LawPivot, a Google Ventures-funded legal Q&A startup targeting small companies, is broadening its reach by
becoming part of partnering with Microsoft’s (s msft) BizSpark program. BizSpark aims to connect startups with technology, investors and other resources to help get their businesses off the ground. Last month, LawPivot expanded beyond its Silicon Valley roots into major metropolitan areas across the country.
As LawPivot — which is similar in design to crowdsourcing services such as Quora or LinkedIn (s lnkd) Answers but focused on legal advice — continues to grow, it could help lead a movement toward true Knowledge as a Service.
Cloud computing helped introduce us to the concept of everything — infrastructure, platforms, software, etc. — as a service, and I argued several months ago that human Labor as a Service, obtained via web tools, might well fall under the cloud umbrella, too. The idea is that things that once required capital investment and, perhaps, long-term commitments are now available over the web on an ad hoc basis. But whereas LaaS focuses on fairly commodity tasks such as proofreading or bug-testing and the human workers resemble nodes in a computing cloud, a service like LawPivot focuses on providing knowledge, rather than just labor, as a service.
Continuing the computing analogy, services like LawPivot might be compared with specialty or enterprise clouds targeting users with specific needs around security, compliance or performance. When companies seek advice from the lawyers that comprise LawPivot’s knowledge pool, they’re asking specific questions in specific practice areas, often relating to the specific laws of the state where the companies are based. Beyond the bar licenses required to give legal advice in the first place, the subject-matter expertise requires years of experience in any given field. To have this type of knowledge available via a web-based service is very valuable.
Further, LawPivot represents a change in the economics of the legal field similar to how cloud computing services such as Amazon (s amzn) EC2 helped free companies from burdensome IT contracts and provisioning processes. In the Information Age, where even legal information is readily available and usable on the web and via certain non-legal specialists, such as CPAs or real estate agents, the hefty retainer fees and hourly billing that have come to embody legal services will no longer cut it, especially for small, cash-strapped businesses. LawPivot, through which lawyers demonstrate their worth first before hopefully establishing a long-term relationship, is part of this larger trend.
The cloud computing connection doesn’t stop with the delivery of knowledge as a service, though. As we’ll be discussing later this month at Structure 2011, the cloud, as a new delivery model, brings about its own set of legal concerns ranging from availability to data privacy. Certainly, more than a few startups should have questions about what avenues of liability cloud computing might open them up to.
As part of the BizSpark partnership, LawPivot is also utilizing the data it has collected about clients to help point new clients in the right direction. As Co-Founder Nitin Gupta explained to me via e-mail:
Through our search algorithm, LawPivot learns about the companies and lawyers on our system over time. We then use past and present data on users and trends to provide a company the best lawyers on LawPivot to answer its question based on the company’s specific needs, and also provide companies the best questions to ask and legal issues they should look out for. We will be providing data such as the types of companies using LawPivot, the types of legal questions/issues they have and might have, and the types of lawyers that certain types of companies are working with.
The advent of Everything as a Service is a fascinating trend to watch. First it was IT resources and processes, then it was human labor, and now it’s moving into specific areas of knowledge. All are still very new and no doubt will evolve greatly in the years to come, possibly fundamentally altering the ways we think about obtaining everything from servers to employees to lawyers.