2,875 crowdsourcing and crowdfunding sites
Crowdsourcing has been applied in many areas, from business process outsourcing to mapping disease outbreaks. One industry that’s been tougher to break into has been the legal field. That, however, looks like it’s changing fast, with a number of crowdsourced legal advice platforms popping up recently. One of the newest players in this field is Jurify, which launched only last month. To get a better understanding of how the platform works and what the team behind it wants to achieve, we spoke with co-founders Erik and Nicole Lopez. In the first half of the interview, we discuss the mechanics behind Jurify and how the idea for the site came about. In the second part, we get into further details about the company’s business structure and how Jurify may affect the legal industry at large.
Anton Root, Crowdsourcing.org: I’ll start by asking how you guys started out. I think I saw you both went to law school?
Erik Lopez, co-founder and CEO at Jurify: That’s right. I’m a 1995 graduate of the Univesrity of Chicago and then I graduated from NYU Law in 1999. I practiced with several major law firms: Sherman & Sterling in New York and San Francisco, Latham & Watkins, Paul Hastings in California, and Baker & McKenzie, the world’s largest law firm, here in Dallas. I was also the senior vice president and general counsel of a small public company out in California in 2007, before the company went out of business.
Nicole is a 1999 graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and then graduated from the University of Chicago in 2002 with her law degree. We met while working as corporate lawyers at Sherman & Sterling. She then took some time off with the kids and then worked at Morrison & Foerster in California, and was with a tech startup here in Dallas; she also worked with Burlington Northern railways in Ft. Worth.
Obviously you guys have a lot of experience between the two of you, what did you see wrong in the legal field that you decided to correct with Jurify?
EL: Over the course of 16 years, I witnessed a change in the way legal information was accessed by lawyers. When I was in law school, everything was in books, and that was around the time Lexis Nexis and WestLaw, which are the two largest electronic legal research providers in the world, started to offer services by CD-ROM. Now, a lot of legal information has become available for free on the web, which was not the case even five years ago. So in recent years, a lot of content that had been available only in printed form has become available online. This is wonderful, but it presents its own set of problems in that no one is making sense of all this content. One of the worst kept secrets in the law world today is that attorneys have been using Google and other search engines to find legal resources on the web so they can avoid incurring the very high fees imposed by the large incumbents.
To provide some context, WestLaw and Lexis Nexis can charge – and their pricing structure is somewhat opaque – as much as $5,000 per seat per year for access to their services. So to the extent that an attorney can avoid incurring charges on Lexis Nexis or WestLaw, they will do so. Particularly because the clients don’t want to pay those legal research charges. In fact, studies have shown that law firms are less successful in recouping investments in those premium legal research tools than they have been historically. So we’re turning more and more to Google.
Unfortunately, keyword is not the optimal way to find law content. Moreover, the legal resources that we need are not optimized from a search engine perspective. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), for example, doesn’t spend any money trying to optimize its content. Instead, people who have an incentive to come up at the top of the Google results are optimizing their content, and those are mainly lawyers who are marketing their services, as opposed to the other legal resources that you may try to find on the web. So the end result is that yes, you can find this content on the web for free, but it takes a very long time. And in law practice, as in many other areas, time equals money.
So what we’ve done is create a platform for helping the legal community, including not only lawyers but also non-lawyers, to make sense of the wealth of legal information and tools that are currently available on the web. One of the elegant things about our system is that unlike the incumbents, who have historically hired armies of lawyers to keep curating their content, we rely on the crowd to scale. We don’t create anything ourselves. The end result is a much lower cost of doing business, and the cost to provide access to these services. We’re able to provide access to a rich, reliable, high-quality set of legal resources for a minimal expense.
What are the mechanics involved? How do you ensure, for example, that the information you get is the most accurate and current information that a lawyer could get?
EL: There are a number of filters that are applied to the content. To begin, we need to set the baseline – what are comparing this to? As I said, more and more lawyers are relying on Google, so I think Google results are the proper baseline. If you look at what Google delivers to you, you have virtually no insight into the reliability of the content that you’re looking at, aside from just recognizing the URL from which the content comes. So if you recognize the name of the law firm that’s hosting the content, that may give you some insight into its quality if it’s a secondary source, or if you recognize that it’s on the SEC website, or the Delaware court’s website. But aside from that, you get virtually nothing.
With that said, what we do is, one, we only allow approved attorneys to contribute content. They must contribute under their real identity. We allow the community to rate the content – thumbs up or thumbs down. They can also flag the content if it’s out of date or inaccurate. Everything that’s contributed is effectively subject to peer review. Because the contributions are contributed by real people who are staking their reputation on the content they’re adding, they have a very strong reputational incentive not to contribute something that will be down-voted.
Moreover, we award contributors with what we call credibility scores, which dictate their placement in our legal practice area-specific leaderboards, we call these our Top Attorneys Lists, and a lawyer’s placement in our Top Attorneys’ List is dictated by the quantity and quality of the contributions. So if he or she is contributing a large volume of low quality content, that attorney will not have high credibility and not rank highly on our leaderboards. That person will not get the same kind of marketing and business development [leads] that they would hope to achieve by making contributions to the system.
We also tell you who wrote the content and what the source of the content is, and we allow members of the community to comment on it. So it’s the same way you find quality videos on YouTube. If you’re looking to find a video that teaches you how to grill a steak on YouTube, despite the fact that YouTube has literally terabytes of information available through it, you can find a very good, high quality video in seconds because of their tagging system and because of the ratings. We rely on the crowd to act as a form of filter that enables members of the community to find higher credibility, more reliable content than they otherwise would be able to.
