George Clooney as attorney Michael ClaytonFor lawyers, business development and lead generation have long been duties relegated to the glad-handing partners or to sporadic appearances in local media or in trade publications. But the Great Recession savaged the legal business, and now lawyers are starting to realize that they need to come up with better ways of bringing in new business. Or at least that's the bet of LawPivot.

The startup, which was funded last month by Google Ventures (GOOG) and is currently housed in the incubator at the GooglePlex, is a Q&A site that aims to connect businesses seeking legal advice with attorneys seeking clients. "A lot of firms have not really had a technology-based lead-generation strategy beyond buying AdWords or online ads," says Nitin Gupta, the company's co-founder and vice president of business development (and a former attorney).

How Will It Make Money?

In fact, all three of the key executives at LawPivot are lawyers with rockstar pedigrees. Gupta previously worked at Applied Materials and was an intellectual property litigator at Townsend & Townsend & Crew, a top national IP law firm. Co-founder and CEO Jay Mandal was the lead mergers and acquisitions attorney at Apple (AAPL). VP of Engineering Steven Kam, who worked as a litigator with Gupta, holds a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and a masters in computer science from Stanford.

LawPivot isn't the only legal referral or Q&A site around. LawGuru and LawQA are among the numerous sites offering some manner of legal Q&A. Like Quora, however, LawPivot hopes to offer a unique combination of top-tier answers and top-tier users focusing on business and IP legal advice. Most of the other Q&A sites are focused on providing lead generation for local lawyers, something that LawPivot decidedly isn't pursuing.

How will LawPivot make money? One of two ways. It plans to charge a membership fee to attorneys to gain access to the question stream and to charge potential clients for answers to their questions. LawPivot may also take a cut of subsequent work the attorney does for the firm, although that part of the monetization strategy isn't fleshed out yet.

For now, LawPivot is focused on serving startups. The company is still in beta but has hundreds of attorneys registered on the site answering dozens of questions per day. Those attorneys come from some of the bluest of the blue-chip firms as well as from highly qualified solo practitioners and midsize firms. "We want to make sure we are a viable option for the big firms as a means for them to locate potential clients, particularly in the startup world," says Gupta.

A Well-Timed Move?

From the company site:
"Companies will benefit from using LawPivot in the following ways: significantly reduce the costs in receiving answers to legal questions, receive confidential answers to sensitive legal questions by multiple lawyers, which a company can personally select, quickly find the best lawyers on LawPivot to answer questions and address other specific legal needs. LawPivot addresses the needs of a company that has no lawyer, has an outside lawyer, or has an inhouse lawyer as a primary or supplementary solution to find legal answers. For a lawyer, LawPivot is a highly efficient business development tool to directly connect with key decision makers at companies who are specifically seeking that lawyer's advice and expertise."

This could be a case of good timing. Q&A sites haven't enjoyed the best reputations in the past, and search engine results for legal questions are heavily spammed with cut-rate Q&A offerings as well as content-farm fare . Likewise, the social recommendation system that now produces as much traffic as search engines for many applications could give LawPivot a lift and help it gain critical mass.

That said, even if LawPivot never leaves the startup niche, it could be a nicely profitable business and a mainstay in Silicon Valley, Boston, Boulder, Austin and other tech Meccas.


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