LegalForce Opens a Brick-and-Mortar Lead Generation Service

store-exterior-2

Lead generation just means finding potential potential clients. The criminal defense lawyer I worked for after law school subscribed to a daily list of people arrested the night before, and sent a mass mailing to everyone charged with a DUI or worse. That subscription, offered by the sheriff’s office, I think, was lead generation.

When the internet took off, some people realized it wasn’t that hard to attract people looking for a lawyer or answers to a legal question online. All you have to do is get them to a contact form, then sell their inquiry to lawyers. There are a lot of people doing the same thing, now. Some are legit, but many are not.

Enter LegalForce, an online trademark-registering service that is opening a bookstore in Palo Alto, CA, called BookFlip in order to generate leads for lawyers.

According to PandoDaily,

The idea is to build a community of people who will engage in legal advice in a new way, he says. The bookstore sells law and general titles, and sells tablets as well. Visitors can read books or take a class. Example courses: Pinterest for seniors, Starting Your Business on Esty, and How to File a Patent.

BookFlip sounds a lot like LegalGrind, actually, only with books instead of coffee. The books, you see, are just bait.

This is all a lure to get visitors into the area of the store where lawyers work on call, waiting for walk-ins and charging $45 per 15 minutes.

In other words, BookFlip is basically a brick-and-mortar lead-generation service. That’s basically what LegalGrind does, too. Attorneys agree to staff the store in exchange for a share of the fee, and they can presumably take the referral, if the client needs help beyond the initial consultation.

Now, $180 an hour isn’t actually all that low-priced for a lawyer just starting out — which is, I assume, the kind of lawyer who would do something like this. But charging in $45 chunks makes it feel inexpensive to the customer.

So, assuming this is a kosher fee-sharing arrangement,

Is this a good deal for the lawyers?

LegalForce’s president, Raj Abhyanker, admits that most customers who come in will not be looking for a lawyer. BookFlip is bookstore first, and not necessarily a legal bookstore. That means you might hang out all day for just a couple of clients. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind spending all hanging out here:

bookflip 640x230 LegalForce Opens a Brick and Mortar Lead Generation Service

But what kind of clients could you expect to get? It’s hard to know, but the idea that there are a critical mass of potential clients out there who need a lawyer but aren’t actively looking for one and will pony up a substantial legal fee at the first opportunity in an unusual location seems suspect to me. If these clients are as mythical as they sound to me, the alternative is relying on back-to-back 15-minute consultations, probably a couple of days a week or less, for a living. Assuming BookFlip can generate that kind of traffic, of course.

So I am skeptical, but if I were in Palo Alto, I would probably sign up just to see. The downside is just losing a day or two of productivity, which I do with some regularity, anyway. And hey, it could result in some real money, or even a few referrals.

Is this a good deal for clients?

That all depends on the competence of the lawyers who participate. I suspect the lawyers who want to do this will be mostly inexperienced and fairly new to law practice. It just doesn’t feel like something I would do if I already had a healthy book of business.

Which brings up all the obvious problems — and then some — that come with barely-competent lawyers advising people on their legal issues.

People who sign up for 15-minute consultations will probably have all kinds of legal problems. Will lawyers back out of a consultation if a question comes in an area of law in which they have little or no experience (assuming they have any experience at all)? Speaking of which, how will lawyers with little or not actual experience even begin to give competent advice?

In order to be successful, BookFlip will have to build a reputation as a place where consumers can get good legal advice, not just cheap legal services. Presumably, Abhyanker knows this, although his trademarks-for-cheap online business makes me think he probably views legal services as a commodity, rather than an important (and legally-significant) relationship between an attorney and a client.

In the end, the quality of legal services will be the reason for BookFlip’s success or failure as well as the factor that determines whether it is a good investment of time for the attorneys involved. If I am wrong about BookFlip’s ability to attract competent lawyers to its business model, it stands a chance. If not — if the only lawyers who participate are inexperienced lawyers who aren’t capable of giving competent advice — I hope it fails for its customers’ sake.

  • http://www.legalforce.com Raj Abhyanker

    Sam,

    Thank you for writing about LegalForce (http://www.legalforce.com) today. I’d like to explain to you which attorneys will be staffed in our story. Contrary to your article, the attorneys staffed in our store will be the same attorneys that help us manage our more than 23,000 clients through the web in our separate law firm, LegalForce RAPC (http://www.legalforcelaw.com). They are highly experienced IP attorneys, managing hundreds of intellectual property matters per year. I’d like to speak with you more to answer your questions about our new launch today. Please email me directly, and we can schedule a time?

    Thanks once again!

    Kind regards,

    Raj Abhyanker
    CEO, LegalForce, Inc.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Wait, so it’s not lead gen? It’s just going to be these 8 lawyers? What if someone has a question about criminal or family law instead of IP?

      • static

        But Sam, if they already work for Raj, doesn’t that mean they are the best around? After all, everybody knows that the lawyer who work for Raj are the best. Right Raj?

