If you’re facing troubles—bankruptcy, or getting kicked out of your house, or domestic violence, for instance—you have enough strife on your hands. Unfortunately, the woes with these unexpected life situations don’t end there. Now, you’re tasked with finding a lawyer. More importantly, you have to find one who can help you with your specific case, and for a cost you can afford.
It’s a problem that 22-year-old Michael Gants believes shouldn’t exist — and one he’s personally grappled with. When a chronic illness set in during middle school, it took two years for Gants and his family to figure out what was wrong. In that timespan, he had to see a lot of doctors, and miss a lot of school. Meanwhile, he needed to seek out a lawyer to not only deal with insurance complications, but also get exceptions from his school as he was failing out of classes. Luckily, both of his parents happen to be lawyers. But the whole process left him wondering why the process of finding affordable legal aid was absurdly complicated. (Note: Gants gave a TED Talk about his experience, which you can watch here).
So, he decided to do something about it. The Harvard student developed JustiServ, with the intention of allowing anyone—anywhere—to find legal aid in just a few clicks. Just enter your legal problem, and you can peruse the lawyers that fit that realm while also comparing their professional backgrounds and price estimates. Clients can even pay for the legal services they find on JustiServ via Paypal.
The price estimates are what really makes JustiServ revolutionary, Gants said.
“No one’s ever done that before, getting lawyers to release that information publicly,” he told me.
That’s because, as Gants explained, it has mostly served their interests better to keep that info under wraps — they can charge people different hourly rates, depending on their financial circumstances. But when clients are given an hourly rate, it’s nearly impossible for them to budget, because they have no idea how much time they’ll need for those services. JustiServ eliminates a lot of the confusion by providing fixed price estimates for laywers, allowing users to get a more accurate idea of what they’ll need to spend. While this forces lawyers to be more up front, Gants tells me that they’re still benefitting in a major way. Most lawyers at small firms struggle to fill up a week with paying clients, often only getting paid for about 20 to 25 hours a week. Many of them rely on family and friends for referrals — it’s a hustle, and it’s inconsistent. But JustiServ offers a whole new channel for exposure, allowing clients to find them that may have never done so otherwise. Best of all, lawyers don’t have to pay anything to be featured on the site.
JustiServ eliminates a lot of the confusion by providing fixed price estimates for laywers, allowing users to get a more accurate idea of what they’ll need to spend.
Users can search with reassurance, too, that they’re in good hands. Gants spoke with leaders at a number of bar associations in order to get introduced to those who are reputable.
Gants told me that at least 235 lawyers are already listed on the site and shared their pricing information, and that number is growing. Over the past month or so, the focus has shifted from only recruiting lawyers to attracting clients. Within several weeks, he said JustiServ has seen about 50 users, and the conversion rate shows promise: 44 out of them have hired a lawyer.
In addition to Gants, JustiServ consists of two full-time sales/marketing pros and two coders. The team has primarily been working out of Harvard’s facilities. Additionally, the startup boasts one investor: Deborah A. Ramirez, a Harvard law grad and founder of the nonprofit teaching law firm JusticeBridge. Early on, Jon Gosier — investor, software developer and philanthropist — acted as a consultant to help build the website.
Meanwhile, the company has also built up a growing list of advisory board members, which includes Robert Harnais, Mahoney & Harnais founding partner and president-elect of the Massachusetts Bar Association; Harvey Kaplan, former partner at Kaplan, Friedman & Associates and Harvard Law School professor; Thomas Barrette, senior counsel at Holland & Knight; and Edward M. Ginsburg, former Associate Justice of the Probate and Family Court and director of Senior Partners for Justice.
Gants will be graduating from Harvard late this Spring, and he told me that he intends to focus full-time on JustiServ after finishing school.
“Really, the vision is that no matter where you are in the country, you’ll have this resource as an ally,” he said. “And you won’t be — like my family was — sort of lost, feeling like you have no idea what to do, or what you can afford, or which lawyer is good, or who’s going to rip you off.”
Retro lawyer image via Shutterstock.