Nicole Lopez, co-founder, president and COO at Jurify: I like to look at the problem we’re looking to solve from the perspective of a lawyer that works for a company. More and more, the top lawyers operate on a budget, though that depends on the company, because the company sees them as a cost rather than a source of revenue. They operate on a budget and when you are looking to do your work on any particular day, there are a couple of annoying truths that come to your mind.
The first one is that the legal research or practice tool that you’re looking for for today’s work is out there somewhere, for free. But you don’t have the time, or perhaps you’re not as adept at performing the online research to find it. So, you end up either paying for it, or paying your law firm to get it, or having to be in the unfortunate position of doing the work without the best resources. The second truth is that you know that the work you’re doing, on any given day, someone has already done it. Another lawyer has already done it, probably more than one, and probably more than a hundred. There’s an awareness in the redundancy in law. What we try to do is help bring those resources to an attorney, so that they can get them for free, because they’re available online for free most often, and help cut some of that redundancy by letting you start your work at step two or step three rather than at one, because you’re sharing the step one that someone’s already done.
What’s the incentive for lawyers to participate on Jurify, from a contribution perspective?
EL: As you know, being a crowdsourcing expert yourself, or close to it, many crowdsourcing applications rely on a small subset of super-users to make their contributions. Look at Wikipedia, for example, where 0.2 to 0.3 percent of all visitors ever make a contribution. We don’t expect all lawyers who participate in the system to make contributions. With that said, we do hope to have five to ten percent of our user community to make contributions. Why would they do that?
Well, eight percent of outside lawyer time is spent developing business. So we’re talking about a $300 billion domestic industry, and eight percent of the time of the people who control that industry is spent trying to generate business. How do they do this today? Most lawyers are still finding clients in person, and lawyers have not found a very effective or efficient way to source business via the web. Twitter is a terrible format for legal business development; blogs are not well read; lawyers’ own websites are not particularly effective. And despite significant saturation on LinkedIn with attorney members, it really hasn’t developed into a system for developing business. So despite the voracious appetite for business among lawyers and their attempts to try to generate business through online engagement, they’ve not found a way to do this.
Meanwhile, they’re creating incredibly valuable resources in the forms of client alerts, white papers, presentations. They’ve been doing this for quite a long time now, many years. But they’re not getting the kind of return on the investment that they otherwise could have if they had a better home for these resources. So to focus on client alerts for a bit. By our calculations, the large firms invest, in terms of attorney time and out of pocket expenses, over two billion dollars per year producing client alerts and white papers which are very sophisticated and useful secondary legal resources. Other lawyers, including law firm competitors, rely on to practice routinely. But today, they distribute them using the spray-and-pray method. They just email them to their contacts and hope that someone clicks on them and reads them. There are a few rudimentary aggregators out there where they can dump their client alerts into a bucket that people can access through keyword searches, but they’re not particularly effective and they don’t drive a lot of additional eyeballs to those very valuable marketing materials.
What we do in our system is we tag everything with really granular, issue-specific tags. When a law firm contributes its client alerts or white papers or webinars to our system, and then someone accesses the content, they’ve found it using our tagging system, meaning they’ve accessed it because they wanted it. So you get a much better quality set of viewers on your content. Long story short, we provide they kind of viewership and usage of these resources that lawyers that are creating this content are hoping to get. We reinforce this by marketing heavily towards the in-house legal community, i.e. the people who will hire outside lawyers, as well as executives at large companies, who also interface regularly with outside lawyers, particularly in the context of doing strategic transactions, and public company reporting. We’ve let them have access to the system completely free of charge. Law firms who are trying to get in front of these valuable client prospects will have an incentive to contribute, to raise their profile, to increase the Top Attorney ranking list, and get additional viewership on the content they’re already creating.
The bottom line is, legal is virgin territory for social media. Lawyers, they do adopt to new technology – people think that they don’t – they’re just slow to do so. They’re conservative, and they’re really hungry for figuring out a way to engage social media in a way that makes sense to their community. No one has figured out a way to give lawyers a reason to visit, aside from the marketing benefit. What we do is give lawyers two reasons to visit. One, they can conduct research and find legal forms, which are priceless in transactional law practice. And two, they can market their services to the extent they want to do so.
NL: On the social media issue, I don’t know if you’ve ever hired a lawyer, but before most folks do, they look up that lawyer on the internet. Right now, there is very limited information that can be found about a lawyer online. It’s good information, and often what they’re finding is the lawyer’s bio, which is very important, but it’s just step one. For a lawyer, it would be great to have more of an online presence because your bio, basically, reduces the number of competitors you have for business, but it still leaves you with a lot of competitors. To differentiate yourself, a more colorful, filled out online presence would be extremely helpful. That’s something that lawyers are figuring out now, and they don’t really have that yet. So we’re hoping to satisfy some of those needs, as well, because we find that it will be a great incentive for crowdsourcing.
EL: If you’re an executive, or an in-house attorney, and you’re looking to hire an expensive lawyer, it’s all well and good to go look at that lawyer’s bio. But what does it really tell you to see where the person went to school, what the lawyer wrote, and where that person worked. That gets you part of the way there, but it doesn’t really serve to differentiate that attorney from hundreds of others like him or her.
With our system, you get the same information, but you also see what he or she has done, what he or she has written, and what that person’s peers thought of it. You can read it yourself, you can look at the contract that lawyer wrote, you can see whether that person contributed in our discussion forums, and how intelligently he or she has written those answers. So you get a much richer understanding of the quality of legal counsel you will get if engage someone.
The conversation continues here.