Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Legal River: Moving Past Directories for Legal Services Marketing

It's a tough market out there for startup companies, much less enterprise-oriented content startups, but LaunchBox Digital is an efficiency-oriented funder of startups that is helping good ideas to get off the ground on a shoestring. One of LaunchBox's newer properties is Legal River, a startup spawned at the University of Maryland that focuses on enabling legal services providers to market their abilities more effectively to small and medium-sized businesses. That business model in and of itself is a tip-off that at least some of today's content-oriented startups are moving towards solutions that focus on solving very specific problems for very specific marketplaces - a refreshing change from "we have a feature, now what's the market for it?" approaches that haunted many of the early waves of content startups.

As announced recently by their CEO Reed Atkin, Legal River provides a marketplace in which people looking for legal services can provide information that describes their qualifications for obtaining services and that describes their needs for services anonymously to solicit offers from practicioners. While in some ways a page out of the Lending Tree playbook, Legal River is actually more of a cross between TechTarget's lead generation servicing model and a classifieds online response service. Legal River users don't reveal their personal data to potential services providers but can instead review the incoming offers anonymously and choose to deal with any of the providers who respond - or not. Legal River charges on a per-lead-provided basis, which encourages a broad range of respondents to requests, This is unlike LegalMatch, which requires an annual fee from legal professionals using the service.

Legal River is in its very early days, focusing largely on supporting tech companies in the Washington, DC area to prove out the mechanics of the model before expanding to broader markets. This is similar in approach in some ways to InsideView and Jigsaw, which honed their business information services amongst Silicon Valley companies before tackling broader markets. A good place to start as any, and one which promises to be able to scale easily into those broader markets, perhaps in partnership with some other business information services providers. I find it encouraging that companies such as Legal River are getting active backing at a time in which some business information suppliers have pulled back on some of their innovation initiatives in the face of challenging markets.

Even more encouraging, though, is that the Legal River business model focuses on key productivity challenges faced both by legal services providers who need to keep marketing time to a minimum and businesses that need to find legal services more efficiently to survive and thrive in challenging times. Instead of thinking like database curators, as some B2B directories publishers continue to do, Legal River is looking at the opportunities for transactions that generate win-win business scenarios from interactions. Expect the new wave of cost-conscious financiers such as LaunchBox Digital to eye additional business-oriented publishing models as key candidates for startups that can generate revenues quickly and scale rapidly using today's cloud computing resources.
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