New Website Connects Lawyers and Clients, Links Attorneys to Each Other
Ever try to find an attorney – the right one – to help with a legal issue? It should be easy, considering there’s a plethora of law school graduates every year.
It doesn’t always work that way, though.
Finding the lawyer you need, when and where you need them – especially someone with the right expertise – can be hit or miss.
Websites like Findlaw.com list attorneys but, critics contend, they are not always up-to-date and the information can be skimpy.
Helping People Find Lawyers
Zeekbeek, a new Traverse City-based company, hopes to change that with their new website – Zeekbeek.com. The goal is to make it easy for people to connect with an attorney in or near their town who can handle the specifics of their legal case.
Visitors to the free site submit an inquiry and then wait to receive a response from a law firm. Ultimately, the two parties can decide whether they want to enter into a formal (and confidential) working relationship. Potential clients can also choose to shop around, email inquiries to several law firms and then pick the best fit. They can also narrow their search by choosing from a list of specialized fields– everything from aviation and drone law to liquor licenses or lawyers specializing in skateboard law.
Zeekbeek.com is designed to give consumers complete and up-to-date choices. Through an agreement with the State Bar of Michigan – which all lawyers in the state are required to join – the website contains a database listing the names, locations and contact information for all licensed lawyers in the state.
The relationship with the State Bar, said Zeekbeek CEO Bob Aicher, means the data on Zeekbeek.com is updated in real time. In fact, google State Bar of Michigan, click on “For the Public” section and you now land at Zeekbeek.com.
Aicher said the association with the State Bar also lends credibility to the whole undertaking.
“Lawyers have got to be sure about what they say. Do you really want to put anything outrageous on a site that is co-sponsored by the Bar?” he said.
Zeekbeek.com, Aicher said, is a solution to what he termed a “classic market dysfunction” – a strong demand for services (by consumers) chasing strong supply (of lawyers) but a communications disconnect standing in the way of the two sides finding each other in a timely fashion.
Helping Law Practices
Zeekbeek, which is owned by Delaware-based parent company CloudLaw, serves legal clients, but it also has the potential for helping attorneys build their businesses. For no charge, law firms can opt into the site and provide more complete information about themselves and their legal specialties. As this happens, consumers can make better-informed choices.
The site has another, perhaps more subtle, advantage for lawyers: avoiding potential conflicts of interest that could occur if the firm has represented the person’s ex-spouse, business competitor or some other adversary in the past. Zeekbeek.com allows only a very limited flow of information during the initial “client intake” period. During this phase, an attorney responding to an email inquiry sees only the person’s name and city – but no specifics about the legal need. All communications are temporarily routed through the site. That gives lawyers time to “conflict check” their files and decide whether a conflict of interest might arise.
Once these issues are clarified, a formal client-attorney relationship can be established.
For all of these reasons, Aicher said he expects more attorneys to opt into the system and add more details to their profiles – especially since there is no charge for the service.
Besides the free, public function of zeekbeek.com, the website also has a password-protected area that is accessible by lawyers only.
This is where the company hopes to turn a profit by selling lawyer-to-lawyer advertisements (Aicher prefers the term, “listings”). The ads – or listings – are mostly aimed at helping law firms build referral business.
Referrals – one law practice sending work to another for a fee – constitute a substantial part of many firms’ annual revenues. There are even law practices in Michigan whose main activity is matching clients with the right legal specialist.
According to Danon Goodrum-Garland, director of professional standards for the State Bar of Michigan, state rules of professional conduct “permit a division of fees between lawyers who are not in the same firm,” with the stipulation that the total fee charged to the client “be reasonable.”
While there are no clear guidelines on how the total fees must be divided, she added that “it is not atypical in personal injury matters, for the referring lawyer to receive one-third of the net attorney’s fee based on the agreement between the lawyers dividing the fee.”
So clearly, referrals are big business. They are common for many reasons, Aicher said.
Geography can play a role. A downstate couple contemplating buying a summer home in the Grand Traverse area, for instance, might ask their family lawyer for the name of an attorney in northern Michigan who can handle the matter. This real estate-based practice even has a name – “cottage law.” Or a daughter or son living in another part of the country might need a lawyer. Their family lawyer helps them find an attorney and, in the process, receives compensation from the firm that does all or most of the work.
Referrals also occur when clients needing a lawyer who is admitted to practice in federal court or one who is a specialist in a narrow field like skateboard accidents.
Aicher said two additional “concierge” services – a profile builder and a social media archival service for lawyers – should also add to the company’s bottom line. Other profit centers might arise as Zeekbeek matures and as the company extends its reach to other states, he added.
Company Anticipates Growth
Aicher said Zeekbeek.com will grow because it:
- offers consumers the most accurate and current information available
- gives attorneys the tools they need to operate in an online environment while remaining well within ethical bounds
- and, on the password-protected side of the web site, helps law practices build referral business
Zeekbeek.com for Michigan is already up and running.
“We should go online in Ohio soon, and we’re currently talking at different levels with 15 different state bar associations,” Aicher said, adding that the company will soon announce two other states that have signed formal agreements.
“Our goal is to be up to 10 states contracted in 2016 and we hope to have 20 by the end of 2017,” he said, adding that in theory, it should be easy to find the right lawyer anywhere in the country.
The same goes, he added, for law firms hoping to build referrals.
“Right now, there is no single national database for lawyers to lawyers,” he said.
“You’d think there would be one through the American Bar Association, but lawyers are licensed on a state-by-state basis. The problem is that you don’t have to join the ABA.”
The website also contains a free section where law students can post professional information about themselves.
The company currently has five employees in Traverse City. Aicher said he hopes to expand the local presence as Zeekbeek grows.