Unless you are a person with a lot of money, chances are you do not often have a need for a lawyer. And that is because, well, rich people get sued a lot. And normal people don't.
But what happens when someone like you or me does need to contact someone about a legal problem? We either talk to the lawyers that are either in our family or circle of friends, or we randomly pick a name out of a phonebook. I don't have to tell you that this is not a particularly effective way of getting someone to help you.
Lawdingo is attempting to change that by making it easier for people to find, and connect to, a lawyer. And now the company has raised $690,000 in seed funding to make it a reality, it was announced Wednesday.
The funding came from a group of angel investors that included: Kartik Hosanagar, a Professor at Wharton School; Nathaniel Stevens, the founder of Yodle and Punchey; Gene Alston of Groupon and Paypal; Andrew Moroz of Highbridge Capital; Igor Ryanbenkiy of Altair Capital; and Igor Matsanyuk of IMI.VC.
The company had previously raised $160,000 in seed funding from a group that included Y Combinator, Andreessen Horowitz, General Catalyst, Start Fund and Maverick Capital, along with a group of angel investors. This latest round brings the total funding to $850,000.
Founded in December 2011, New York City-based Lawdingo is an online platform that connects people with attorneys for virtual legal consultations by phone, video chat, appointment or email.
It allows users who need help with a legal problem to browse through a set of attorneys who have signed up on the site, along with ratings and reviews added by other clients. Once the user has found the right attorney, they will be contacted by phone.
If someone is being evicted from their apartment, for example, and they don’t think that it is legal, they can come to site and search by the type of lawyer they need, in this case one who specialized in tenant grievances. They put in their phone number, and they will then get a call from lawyer in 2 or 3 minutes.
The initial consultation is most likely free, but any further consultations, or fees that come from services, such as documents that need to be drawn up, can also be paid through the site.
The site is growing quickly, doubling the number of lawyers who have signed up to 1,200 in just the last four months. The company charges a subscription fee of $121 a month to the lawyers, though those that signed up before the site implemented that fee currently do not pay.
The new money will be used to invest in the product, Nikhil Nirmel Lawdingo's founder and CEO, told me in an interview. It will go toward putting more onto the marketing side, including putting out more videos and getting the word out on online channels.
"We want to make the experience better, and that means refine details and investing in new evolutions of the product," Nirmel said. That includes making a move toward mobile, which he said the company hadn’t done much with until recently.
"Our app is centered around phone calls and messaging, so it makes sense to let them connect on the go," Nirmel told me. "It would also allow lawyers to manage their schedule and availability when not at their desk."
There are other services out there, such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer, that offer similar services, as well as directories like Yelp. What separates Lawdingo from the competition is that it doesn't charge consumers.
"We are about building identification and helping to build relationships with the right lawyers," said Nirmel. "We are focusing on discovery, communication and payments."
The big problem that people have, he said, is identifying the right lawyer and getting that initial consultation. Those other companies do not "handle the communication aspects of the initial interaction."
On top of that, companies like LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer are all about getting around needing a lawyer, so it puts them in an awkward position to try to then connect customers to one.
Down the road, Nirmel has big plans for site, which include expanding to new verticals, most notably medical.
"Broadly, we would like to be able to connect people to licensed professionals in a variety of areas," he said. "My hope is that one day we become the medium for online delivery for professional services."
If what Nirmel ultimately wants to do sounds a bit like Pearl, then that is not a coincidence.
"We want to be the next generation of the Pearl model," he said, though with a "subtle difference," playing up the more social aspect of the site, which values relationships between clients and professionals.
"It will be almost a dating site of sorts for people and professionals," he said.
(Image source: http://heisenbergchronicles.tumblr.com)