2,362 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 discussed the mechanics behind Jurify and how the idea for the site came about. Today, 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: You mentioned looking for lawyers to hire, and looking potentially for legal documents, what else is the incentive for people who aren’t lawyers to visit the site?
Erik Lopez, co-founder and CEO at Jurify: Down the road, we will have a mass-market component to this system. Today, our resources are limited to corporate governance and mergers and acquisitions content. We needed to start somewhere, and that’s the area Nicole and I specialized in for quite a long time. We’ll be building out additional practice areas, beginning in the next month or two, we’ll start in some complementary practice areas. We’re going to be focused initially on practice areas that matter for large companies. But by the end of next year, we’ll have more of a mass-market offering.
Nicole Lopez, co-founder, president and COO at Jurify: Even now, that doesn’t mean all of our users are lawyers, there are also folks who are interested in that kind of content. You can imagine how it would be useful to a businessperson, not a lawyer, to be able to go to Jurify and learn about the areas of their business.
EL: One of the things that’s nice about our system is that it’s simple. The first thing you’re asked when go to our home page is to choose a practice area. Everyone knows how to do that, whether it’s family law or corporate law, or mergers and acquisitions, whatever it may be. Then, we walk you through finding your issue. It’s all in a very intuitive, self-explanatory, natural way. Once we do have additional practice areas, ordinary people with legal issues will be able to hop into the system and find legal answers extraordinarily quickly. This is particularly helpful for them because we use the system of tags that have glossary definitions that are associated with each of them.
Imagine, for example, a mother whose son is picked up for drunk driving and can’t afford a lawyer, which happens all the time, I imagine. Most people can’t afford to hire a $300/hour lawyer to handle a drunk driving incident. Well, what would you do today? Maybe hop on Google and type in ‘drunk driving texas’ and hope that you may find some guidance about what to do? More often than not, she’ll find nothing. She’ll find attorneys who are looking to help her at a very steep price. So she’s kind of at a loss for guidance.
But with Jurify, she’ll be able to tell our system where she is, choose traffic law, and drunk driving will be one of the tags. Then, every bit of content that people have contributed to the system and our administrators have found applicable to this specific topic will be available to her. This includes articles and links to statures, and links to cases. And no, most people will not be well equipped to read case law themselves, but they can certainly read an article. They can certainly read a filing that she’s supposed to file in connection with, for example, posting bail for her son. So what it does is it helps ordinary people navigate laws that govern their lives in a way they can’t do today.
There’s a term ignorantia legis non excusat. It’s Latin for, ‘ignorance of the law does not excuse compliance.’ As you know, you are bound by a law, whether you know about it or not. Today, most people have no idea what the laws are that govern their lives. It’s an immensely complicated mosaic of federal regulations and statutes and case law, and state and local municipal regulations, cases, and statutes. Only lawyers are equipped to navigate this complex web. Our system will make it a lot easier for ordinary people to get some answers. Will they be as equipped as an attorney? No. But will it get them a lot closer to knowing what to do under certain circumstances? Absolutely. We’ll save people a lot of money and empower them to interface with the law in a way that they can’t today.
Ultimately, if everything goes well and your site picks up and becomes popular, how do you think Jurify can affect the legal industry?
EL: I think what will happen is it will level the playing field, to a certain extent. If we have our way and we’re able to build the social media clearinghouse for legal content and answers on the web, it will level the playing field. One of the huge competitive advantages that large law firms have enjoyed, historically, are the network effects they have that result from being in a large network of associated experts. For example, when I was in-house at the world’s largest law firm, if I had an engagement in an area with which I wasn’t personally familiar, I could send an email to my colleagues around the United States, the other corporate lawyers I worked with, asking everyone if they have had any familiarity with it. Inevitably, someone would, and they’d guide me on to discharge this engagement.
We provide that same kind of system for lawyers outside of those large firms. This means they’ll be empowered to take on engagements they can’t take on today. That will increase supply of legal services. And as you know, in a world where there’s fixed demand, if you increase supply, the price drops. That will increase access to justice for people who are looking to engage counsel but today can’t afford it. So we think over time, it will drive down the cost of providing legal services, and increase access.
I’m sure you’ve discussed this with other lawyers, have any of them expressed hesitation about signing up for the service?
EL: We have been in private beta for a few weeks now, and we have run a focus group. By and large, the feedback has been truly outstanding. The only negative feedback we’ve received so far is that there’s not a ton of content on the site yet. As you know, we just launched. We have 4,550 unique files in our system just for corporate law. That’s not quite enough, we’d like there to be about double that number. Of course, it’s a crowdsourcing application, so it takes a little bit of time for the crowd to build up critical mass. Look at the way Wikipedia grew – when it had originally launched, there was virtually nothing in it. And today, it’s a massive database. So it takes time.