        • Former Raj Employee

          Don’t be like that. I know all the attorneys that work for Raj and they are great people and do a solid job for their clients. These attorneys are honest, hard-working and have done nothing wrong to you or any of their clients. They are just attorneys who have a job in an extremely difficult legal job market and need to support their families. Don’t tear them down because of who they work for. I don’t want to speak for them but I am sure if they could they would all leave and find better work. I am sure they have tried to tell Raj about all of these issues but he is so stubborn that he doesn’t care. If I could I would hire everyone of them. The focus should be on the business concept not on the attorneys being forced to work there.

          • static

            It’s not about any of the lawyers personally, but about Raj’s use of them. The problem is that they are now being used as a promotional tool for the business concept by Raj. If anyone has put them in the middle of this, it’s Raj.

  • Anonymous

    This blog is right on. Raj has not really thought the idea through or he is blinded by his own greed. He is going to have IP attorneys giving advice in areas of law they have little to no expertise in. Sounds like he put the cart before the horse. He should have hired or established relationships with firms that have expertise in other areas of law that would appeal to a broader customer base. I am not sure it is even ethical for IP attorneys to be giving advice on divorce law or criminal law. Not sure why anyone would pay $180 an hour to find information a google search or one of the books in the store could tell them. Sounds like his plan is for high volume and low quality services. I give it a few weeks for word to spread that they are not providing quality legal services in all areas.

  • Raj Abhyanker

    Hello,

    Thanks for sharing your further feedback. Over the last 6 months, we have taken large steps in improving the quality of life for our internal attorneys. All internal attorneys are now salaried at market rate or better ($42k entry level to $150k+), and have new benefits including gym membership, car benefits, and health insurance. Furthermore, we strive to have the best attorneys possible, and encourage training of them.

    With respect to non IP related issues and questions, we are creating a network of co counsel attorneys in the Bay Area sharing our brand. These include criminal attorneys, wills/trusts attorneys, immigration attorneys, and more. Our store attorneys will not give advice on these issues beyond what they confidently know. They will not profess to be experts. However, the vast majority of questions we have seen so far are quite simple for most attorneys to answer. We are referring more complicated ones to specialized attorneys in our network. See:

    http://sfbay.craigslist.org/pen/bus/3554962536.html

    Raj Abhyanker, CEO of LegalForce

  • Another former Raj Employee

    This is so ridiculous. Raj, you constantly threaten to fire your employees and simply hire new ones if they don’t see eye to eye with you. You are the only one who can’t see that this whole thing was a failure before it started. With 50k in expenses a month (source: one of the other articles) it is not sustainable with $45 consults. You may think that a few leads may make up some of the costs but it will always be a losing venture.

    You are constantly trying to skirt ethics rules. Your accounting department in India will mark client’s IOLTA funds as earned at the end of the month to make payroll and pay bills even though your attorney’s tell them and you that they have not earned all the funds and that it should not have been earned. The attorneys will bring this up constantly so you do your mass approvals to make up for it.

    You file bad patents for inventions that are not patentable but don’t bother to tell the clients because you don’t care and just want to make money.

    You outsource at least half of your trademark filings to India because you want to save money on it and even though your attorneys advised you not to and probably still are telling you to stop. Then you have Indian attorneys sign the applications in your name even though you haven’t looked at a trademark application at all. You claim to “approve” them but in reality it is a not even a US licensed attorney who is reviewing them for you and approving in your name. All trademarks applications “signed” (you are the signatory of the application) by you are actually filed by Indian attorneys. Then you assign them to your US attorneys after the fact to clean up the mess and respond to office actions. The attorneys constantly used to tell you not to do this and probably still advise you to stop this practice but you were stubborn and didn’t care. Any attorney that pushes the issue of ethics is fired so the attorneys you have now are trapped by a tough job market but as the other former Raj employee said in good job market your business dies. I too wish I could give all your attorneys jobs so that they don’t have to be subjected to your idiocy. They don’t blow the whistle because they are afraid of the retribution you might take on them and the effect it will have on their careers.

    To those reading this, trademarks applications signed by any of his other attorneys are actually reviewed by those US attorneys. By “signed” I mean the actual application files in TSDR are signed by the attorney and not simply /Raj Abhyanker/ . The US attorneys told Raj they wanted no part of his “mass approvals” as they are unethical so Raj is forced to sign his own applications if he wants to mass approve them using his team in India. If any of you are looking for some solid trademark attorneys who I would say are some of the most experienced in the country you should email them and I assure they will take a job offer and in doing so essentially shut down Raj’s business.

    You will deny all of this but if truly investigated you would be exposed for the charlatan you are. Your mistreatment and disrespect of employees will lead to your downfall. I am just glad I am not there anymore to hear your idiotic babbling and laugh when you think you are so clever. I hope the USPTO and California State Bar strip you of your licenses to practice law and before the patent bar.