By GREGORY ZELLER // Need an attorney? Mobile platform LawNearMe.com has one for you. Millennials preferred.
Ease of attorney is not exactly a Miranda right, but it could be a lucrative business opportunity. That’s what entrepreneurial attorney Samuel Shusterhoff is counting on as he efforts to unite attorneys and “next generation” clients with immediate legal needs.
By “next generation,” Shusterhoff – a Jericho native who launched LawNearMe.com out of a Massapequa office in 2014 (the company has since relocated to Brooklyn, we’re sorry to report) – means clients ranging between 18 and 44 years old, a younger demographic that comprises about 50 percent of his service’s users so far.
These are the people who whip out their iPhones to instantly find a lawyer when the need arises, according to the founder.
“We’re going for the 25-year-old who gets into a car accident or gets arrested,” he told Innovate LI. “We want to provide an avenue to this new type of client.”
Shusterhoff conceived the idea after graduating from the Widener School of Law in Pennsylvania and passing the bar in New York and New Jersey. Working for a small New York City litigation firm, one of his duties was to drum up new business, and he found the available advertising options lacking.
“I just didn’t like the space,” he said. “I didn’t think they did a good enough job connecting with the younger generation of legal clients.”
Expanding on a mobile platform built by a Harvard-based web designer, Shusterhoff launched LawNearMe.com and started populating its database with attorneys from around the country. Online lawyer searches is a crowded field – established competitors like LegalMatch.com and Lawyers.com, which boasts a database of over 1 million practicing attorneys, abound – but Shusterhoff believes his startup’s specific focus offers a key advantage.
“One of the biggest differences between us and our competitors is those websites list every single attorney who’s passed the bar,” he said. “Of the million-plus attorneys in this country, a good portion are corporate attorneys and environmental attorneys.
“And attorneys don’t sign up for those other services – they’re just automatically listed,” he added. “Our service offers attorneys who want to be listed, who want to take on clients like our users.”
LawNearMe.com is also the only find-a-lawyer website that offers users the ability to book consultations right through their computer or smartphone. The site is free for users, while attorneys pay a subscription fee to be listed.
The focus now is on building up the site’s lawyer database. LawNearMe.com currently has about 200 subscriber attorneys in 38 states, including 10 attorneys on Long Island, a region that generates “a ton” of user traffic, according to Shusterhoff.
A full-time sales team is working to bulk up those numbers. As word-of-mouth spreads, the company has received a fairly consistent flow of inquiries from attorneys interested in subscribing, Shusterhoff noted, and the team does make the occasional cold call – though cold calls are not where LawNearMe.com’s bread is buttered.
“Ninety percent of the time, when you call, the attorney isn’t the one picking up the phone,” Shusterhoff said. “It’s hard getting past the receptionists and secretaries and getting to the attorney. They’re in protective mode.”
By far, he added, the most successful recruiting method is emailing potential subscriber attorneys.
“Attorneys are very busy,” he said. “We send emails discussing the major points of our business and our rapid growth, something easy they can read quickly on their phones. If the attorney is interested they email back to schedule a meeting.”
Shusterhoff and his designer originally spent time and money developing an app to complement LawNearMe.com, but “quickly realized people don’t need an attorney every day.” Users, he noted, were unlikely to bother downloading an app they’d probably use just once.
“It made more sense to invest more heavily in our mobile platform,” Shusterhoff added. “Now, if you go to our site on your iPhone, you’ll see this isn’t just a website resized for a phone. It’s an actual mobile platform, user-friendly and comprehensive.”
All told, Shusterhoff estimates it cost about $30,000 to launch LawNearMe.com, half his own money and half invested by his family. While he cited some interest from investors, he noted his firm isn’t in fundraising mode – at least, not yet.
“A bunch of VC firms are interested,” he said. “But we’ve been making money from Day 1, so we don’t need it right now. We haven’t gotten to the point where we’re raising funds.”
For now, the plan is to build up that database and increase the LawNearMe.com staff. The company currently boasts five full-time employees, but Shusterhoff said he’s planning to bring on 10 full-time interns June 1 and will look to expand his full-time paid staff later this year.
That will be easier, he noted, if the company grows the way he imagines it will. LawNearMe.com might not show up (yet) when a user Googles “find a lawyer,” but Google “lawyers by me” and the results are drastically different – a keyword strategy that shows the company’s information-age bent, according to Shusterhoff.
And the target audience, he said, won’t always be limited to young adults in fender-bender crisis.
“We’re going after everyone,” Shusterhoff said. “Somebody who needs a divorce attorney. A small business that needs an employment attorney or a business-formation attorney. AT&T isn’t going to use us to find a corporate lawyer, but any individual client might.
“We’re never going to have a million attorneys,” he added. “But we’ll have thousands. Our goal is to be in all 50 states, with attorneys in all local areas.”
What’s It? Web-based local-lawyer locator for “next generation” clients
Brought To You By: Entrepreneurial attorney Sam Shusterhoff
All In: $30,000 – half Shusterhoff’s money, half investments by his family, used to purchase and refine LawNearMe.com’s mobile platform
Status: Lawyering up