Friday, May 23, 2014

Hire an Esquire: Two Women Redefine Legal Staffing

A lot of the emerging legal marketplaces out there aim to connect lawyers with business or individual clients. Hire an Esquire specializes in connecting lawyers with law firms and in-house departments, thereby cutting out recruiters and making on-demand lawyers a viable and efficient option. By the way--Hire an Esquire is co-founded by two women. Following the ABA Journal article, I realized that the blog hasn't covered many female-led law startups, so here's our first!

1) Tell me about yourselves.
Julia Shapiro and Jules Miller have been friends since they were 14, when they met in high school in Pittsburgh, PA.  Julia became an attorney and adjunct legal professor, and Jules, a non-attorney, worked at a Big 4 accounting firm and spent several years in Silicon Valley.  Both have been entrepreneurial and 'intrapreneurial' throughout their careers, and finally joined forces to build Hire an Esquire. After initially introducing the company in 2011, they have started working on the company full time since January 2013.
2) What inspired you to create Hire an Esquire?
Julia worked as a contract attorney for a few years and really enjoyed it. Her co-workers were very interesting people who worked hard, but actually had time outside of the office to do other things. She saw the benefits of having a flexible legal workforce, but the brick and mortar legal staffing firms have traditionally been inefficient.

Hire an Esquire believes in the future of a flexible workforce.   It is happening in every other industry, facilitated by technology platforms, but the legal industry has been a bit slower to adopt this model.  This presents an opportunity to make law firms more efficient and attorneys more entrepreneurial, and to change the legal industry for the better.   

2) Tell me about Hire an Esquire (what does it do?)
Hire an Esquire is a technology platform that helps law firms and in-house legal departments find, manage, pay and maintain relationships with a flexible workforce of attorneys and paralegals.  

3) How is it different from the other legal marketplace websites?
Hire an Esquire is the only legal marketplace that offers firms an option to work with contract-based attorneys on a W-2 basis, where Hire an Esquire is the employer of record and covers all the related HR and insurance details.  This allows us to work with the large law firms, who need W-2 staffing due to IRS employee classification requirements.  This also allows us to work with attorneys who are not set up as solo practitioners with malpractice insurance.  While we can still certainly match solos to clients on a 1099 basis, the W-2 functionality is what truly makes us unique.

How are you different from Axiom Law?
We have a similar model but first and foremost Hire an Esquire is a technology company. Also, Axiom caters primarily to in-house legal departments while we work primarily with law firms. All clients can access our community of attorneys simply by logging in and posting jobs. We open the gates and give our clients tools to find the right people quickly and easily without a recruiter.

5) What's innovative about it?
We streamline and automate a traditional process—legal staffing—to make it better, faster and cheaper.  We are the first technology company to redefine legal staffing online.  Our platform is very user-friendly, and was developed from scratch. Our new CTO is creating algorithms to find the best attorneys for the job, thereby cutting out traditional recruiters.

6) What's been your greatest challenge thus far?
Law firms can be their own worst enemy.  At this point, most firms we speak to understand that this is the future of the industry, but the way firms are structured makes it very difficult for them to adopt new technologies and practices.  

8) What's been your greatest success so far?
Surviving until the legal industry was ready for our product!  We saw the need for Hire an Esquire in 2009 and launched the initial product in 2011, but law firms were not ready for it then.  There were some lean years at the beginning, but the tide has definitely shifted and our growth in the past 6 months has been phenomenal. We were a bit too early, but luckily we had enough conviction to stick with it.

7) What is the demographic of your main customer?
We work primarily with AM Law 200 firms and Fortune 500 legal departments.  However, the beauty of a technology platform like Hire an Esquire is that it's accessible to firms and businesses of all sizes.  Once they are verified, firms can simply log in to post jobs and get matched with the best attorney and paralegal candidates around the country.

Where are you in terms of funding?
We closed a seed round in December 2013 for $350,000. We look forward to raising a $2-3M Series A at the end of this year.

9) What changes do you foresee in the company? the legal industry?

For Hire an Esquire, we look forward to expanding geographically to fully penetrate the top 5 cities that are legal hotspots, since to date we have only been in the Philadelphia and New York markets.  We're also launching several innovative programs that go above and beyond what is traditionally considered to be legal staffing, so stay tuned! As the industry changes, we plan to change with it.

For the legal industry, there will be an evolution both in terms of how the law is practiced and how law firms are operated, driven by the adoption of new technologies. 

Any advice for aspiring legal entrepreneurs?

It’s a lot harder than you think so be prepared! Lawyers are one of the most challenging markets to sell to. You can’t just do SEO and expect people to come—there’s a lot of traditional sales and brand building. Don’t expect any shortcuts, just stick with it and focus on building strong relationships.   

Saturday, May 17, 2014

FairDocument: 80/20 Estate Planning

By Kara Shacket

Jason Brewster is the CEO and founder of FairDocument, a low-cost alternative to estate and trust planning that offers clients an attorney review of their documents.

Jason is an entrepreneur by trade and a fellow at the Center for Legal Informatics (CodeX) at Stanford University. Prior to FairDocument, Jason tried to use a self-help book to aid in his estate planning. He ran into specific questions that the book simply didnt answer. Aggravated that the answer wasnt there, he found that engaging in a few minutes of meaningful time from an attorney to be extremely helpful. Thus, the model for FairDocument was born.

Alongside colleagues Quanqiu Wang and Justin Yarmark, Brewster originally explored many options, including using artificial intelligence to create contracts. Due to their complexity, other documents such as contracts are still in the works. In the meantime, his team created FairDocument, to provide low-cost attorney services for estate planning.  They combined the do-it-yourself philosophy with the expertise of attorneys to help clients create estate plans.
Another pseudo-application of the pareto principle (see previous post on SnapTerms), FairDocument recognizes that 80% of clients have similar estate planning needs. FairDocument thus uses standardized forms, and then calls in the lawyers to refine the estate planning documents to each clients specific needs.

According to FairDocument, in general, there are three triggers that indicate its time for an estate plan: (1) Children; (2) Net worth greater than $150,000; or (3) Home ownership.  Estate planning can direct assets according to the wishes of the deceased. Without an estate plan, assets may be subject to probate and unfavorable allocations and tax results may occur. Estate planning gives the deceased the power to decide where assets will go and minimizes estate taxes paid.

FairDocument currently provides estate planning services to residents in California, Virginia, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Colorado and Montana are in the works. They hope to expand services to more states soon.