Friday, October 25, 2013

PlainLegal: Combining an Online Marketplace with Workflow Tools

Apologies for a little gap in writing. It's taken a little while to settle in after my move to LA, but I promise we have some interesting articles in the pipeline! Today's article features former Biglaw attorney, now legal entrepreneur Nehal Madhani of PlainLegal, based out of NYC.

Tell me about PlainLegal.
PlainLegal is a marketplace that makes it easy for businesses to work with trusted lawyers. We show businesses relevant lawyers that can solve their legal problems and provide workflow tools for both sides that increase efficiency and transparency. Each lawyer on PlainLegal is screened to ensure a certain level of quality. We look for lawyers who understand the legal needs of their clients, communicate in plain English, and can efficiently deliver high-quality services at affordable rates. Our platform is unique because we combine a curated marketplace of lawyers with tools that make it easier for clients and lawyers to work together. 

What does the process look like for the customer?
PlainLegal streamlines the legal process. First, a customer describes their legal issue in plain English. From there, we show relevant lawyers that can help with that problem (we have a thorough screening process that each lawyer must go through before being accepted). Next, we provide a simple form that helps the entrepreneur explain their legal need to the lawyer. Once the lawyer and entrepreneur have agreed to work together, we provide access to simple workflow tools that increase the efficiency and transparency of the legal process for the customer. Through our research, we identified several pain points throughout the life of the legal project, so we built our workflow tools to eliminate those points of friction.

What was the most interesting thing you learned from all your market research?
Customers seem to face similar problems that cause them to avoid dealing with their legal problems. The first is identifying the legal problem. The second is finding a good, affordable lawyer. The third is actually working with that lawyer. We address each one of those problems with our marketplace and platform.

What makes a good lawyer?
For us, good lawyers are those who have relevant experience, communicate with customers in plain English, and provide clear, actionable steps to address legal issues.

How do you increase the efficiency of the legal process?
We have tools that streamline key aspects of the lawyer-client relationship such as communication and document management tools. For lawyers, we also enable them to create and upload engagement letters as well as collect payments.

What’s been your greatest challenge so far?
It’s the same as most other online marketplaces -- growing both sides at the right pace and avoiding a chicken-and-egg problem. We’ve addressed the chicken-and-egg problem with productivity tools that lawyers can use with their existing clients as well. 

What’s been your greatest success so far?
We’re still early in our process, but I’m happy to have helped our initial customers connect with a lawyer that solved their legal problems. Some of our customers had a tight deadline, and we were able to immediately connect them with the right lawyer.

How were you able to find your initial customer base?
Our first customers came from direct outreach, word of mouth, and referrals from other customers. 

How have you been able to handle the tech part the startup?
I learned how to program and developed our prototype. Recently, I’ve brought on a full-time developer to take over the tech side so that I can spend more time building the business.

Any advice to the aspiring legal entrepreneur?
Be patient and willing to understand/adapt to your constituents within the industry. Too many entrepreneurs (not just in the legal space) are intent on "disrupting" an industry. We should be building something that helps all parties.

What is your vision for either your startup, or the legal industry as a whole?
I have a few goals—I want legal services to be easy and affordable. I’d also like to see businesses start taking a preventative approach instead of a reactive approach to their business. As part of that, I’d like to see legal advice being regarded as a strategic and valuable element of a business. 

There are many great entrepreneurs working on problems in the space. I’m excited to see where the legal industry will go in the next 5-10 years, and I believe that we can make a meaningful impact on the accessibility of legal services. 

1 comment:

  1. How does this differ from legal referral? If "legal referral" you have to be an approved legal referral agency. Finding trusted lawyers fir clients sounds like legal referral to me.