to legal questions, which translates into millions of dollars worth of legal advice (if we estimate each requiring 10 to 15 minutes of the lawyers time, at current legal rates the savings from this service would range from US $20,000,000 - $45,000,000). In addition, because many of the users who submitted questions were then able to effectively deal with their legal problem, additional money was saved in avoiding future problems and exacerbated damages.
14. Is the innovation financially viable and sustainable and if yes, how?
LawGuru launched a paid version of its service in July of 2010. This service allows users to choose between the free process and an augmented paid service. The paid service includes a limited representation with the lawyer, tools for follow-up and a confidential exchange. We believe this option will help LawGuru remain viable for the long term.
15. Can or will the innovation be used internationally and how will you overcome cultural differences?
LawGuru currently receives around 85% of its questions from users in the U.S. with the remaining 15% coming from our global users. We recently launched a beta version of the LawGuru U.K. website a version of the site specifically designed for U.K users and lawyers. We hope to continue the international expansion and country-specific design. Additional resources will be needed to expand into non-English speaking countries. We believe that other than language barriers there will be few cultural obstacles.
16. What lessons did you learn along the way that could be useful to others?
Resistance to innovation is certain, but this shouldn’t stop you from pushing forward.