Even if you’re a lean mean startup machine, having a working relationship with a lawyer is crucial in the long run. In the worst-case, startups may need an lawyer to litigate an issue between the business and the customer, supplier or even member of the public. But there are many other times when the services of a lawyer is useful, even if the need for a lawyer isn’t pressing.
In his years of practicing law, Jeremy Tompkins came across numerous entrepreneurs who failed to get the legal advice they needed; and as a result, suffered from crippling legal problems. For these businesses, the process of finding a lawyer presented a barrier to getting legal advice.
To remove this barrier, Tompkins decided to build an online marketplace for startups and small businesses to find affordable, quality legal advice.
Launched in November last year, Brief It cuts out the leg work and the need for second-guessing, instead offering a simple three-step process to finding a lawyer. Entrepreneurs simply post a brief, compare proposals from a variety of lawyers and make an informed choice of lawyer to represent them.
It was from the ‘corporate playbook’ that Tompkins derived inspiration to create this three-step process. He says, “Corporates source legal advice by asking members of a panel of law firms to pitch for work. They focus on fleshing out the approach to task, expertise and cost, and choose the law firm with the best pitch.”
Similarly, Brief It allows clients to do their homework in one place and get the facts that matter most: scope of services, cost, experience and client reviews.
Tompkins is cautious about not being perceived as a legal directory, Q&A or referral site – because unlike those sites, Brief It functions more like a procurement tool.
He says, “We don’t refer the client to a particular lawyer because we don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of a client’s business like they do. Each brief is open to our community of lawyers and the client makes the final decision from those lawyers who have pitched offers. The client stays in control.”
Over the past few months, Brief It has signed up corporate and commercial lawyers from national and boutique firms across Australia – with early adopters being startups and small businesses seeking advice in various areas of commercial law.
Tompkins says he chose to bootstrap the business from the get-go, because he wanted to take on the challenge of building a business by himself – which of course means being self-reliant for the most part. He is, however, open to raising funds in the future and recognises the value brought to the table by experienced investors.
“There’s a lot that goes into a building a business like this: we’re combining a web application with a two sided market. And running a bootstrapped operation means that we have to be judicious about who we hire and how much we spend. As a result, the success of the business falls down to the quality of people we hire but we have been lucky to have a great web developer and designer on board.”
Given legal isn’t always top of mind, Tompkins is implementing a content marketing strategy “to educate businesses through easily digestible article – hoping this helps bring about small wins for businesses.”
He also plans on developing strategic partnerships this year with other businesses who have similar audiences.
Brief It is free to use for clients. The startup makes money from the lawyers featured on the platform who have to pay a marketing fee when awarded a brief.
“We’re bringing them work and clients and in the process saving them marketing time and dollars,” says Tompkins.
An important aspect of Brief It is that lawyers are subject to feedback from clients and ratings on KPIs.
“With lawyers perceived to be slow adopters of new concepts, I had anticipated that this may put some lawyers off joining Brief It. What I have actually found is that the lawyers who have joined are prepared to back themselves on the basis of the quality of their services,” says Tompkins.
In the mean time, Tompkins will be focusing on early adopters in the startup and small business space.
“Our community of business lawyers at national and boutique firms are well served to meeting the needs of a lean startup to a growth business,” he says.
He is also incorporating other areas of law – like employment and family law – into the business model.
For more information, visit www.briefit.com.au.