BY JESSICA RIDGWAY
Lawger upends the typical hourly based fee model by letting clients determine the cost.
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY
Founder: Alec Hankins
“People don’t like being on the hook for a blank check they have to write their attorney,” says Alec Hankins, founder of Lawger, an online legal service that matches clients with qualified lawyers.
A third-year law student at the University of Oregon, Hankins, 28, got the idea for Lawger when he first arrived on campus — “a time when there were tons of transitions in the legal field.” Law schools were pumping out qualified candidates, Hankins says, but firms were cutting back on hiring and paying lower salaries.
“I realized there was a way to create a marketplace structure where people can go in there, post their facts and have lawyers compete for their business.”
Lawger upends the typical hourly based fee model by letting clients determine the cost, Hankins says. “They say, ‘This is how much I can spend; who can help me?’” For their part, attorneys can sign up for one of several Lawger plans: “free,” which comes with a higher per-case charge; “premium,” which entails a cheaper charge but a monthly fee; or a “business plan” that falls somewhere between the two.
Hankins hopes to use Lawger as a data aggregator to index prices and collect information about the legal market; i.e., what issues are trending and what the outcomes are. “The closer we get to having the perfect market with perfect information,” he says, “it’s going to make prices better for people, and more people will receive justice.”
Hankins bootstrapped Lawger with approximately $1,000. A one-man operation, Lawger is also a graduate of RAIN, a business accelerator in the south Willamette Valley.
“We’re going to fix what needs to be fixed and start branching out,” says Hankins, who plans on expanding the service to California and Washington.
A flat-fee model will eventually accompany the bidding platform, “much like eBay.”
Redefining law firms
A few months ago, law firm Davis Wright Tremaine was tasked with reviewing 7,000 contracts for a client who wanted to make sure the correct legalese was embedded in the documents. It was a routine if high-volume project and didn’t require an army of associates charging $200/hour. So DWT outsourced the work to a few contract lawyers; the team also used a technology tool to scrub the documents for the boilerplate language.
It was a cheaper, more efficient way of doing things, and DWT “will be doing more and more of this kind of work,” says Jay Hull, the firm’s Portland-based chief innovation partner. Hull leads a new in-house research and development initiative called De Novo. Its mission is to identify innovative technology, staffing and payment solutions for clients. In plain English, this means more outsourcing and automation, and an eventual shift toward project instead of fee-based payment models.
One might think outsourcing and automation would trigger alarm bells among attorneys worried about being downsized out of a job. Possibly, but growing competition is forcing lawyers to think creatively about how to attract and retain business, says Hull, who recommends as reading material Richard Susskind’s The End of Lawyers?, a controversial book about disrupting the legal-services sector.
Rooting out inefficiencies is only the tip of the iceberg. Hull says De Novo’s long-term goal is to use data analytics and other tools to help clients with a broad range of business intelligence issues, including risk management and monitoring of litigation trends. “Clients,” says Hull, “expect more for less.”