Embracing technology can be a challenge for many people, so launching an online business in a profession that likes to do things “the old-fashioned way” doesn't always garner a lot of respect.
That's what Jeff Fung found when he launched MyLawBid in July, an online service that allows lawyers to bid on legal work submitted by potential clients.
When it launched, the service found itself facing curiosity but skepticism in the legal community, which can be slow to embrace change.
“Lawyers would say it's a good idea, but then not actually sign up for the service,” Mr. Fung says. “They could see the potential, but said they didn't want to bid for their work. Some reacted positively, but some didn't know if it was even allowed by the law society.”
His challenge was to get them to overcome their hesitation and bring credibility to the service.
Mr. Fung is a lawyer with a background in business, having graduated with a bachelor of commerce degree from the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business in 2005 and with a law degree from Queen’s University in 2008.
In 2009, Mr. Fung and his wife, also a lawyer, found a condo they wanted to buy. They were working out the details of the agreement of purchase and sale and needed to find a residential real estate lawyer to help complete the sale.
Mr. Fung was surprised to find that he had trouble locating one, even by looking on the Internet.
“I found it strange that, even though we're both lawyers, it wasn't easy to find the information we needed to make an informed decision.”
Mr. Fung was convinced he could draw on his business and legal background to create a company to connect clients and lawyers. He connected with a computer programmer to develop an online bidding system for legal services.
The service is designed to allow individuals and small businesses looking for legal representation to present a request for proposals (RFP). Lawyers who register on the site can bid on the RFP.
The cost is free to potential clients. Eventually, lawyers will pay either $100 a month or $1,000 a year, but while the site is still getting up and running, lawyers can sign up for a free trial.
Once the site was launched, Mr. Fung had to find a way to attract clients from the legal community.
For lawyers, clients usually result from building relationships, so Mr. Fung set out to build his connections.
Having gone to law school at Queen's, he first tapped his personal connections, which began to open doors. Friends signed up quickly and helped him build the momentum he needed to approach other potential clients in the legal community.
The next key step came when he sponsored the annual conference of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACL) earlier this month, which helped to get the website's name out to senior and junior lawyers, and law students. To keep their attention, he placed advertisements in FACL's e-newsletter.
He also been attending other events specifically targeted at lawyers.
“Being able to meet face-to-face is a valuable opportunity, as it gives me the chance to explain MyLawBid in a way that builds confidence in a collegial environment made up primarily of law professionals,” Mr. Fung says.
His pitch is that the site could be “another prong” in lawyers' business-development strategy.
Mr. Fung is now turning his attention to mid-and large-sized firms, knowing that, the more he can land, the more his credibility will grow.
Though it's still early days, since launching in July, MyLawBid has signed up more than 100 lawyers.
The site has been featured on the website homepage of the law faculty at Queen's, Mr. Fung’s alma mater. This feature and the exposure from the FACL Conference doubled the number of lawyers registered in Ontario.
He now counts lawyers from substantial firms, such as Devry Smith Frank LLP, Gardiner Roberts LLP, WeirFoulds LLP and MacDonald Sager Manis LLP in Toronto, as well as Borden Ladner Gervais LLP's Vancouver office, among his clients.
With the growing list of lawyers that have signed up, site visits to MyLawBid have also increased dramatically. Hits have steadily increased month-to-month from 70,000 in the first month to more than 280,000 in October.
Now there’s a focus on building non-lawyer users. Mr. Fung is investing in search engine optimization and search engine advertising to better target online users searching for legal services.
So far, more than 20 RFPs have been facilitated, helping to match small businesses with corporate and intellectual property lawyers, as well as individuals with family, criminal, estates, civil litigation and personal injury lawyers.
Based on his current rate of success, Mr. Fung projects that, by next March, the number of RFPs submitted through MyLawBid will increase by three to four times, to five or six a week.
In November, MyLawBid was voted one of 10 finalists in the Telus Business Elevator Pitch contest. This has resulted in an offer for MyLawBid.com to be featured in a Telus blog post in early 2012.
Mr. Fung says this recognition is a great “vote of confidence,” and says he now feels MyLawBid has the momentum it needs to become a market success.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Jeff Kroeker is a lecturer in the accounting division at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.
This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Report on Small Business website.
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