These are the companies to watch in the legal Internet markespace.
By Erik J. Heels
First published 5/2/1997; Heels(dot)com Web Site; Clock Tower Law Group
A little different angle on my Top 10 list this month. I have written about many of the companies below previously. But never in this context. I hear that there is an online service for sale where solo practitioners, associates, partners, and those of counsel connect with each other. Would you buy that company? Or would you buy the ten companies listed below and start from scratch? Each company listed below is, for the most part, a small, innovative, startup company with a unique product or service offering. These are the companies to watch in the legal Internet markespace. And the companies I’d buy if I had a few spare millions. Of course, none of this should be taken as legal or financial advice and blah blah disclaimers blah blah limited liability blah blah consult an attorney blah blah financial advisor blah blah. I think I’ve made my point. Enjoy!
1. Lawyers.Com. And the first company on the list is … not a company at all! I said “for the most part” above, remember? OK, so it’s not a company, but it is a darn valuable chunk of intellectual property, one that has been sitting idle for nearly the last three years! It is registered to the San Diego-based Law Offices of McAvoy and Kronemyer. And if you try to access http://www.lawyers.com/, you’ll get the Web site of their Internet Service Provider, but that’s fodder for another article, another day. If you use your imagination, I’m sure you could come up with a company or two that might want to be associated with lawyers on the Net. Any takers? (http://ds2.internic.net/cgi-bin/whois.pl?engine=rs&search=lawyers.com)
2. FindLaw Inc. FindLaw is, simply put, the Yahoo of the legal profession. And with more innovations than you can shake a stick at. Well, you could shake a stick at them, but what would be the point of that? Among their innovations are LawCrawler, a front-end interface to AltaVista that enables you to limit searches to law-related Internet sites. Also on FindLaw’s site are law review articles and abstracts as well as plenty o’ Supreme Court opinions. FindLaw’s founders – Martin Rümlscheisen, Tim Stanley, and Stacy Stern – have a wealth of legal and technical experience. Martin Rümlscheisen is a Ph.D. candidate in Stanford University’s Department of Computer Science. Martin earned his MS in Computer Science from Munich Technical University in 1992, his MS in Computer Science from Stanford University in 1993. Tim Stanley is a Ph.D. candidate in Stanford University’s Department of Engineering-Economic Systems and Operations Research program. Tim earned his BS in Mathematical and Computational Sciences from Stanford University, spent a year at Harvard Law School, and earned his JD from the University of Michigan Law School. Stacy Stern has been a member of the State Bar of California since 1993. Stacy earned her BA in Communication from Stanford University in 1990 and her JD from Harvard Law School. Plus they are some of the friendliest people you could ever hope to meet. (http://www.findlaw.com/)
3. The ‘Lectric Law Library. The ‘Lectric Law Library is a monument to the triumph of individual effort. One person – Jeff Liebling – has accomplished what multimillion dollar corporations have failed to do: create a first-class consumer-oriented legal Web site. And Jeff is not even a lawyer! Perhaps that’s why The ‘Lectric Law Library is as good as it is. As a consumer of legal products and services, he knows what non-lawyers are looking for in a Web site. It’s slick, entertaining, and useful. (http://www.lectlaw.com/)
4. Inherent.Com Inc. <big, fat, hairy disclaimer>I am a minority shareholder of Inherent.Com.</big, fat, hairy disclaimer>. So take this with a grain – or perhaps a chunk – of salt. What do the American Bar Association, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Martindale-Hubbell, Lexis-Nexis, the Illinois State Bar Association, and the Pennsylvania Bar Association have in common? They have all turned to Inherent.Com to design, develop, host and/or maintain Internet services, including public Web sites. A partial list of Inherent.Com’s clients appears at http://portfolio.inherent.com/. And Inherent has been doing this since 1994 – which is forever in Net years. (http://www.inherent.com/)
