LawPivot: The Google-Backed, One-Stop Shop for Startup Legal Advice

2/28/11Follow @xconomy

For startups, getting good legal advice can be costly and time-consuming. And for new lawyers, building up a client list also takes a big time commitment. Now there’s a Web Q&A site backed by Google Ventures that aims to solve both problems at once. It’s called LawPivot, and it recently set up shop right on the Google campus in Mountain View, CA, within easy striking distance of hundreds of Silicon Valley startups.

The company’s founders are veteran Silicon Valley lawyers Nitin Gupta and Jay Mandal. CEO Mandal was previously the lead mergers and acquisitions lawyer for Apple, and Gupta, vice president of business development, worked as an intellectual property litigation lawyer for Townsend and Townsend and Crew (now known as Kilpatrick Townsend). Both lawyers “saw a lot of fundamental changes going on in the legal industry,” Gupta says. “There were a lot of pain points for startups, and for the lawyers.”

For startups, one of the pain points is cost. The average billable rate for lawyers in Silicon Valley can run between $300 and $600 per hour, Gupta says, a hefty price for startups with limited capital. Different types of legal issues—immigration, intellectual property, patent—can require different kinds of lawyers, and tracking down the right one takes time and research. “I’ve seen startups who avoided legal issues for the purpose of saving money because they were cost-conscious in the beginning, and it took a toll on them because they didn’t protect their intellectual property,” Gupta says.

Individual lawyers face a different problem. Once they join a firm, they need to drum up business to get promoted or make partner. But most lawyers aren’t prepared to make a good list of contacts straight out of school. “All of a sudden, you’re expected to develop business within one or two years to hit partner at that law firm,” Gupta says. “Lawyers are panicking.” According to Gupta, most lawyers only have 10 to 15 hours per month to dedicate to increasing their client list, and they need a more efficient way to develop their business.

LawPivot solves the problems on both sides, by connecting startups with qualified lawyers who will give them legal advice—for free.

Entrepreneurs can go on the site, draft their confidential legal questions, and tag them with keywords and the general subject matter. Once submitted, the LawPivot search engine will recommend up to 10 lawyers to answer the query, and the startups can use the suggestions and detailed lawyer profiles to pick the attorney they want to answer their questions. “This isn’t a public forum,” Gupta says. “In this situation, the company knows exactly who they’re sending their question to.” The companies can expect the answers to their questions to be in their inboxes within 24 to 48 hours. For the lawyers, it’s an introduction that will “hopefully develop into a long-term relationship.”

The service is set up so that attorneys can only join the network if approved or invited by the LawPivot staff. “As lawyers, we have a pretty extensive network,” Gupta says. The company isn’t releasing how many attorneys are on the service so far, but says they come from firms of all sizes in and around the Silicon Valley. At this point, all of the lawyers are California State Bar certified and can give advice to companies based in the Golden State, or companies from other states that are dealing with legal issues in California.

Signing up for LawPivot is free for both attorneys and companies until at least the end of March. The company is still trying to figure out what kind of payment model it will use, both for the startups and the lawyers. According to Gupta, they’re still debating whether they will charge a subscription or per question for the companies, or if they will charge the lawyers a premium for upgraded profiles or a subscription.

So far, though, the company is in a good spot financially. After bootstrapping initially, LawPivot raised $600,000 a couple of months ago, much of it coming from Google Ventures and angel investors including Allen Morgan, David Austin, and Deep Nishar. Three weeks ago, LawPivot moved into new offices on the Google campus, where Google Ventures has created a kind of incubator for some of its portfolio companies. “We’re super excited about that,” Gupta says. The Google backing also comes with benefits like PR and product support.

LawPivot isn’t the only Q&A site out there—Quora is an obvious example—but because they aren’t targeted in the same way that LawPivot is, Gupta doesn’t see them as direct competitors. He also points out that the basic LawPivot algorithms matching lawyers to company questions were developed by engineer Steven Kam, who has bachelor’s degrees in computer science and economics as well as a law degree. “Our VP of engineering looks at everything from a legal standpoint,” he says. “From a product perspective, that’s how we differentiate ourselves.”

Gupta is pleased with the response so far, both from the startups looking for advice and from the lawyers who have joined the network. He says the company has been getting a lot of positive feedback, particularly from the lawyers, who appreciate how the network allows them to “market themselves in a target crowd by creating robust profiles.”

LawPivot may be helping lawyers on its network spend less time in the office working to increase their client lists, but Gupta, who isn’t currently practicing, is working as much as ever. “It’s a different kind of work,” he says. “And I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur.”

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  • http://willzuckermann.wordpress.com Will Zuckermann

    I love this concept. Quality legal advice is often the exclusive preserve of startups with the means to retain ‘marquee’ counsel. A service like this can enable key stakeholders to asses the calibre of a lawyer by the quality of their advice not the glitter of their client base or depth of their relationship with VC’s.

  • http://duilawyerstips.com J Donaldson

    LawPivot is a great idea. Thank You for the post. I will subscribe to your feed so that I can see more.

  • http://sharklance.com Pat Henry

    Between this and Google’s investment in Rocket Lawyer, you have to wonder at some point whether they’ll essentially destroy the power of the state bar associations with regard to the practice of law.

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