LegalKin: A Marketplace for Temporary Help for Solos and Small Firms

legal-marketplaces

Legal marketplaces are proliferating based, I suppose, on a few ideas about the practice of law and the needs of solo and small-firm lawyers:

  1. Solo and small-firm lawyers frequently need help with “overflow” tasks
  2. They don’t already know where to go for help with those tasks.
  3. Or if they do know where to go for help, they aren’t willing to pay the asking rates.

I already wrote about DocketHero, an app-based marketplace that will be launching shortly. In that review, I mentioned Legalkin, a similar service. Legalkin is focused on connecting lawyers who need help with lawyers, paralegals, and law students who can provide that help. On Legalkin, you post a job, and contractors can bid on it. Based on their bids, you can award the contract. Or you can just browse contractors and offer the job directly. Either way, the only cost is when you agree to hire someone. The fee is escrowed until the job is done.

In a comment to Bob Ambrogi’s post on Legalkin, Lisa Solomon pointed out that she has not received a single inquiry from marketplaces that predated Legalkin. She says:

In my view, freelance legal marketplace sites will primarily serve, on one hand, providers who are new to the business and those who offer freelance services (such as court coverage) on an irregular basis and, on the other hand, lawyers who are looking to hire those types of providers. Lawyers who want to hire experienced providers with established reputations in their fields can easily find those providers by asking their colleagues for recommendations and/or searching on Google.

I asked Legalkin’s founder, Jason Steinberger, whether Lisa is right about marketplaces not working for lawyers like her. He responded by saying that:

Lisa is not the type of freelancer most small and solo attorneys will hire, looking to pay between $10-$60 an hour for a few hours of research. Lisa … is more experienced than that. For those jobs, small research assigments, court appearances, page-in-line deposition digests, etc…. younger attorneys, students and paralegals are more attractive to the cost concerned hiring attorney; especially the 7 percent of law school graduates forced to hang a shingle will. However, lets not ignore that its a changing world. Large law firms are crumbling, high end small boutique partnerships are on the rise and Lisa would appeal to them and thier high net worth clients.

He’s right, I bet Lisa is not willing to work for $10–60/hour. Neither am I, even as a contractor. Those rates get you inexperienced (or desperate) lawyers or paralegals, law students, and not much else.

Maybe the legal marketplace’s time has come. A growing number of startups sure seem to think so.

I’m not so sure. Most of the solos and small firms I know respond to “overflow” work by working more hours, because they unwilling or unable to lose the revenue. Some do use law students or other contractors to pick up extra work, but I doubt many of them feel they are paying too much, especially in this market.

In order for Legalkin to succeed, that cannot be true. There needs to be a critical mass of lawyers who have just enough overflow work that they cannot do it themselves, but not so much that it is worth just hiring a law student or young lawyer for 10 hours a week or so.

Featured image: “Marketing concept: computer keyboard with Calculator icon and word Marketplace” from Shutterstock.

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  • Jonathan Pasky

    Sam, if it’s any indication as to need, I would use such a service. If the marketplace is vetted (like a mature Elance or Odesk), this should work. There are a lot of eager (or desperate) young law students looking to clerk or young lawyers out there. I’ve been surprised by the scope of the market for startups like UpCounsel. Downmarket tools like Legalkin are a natural next step in commoditization.

  • Carolyn

    Anytime there is a service that can be performed competently and that is also cost-effective, there will be a need and a market. Legalkin functions a lot like Elance where freelancer profiles display who the freelancer has worked for in the past and what type of work was assigned. They also allow the hirer to write reviews. I think it will be interesting to see if there are more jobs posted for legal research and writing assignments or for covering court appearances.

    • I would never hire someone less experienced than I am to “cover” a court appearance. Maybe that is just a reflection of the type of litigation I do, or the jurisdiction in which I practice, but I can’t imagine handing off my clients’ interests and my reputation to someone who is only worth $60/hour.

      • Emerald Gratz

        Fair point Sam – and I don’t think you are alone in thinking it. Like anything else, you get what you pay for when you hire a freelance attorney. If you want to delegate a project to an experienced freelance attorney and receive a high quality end result, then you should expect to pay a fair premium. Good freelance attorneys charge accordingly for adding value to a case or transaction, or at least they should.

  • Nicole Bradick

    Yow, $10-$60/hr? I would be worried about hiring a lawyer to do anything substantive for that range. If you’re hiring a freelancer, you still have an ethical obligation to ensure competent representation for your client. If a freelancer is very inexperienced, the hiring lawyer’s supervisory responsibilities are great, so hiring someone for $10/hr to cover a hearing when you’re not even there makes me particularly nervous. I like marketplaces sites and have agonized many times whether to make my own business an online marketplace as opposed to an offline business, but in an area fraught with ethical land mines, curation is key… It will be interesting to see how these marketplaces handle that challenge.

    • Jason Steinberger

      Nicole, I doubt that any attorney would ever make a court appearance for $10. I practice in New York City where the going rate for a court appearance is anywhere from $75 to $250. My statement, noted above, was in reference to hiring attorneys needing LEGAL RESEARCH. Please also note that I intended that some attorneys, who are looking for extra legal research help, might choose to hire a law student, instead of an attorney, whose fees might be be consistent with range asserted above.

      Certainly, in any marketplace, there will be a range of options and fees associated with the experience and skill of the person performing the work. As many established attorneys have already joined Legalkin.com, I expect that you will be able to find attorneys who are both competent to cover court appearances, simple adjournments, hearings, EBTs, etc…. and legal research and writing needs. I also expect that attorneys, not students, will charge a fee within the scope of their respective jurisdiction. Because Legalkin.com allows Per Diem and Freelance Attorneys to bid on the assignment, the hiring attorney will always make the final decision on the fee.

      • Nicole Bradick

        Thanks for the reply, Jason. I get that your attorneys have a range, and I think your concept is smart. But I do believe the challenge for new marketplace businesses will always be how to ensure quality without the benefit of a series of user comments on a particular attorney – and hiring quality is something that is uniquely important to attorneys with stringent ethical obligations. That’s not a knock on your model — every business faces somewhat similar challenges in its infancy. I wish you the best of luck with the venture and look forward to seeing how things progress.