5. Law Source, Inc. While FindLaw’s directory is the most complete compilation of law-related Web (etc.) sites, LawSource’s American Law Sources On-line (ALSO!) is the most complete compilation of primary and secondary print law sources, with links to those that are accessible via the Net. Have you ever been frustrated looking for a particular state’s legislation online only to find (hours later) that the information does not exist (yet) on the Web? If you had visited ALSO! first, you would have learned whether or not that state’s laws are Net ready. LawSource is the perfect complement to FindLaw. And both are located in the Bay Area. Hmm, can you say merger? (http://www.lawsource.com/)
6. VersusLaw. Raise your hand if you think that VersusLaw’s V. (pronounced “vee” – um, how else would you pronounce it?) is making Lexis-Nexis and The West Group (think WestLaw) nervous. I think so too. Originally born as LawGroup Network’s Lawyers Legal Research OnLine, by Timeline Publishing Company (think www.llr.com, which still has lots of links to it), the reborn VersusLaw is a tremendous step forward. More content, better user interface, and professional marketing. V. – like Lexis-Nexis and WestLaw – is now available free to all law students. Only VersusLaw doesn’t charge the law schools an annual subscription fee. VersusLaw (unlike the big guys) has figured out the formula for success on the Web: subscriptions + advertising + transactions = viability. (http://www.versuslaw.com/)
7. College Hill Internet Consultants. The founders of College Hill are not lawyers, but they play lawyers on the Net. Well, not exactly. They are not holding themselves out as lawyers, far from it. But their success in the legal vertical Web consulting and design market is a clear indication of business acumen. Most non-lawyers who try to break into the legal vertical market often fall flat on their face. Not College Hill. They do first-class Web work for reasonable fees, and they provide value-added services – most notably their Internet Legal Practice Newsletter – to the legal Internet community. College Hill recently relocated to the Boston area, an area with a wealth of technical expertise. You know how after you buy a new car, you notice more of that model on the road? Now that you’ve heard of College Hill, you are sure to notice their presence on the Net. (http://www.collegehill.com/)
8. EmplawyerNet. A Web site dedicated to helping legal employers and employees find each other is probably the most boring unsexy Web site you could imagine. Which makes EmplawyerNet’s slick implementation all the more impressive. Employ, lawyers, Internet – EmplawyerNet. Get it? Even if you are not interested in hiring new associates or in seeking a new job, you should visit this site, register, and try it out. The level of customer service that EmplawyerNet provides is like that of another great Web site: Amazon Books (http://www.amazon.com/). For example, EmplawyerNet integrates e-mail notification into its site for job seekers. Whenever a new listing appears that matches your interests, EmplawyerNet sends you an e-mail message telling you about the listing. Similarly, Amazon sends you e-mail when your book order is confirmed, and again when it is shipped. Why is EmplawyerNet so good? Because its president, William Seaton, is a veteran of legal recruitment who understands the power of the Internet. It doesn’t get much better than EmplawyerNet. (http://www.emplawyernet.com/)
9. CLE Online. They say that pioneers usually end up with arrows in their backs, and that the settlers make all the money (think Apple, Microsoft). Maybe it’s because I’m a Red Sox fan, but I hereby route for the pioneers. And CLE Online is clearly a pioneer. They are one of the first companies to offer online Continuing Legal Education (CLE) on the Internet. 38 of the 50 states (all but Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and South Dakota) have Mandatory CLE (MCLE), and others may join in that trend. Let’s just say it’s a growth market ideally suited for Internet-based products and services. (http://www.cleonline.com/)
10. NetRight Technologies. The only company on this list that doesn’t cater primarily to the legal vertical market. But the legal profession stands to benefit greatly from NetRight’s products, which is probably why they were exhibiting at the ABA’s TechShow (04/97) in Chicago. NetRight makes a Java-based secure document management program (the “iManage” family of products) which solves many of the problems that law firms experience with document transfer over the Net. Let’s say that a group of law firms from various cites are working on a class-action law suit and they want to share documents over the Internet. A few years ago, they might have set up a BBS for the member firms to access. Now, with NetRight’s software, they can have access to the same documents – securely – via the Web. Very very cool. And easier to demonstrate than to describe. So be sure to ask them for a demo, and tell ’em that Erik sent you. (http://www.netright.com/)