A local attorney and his techie partner are applying 21st-century technology to the age-old process of hiring a lawyer.
Attorney Terence McEnally and Jim Young, who also has a small software development business, recently launched BernieSez, a website and mobile app focused on helping people who get hit with a speeding or traffic ticket retain legal counsel. They’re betting many consumers will find it preferable to poring over a slew of direct-mail solicitations from traffic lawyers seeking their business.
“What we want to do is to provide the most information possible to consumers of legal services so they can make (an informed) decision,” said McEnally, 48, who has practiced law for 19 years.
The concept behind BernieSez is simple. If you get a traffic ticket, you can dowload the BernieSez app on your smartphone for free, then solicit lawyers by uploading a photo of your ticket and answering a few simple questions.
Lawyers then bid on the business. Those bids include not only a fee quote but also the lawyers’ bios and any other information they feel is pertinent.
All the bids are blind – that is, attorneys don’t know what fees the competition is quoting.
“We don’t want it to be a site where attorneys are compelled ... to drive the price down to get the case,” said McEnally.
Consumers also can rate the attorneys they hire through BernieSez after the fact.
“It’s another bit of information that folks can use ... to make better decisions about what lawyers to hire,” McEnally said.
The Raleigh business formed by McEnally and Young, Legal Software Solutions, initiated a “soft launch” of BernieSez in November. To date it has attracted 105 cases that have been bid on by 25 lawyers. All but one of the cases was a traffic offense, although McEnally believes the concept will work for a variety of cases.
Each case is averaging between two and three bids. “We hope to bump that up as more lawyers get in the system,” said Young, 49.
Right now BernieSez is just for North Carolina. But the company expects to expand to Virginia in the spring and, eventually, to other states as well.
Nate Massenburg, a delivery driver who lives in Raleigh, recently used BernieSez to hire a lawyer after he was charged with driving 50 mph in a 35 mph zone.
“I was surprised at the convenience of it,” Massenburg said. “It is hassle-free.”
Raleigh lawyer Lawrence Kissling has been bidding on cases for the past two weeks.
“I’m always looking for ways to generate new business, especially if it is something that is going to be more efficient,” said Kissling. He traditionally has attracted clients mostly through referrals and through letters he mails to lists of traffic offenders that he purchases in the 10 counties where he handles traffic cases.
Kissling has bid on at least 10 cases through BernieSez and has landed one client so far – and is optimistic about winning more. Most of the other cases he’s bid on haven’t yet been awarded to an attorney, which Kissling attributes to the court dates being weeks away.
“Most of my clients will hire me within a week or two of when their court date is,” he said.
Kissling is a firm believer that clients don’t select a lawyer on the basis of price alone.
“I think most clients hire the (lawyer) they feel the most comfortable with and that they feel will get them the best results, and price is a part of that,” he said. “The best results have the best price.”
Consequently, he includes with his bid for each case the “typical result” that a client should expect based on the specific offense, the county where it allegedly occurred and the client’s driving record. Kissling said he also uses the BernieSez messaging system to ask prospective clients additional questions “so I know exactly what’s going on with their case” before submitting a bid.
Free during testing
BernieSez is still in beta testing – “We’re getting the kinks out,” Young said – and right now it’s free for both consumers and attorneys.
Although the company’s business model calls for the service to remain free for consumers, it plans to begin charging lawyers as of March 1. Pricing details are still being worked out.
BernieSez’s target demographic, on the consumer side, is young adults with smartphones. Which is why Young convinced a friend of his to compose a “rap jingle” encapsulating the service that they plan to feature on the website. The lyrics:
As for the name BernieSez, Young said it was inspired by a song. But he doesn’t want to go public with the details “because we don’t want to get sued. We don’t want to be clients on our own site.”