The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Jennifer McGlone, co-founder, president, and chief legal officer of LawChamps, a legal technology (legaltech) start-up in San Francisco that matches lawyers to people who need them for personal and business matters. McGlone discussed how LawChamps is innovating the legaltech space by using technology as a tool to support the attorney-client relationship.
Cassidy Chansirik: What is “legaltech”?
Jennifer McGlone: Legaltech is a broad term that encompasses the use of many types of technology and software within the legal industry. It can mean using technology to help lawyers practice law more efficiently or successfully, or at its more extreme edge, using technology to deliver legal information and legal services directly to clients.
There are broadly two types of legaltech companies. The first type provides research tools to lawyers, enabling them to confirm whether or not a legal case is still good precedent with the click of a button, or one that provides automatic time tracking tools and billing software for lawyers. The second type of legaltech company are those that provide on-demand legal forms to people to fill out and use themselves (e.g., a form lease, will, power of attorney, divorce agreement, etc.).
There can be resistance to the second type of legaltech from within the legal community on the grounds that technology might be “replacing” lawyers and legal counsel. The fear is that when people attempt to DIY the law, they get things wrong and can even make their situations worse. I’m an attorney and can tell you that there really is no substitute for a professional taking the time to understand your situation and give you sound legal advice tailored to your situation. My company, LawChamps, uses technology to help more people find actual, qualified lawyers to consult with, when they need to. We use tech as a tool to support the attorney-client relationship. We like to say: “We’re not in the tech business, we’re in the relationship business.”
Chansirik: How does LawChamps work? What makes this company different from other legaltech companies?
McGlone: We are all about using technology as a tool to promote access to lawyers for people who do not traditionally work with lawyers on a day-to-day basis, including individuals, families, entrepreneurs, and small business owners. People come to LawChamps via their smartphone, laptop, or desktop computer, and they answer simple, straightforward questions about the legal issue they want consultation for. Then we use an algorithm to match them with qualified lawyers in their region, based on the experience and expertise of the lawyers.
Our aim is to use technology as a tool to promote access to the law and lawyers, to create more attorney-client relationships, and to support those relationships. We want everyone who has a legal problem to be able to find a qualified lawyer with the experience and expertise to help them.
Chansirik: Why did you create LawChamps?
McGlone: Before founding LawChamps, I was an attorney in private practice for twenty years. I saw first-hand how many people tried to handle their legal problems alone, even in court. But of course, the easiest way to lose a case is to not have help from a lawyer. If you are a small business owner or entrepreneur, the easiest way to get taken advantage of is to sign a contract that you do not understand.
This is a systemic problem that everyone within the legal profession is aware of and concerned about, and that means that justice is not being administered fairly and even-handedly. Now, more emphasis is placed on whether you have a lawyer and not the facts and merits of your position. We founded LawChamps to change that, and I consider myself privileged that I can spend time to find a solution for a societal problem with far-reaching ramifications.
Chansirik: The COVID-19 pandemic has created a spur of new legal regulations, from changes in parent visitation schedules to eviction moratoriums. How has LawChamps helped the public navigate the legal system during this time?
McGlone: It is very important that we support our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We experienced a huge increase in calls during the earlier days of the pandemic, with questions ranging from “what do I do if my partner/former husband/former wife won’t let the kids visit due to the COVID pandemic?” to “ what are my rights as an essential worker?”
To address some of these concerns, we launched a public-service and legal education initiative with the help of our lawyers. We put a resources directory up on our website to give people concrete, action-oriented information they could use, and we also added hundreds of articles to our Legal Insights Blog. Finally, we held a series of legal meet-ups, where several of our lawyers answered questions real people asked in real time. We live streamed the events and posted the video recordings on our website so that it would benefit anyone else encountering similar issues.
This is important work and we are gratified to see the results. Organic traffic to our website and our blog increased by 1,200 percent in 2020, which speaks to just how many people are looking for legal help.
Chansirik: How does LawChamps help attorneys in small firms grow their client base? Why is this important?
McGlone: We help solo and small firm attorneys—which are the attorneys best-suited to work with individuals, families, entrepreneurs, and small business owners— grow their online presence to build their brands, reputations, and practices. This is very important because people need to be able to find you and learn about you in order to hire you. Approximately 50 percent of solo and small firm attorneys do not even have websites, but the number one way that people search for lawyers and legal advice is through online searches. We offer lawyers online profiles and a website builder. The attorneys fill out one simple form and we build their websites and host it for them.
We see our company as supporting the traditional attorney-client relationship, not disrupting it. With our platform, we’re able to help more people find qualified, trusted, and experienced lawyers when they need them most. We’re not replacing lawyers or legal advice and counsel, we’re building and fostering attorney-client relationships.
Working with a lawyer is incredibly important. 96 percent of tenants who receive an eviction notice win or settle their cases when they are fully represented by a lawyer. Without any legal services, tenants only win or settle their cases 62 percent of the time. Just as you have a dentist for your teeth, a doctor for your health, and an accountant for your taxes, you need a lawyer for your legal matters. Legal care is self-care.