A little over a year ago, wireLawyer launched in beta as an online community exclusively for lawyers. At the time, I wasn’t kind to it. I expressed skepticism about the likelihood of success of a legal-vertical professional network and I called out the site’s founders for claiming to be the “first online professional network for the legal community,” which was not so — although Matthew Tollin, wireLawyer’s cofounder and CEO, disagreed with me.
I had not checked in on the site since then, so I was glad on Friday to have an opportunity to catch up by phone with Tollin to find out what is happening with the site, which is still in beta.
The major news is that wireLawyer recently launched a lawyer-to-lawyer referral feature. Building up this referral network will now be the primary focus of wireLawyer, Tollin told me.
When wireLawyer launched last year, you may recall, its main focus was on allowing lawyers to share documents and share advice through Q&As. Facilitating referrals was always part of the plan, but Tollin said that this will now be the site’s main focus.
Currently, the site offers two ways to make a referral. The first is similar to how you might use LinkedIn to make a referral — search the site for lawyers who fit what you are looking for. You can search by keyword and narrow your search by practice area, location, law school attended, and languages spoken. Similar to LinkedIn, you can also narrow your search by first-degree and second-degree connections. If you find someone that you think qualifies for the referral, message the lawyer directly and decide how to proceed.
The second method is to post referrals from your wireLawyer dashboard. When you choose this method, wireLawyer staff actually research the best candidates by geography, practice area and reputation and provide you with recommendations. You remain free to make the referral decision and to work out any referral arrangements.
wireLawyer is also about to launch a Smart Q&A feature. So far on the site, users can post questions, but the questions and answers are not visible to other users. Sometime in the next week or so, the Smart Q&A feature will launch, allowing users to see previous questions and answers. (This is a lawyer-to-lawyer Q&A feature, not consumer-to-lawyer.)
One other piece of news Tollin shared is that wireLawyer is currently in discussions with a CLE provider about licensing CLE content and making it available through the site.
Tollin said that he is actively seeking to raise seed funding to help bring the site out of beta and build out ways for the site to begin bringing in transactional revenue. So far, they have raised around $450,000 of their $750,000 target, he said.
My skepticism about legal-vertical sites such as this is not because I don’t think they’re a good idea. To the contrary, I think sites that are designed purely for lawyer-to-lawyer networking make a lot of sense. My skepticism comes from seeing legal-vertical site after legal-vertical site fail because of the inability to build up a critical mass of lawyer users. It just seems that lawyers don’t have time for or aren’t interested in these types of sites.
At the same time, there really are no good ways for lawyers to make referrals outside of the old-fashioned methods of direct contacts. Direct contacts will always be the best method, but what happens when you need to make a referral somewhere where you know no one? It would be useful to have a site that could facilitate referrals in those instances.
So will wireLawyer succeed where others have failed? Tollin says the site is up to 4,000 registered users and that the referral feature has been generating a lot of new interest. Registrations are only part of the story of course — participation and activity are the real determinants.