Will you be charging lawyers for access to the site?
EL: It will be more of a freemium model. We don’t have this today – version one is live, version two is under development and will be launched probably in January 2013. In January, our system will include a virtual currency. When you commence your membership, you will have a fixed amount of free currency. Some members, namely consumers of legal services, will have an unlimited amount of currency, which will enable them to consume resources indefinitely without ever having to pay. Law firm attorneys will have a finite amount of currency, which they can replenish either by making contributions or by purchasing it.
Now, many of the resources within the system will be free and cost no currency to access. Only some of our premium content will require the expenditure of currency, including some of our videos that provide continuing legal education for lawyers, as well as people who download a large number of our forms. But for most users, the system will be 100 percent free.
Are you considering any other revenue streams?
EL: We are, actually. We will have some sponsored content, so when you run a search within our system, you will see, just like Google, ads at the top. [These will be] sponsored resources written by reputable law firms, it’ll be discreet and tasteful. The goal will be to limit the amount of sponsored content, you won’t see ads all over the site. We will charge for that.
We will also generate analytics and performance metrics with respect to contributed content. Because members of our community are not only clicking on content, they’re also rating and commenting on it, we’ll be able to tell publishers and contributors how it’s performing among different demographic groups. Data like that is invaluable from a marketing perspective. Over time, through application of multiple regression and other analyses, we’ll be able to provide prospective-looking guidance to publishers of content to help them improve the performance of their content.
And lastly, we’ll have career services, similar to LinkedIn. We’ll have a job board for which job postings will require payment at a price point lower than LinkedIn, despite the fact that, at least in the legal sector, we’ll have an even richer amount of content or legal recruiters than LinkedIn provides.
Just to clarify all of this, because we’re a platform, platforms have historically had the highest revenue per employee of any type of business. Craigslist, for example, has the highest revenue per employee I’ve ever seen, I think it’s over three million dollars per employee, partly because they don’t make anything. We just provide a platform for other people to share what they’ve already made. And because of that, we’re able to offer our services for free, largely, which is a game-changer in legal. People have grown accustomed to spending thousands of dollars per year for services less robust than this.
You mentioned your next version is coming out in January, is that going to be open to the public?
EL: Absolutely. In fact, it will be extremely transparent. We’re changing the system to make it more accessible and more transparent, so you don’t even need to register or log in in order to see and access the content. What you’ll see are results, and you’ll be able to preview many of them without logging in. That will give people a much better sense of what they’re signing up for. People will be able to sign in using their LinkedIn profile, there won’t be any requirement to type in a lot of information and share, no credit cards will be required. It’s easy log-in. You’ll be able to access whatever you want. The only time there will be any opacity or delay between someone’s registration and their access will be if they’re looking to contribute. [That's] because we will need, manually, to check to confirm the person who claims to be an attorney actually is one.
How do you plan to verify that?
EL: As you probably know, it’s illegal to practice law without a license. So we don’t think there will be a lot of people who are going to be out there pretending to be lawyers. Moreover, we will require people, before they’re able to contribute, to provide their bar admission and ID number so we can verify they are who they say they are.
Is there anything else you wanted to mention?
EL: I did want to highlight, because it does get a little bit confusing, that we are a crowdsourcing application, first and foremost. But we call it administrative-supported crowdsourcing, because we want to make sure there’s great content in the system, no matter what. So we will be supporting the ecosystem for as long as necessary to ensure that we have a robust set of high-quality content. Even before the crowd is large enough for it to become a self-sustaining ecosystem.
In version two, we will implement some interesting technologies that will allow us to scrape pre-approved – emphasis on pre-approved – sites for content and apply our tags to that content and upload it in a manner that’s much more efficient than manual scraping and uploading. We hope over time to do a really good job of aggregating not just a few thousand, but tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of resources within our system and tagging them in a really granular way.
I didn’t spend a lot of time talking about our tags, but they’re actually a very exciting aspect of what we do. There are a few other law content aggregators out there, but they use a rudimentary system of tags, and that’s a major weakness, in my opinion. For example, there are some websites that will tag content with the term ‘business law.’ Business law is my professional life. It’s kind of like tagging medical content with the term ‘pediatrics.’ It doesn’t really get you anywhere, you need specific disorder or condition tagging for medical professionals to access content. Of course, the same holds true for lawyers. While another aggregator may use the term business law, we have, within the context of business law, 550 unique tags. So every legal issue with which you may interface has its own set of highly relevant content associated with it.
Make sure to read the first half of the interview here.