Perhaps the best — and worst — aspect of a solo or small firm law practice is that no matter how much you plan, you’re always in for surprises. In some months, you may go from no clients on the horizon on the first of the month to an overflow docket a month later. Or you might discover that a client who retains you to handle a trust and who’s never left the state turns out to have property all over the country. Or that the web developer who created your site a decade ago is no longer in business and you need to update the site right away.
Because of the steep ebbs and flows in solo and small firm practice, it’s very difficult to figure out staffing levels. For that reason, I’ve often advised against hiring permanent employees if you can avoid it (and here’s 19 ways to avoid permanent hires, courtesy of Lee Rosen’s Divorce Discourse). Still, sometimes the effort of finding a law student or an assistant or designer to handle a relatively small task doesn’t seem worth the bother – and so you either stay up late another night or put the work off.
Enter Docket Hero. Conceived by Florida small firm practitioner Long Duong, DocketHero is an online marketplace that allows lawyers to connect with qualified service providers – the “heroes” – who can help lawyers with a one-time matter or ongoing tasks so that they can “clear their docket.” Though Docket Hero resembles services like Elance, which help users find freelance labor, or TaskRabbit or Craigslist which are useful for finding less specialized services (like babysitting or dog walking) locally, Docket Hero meets unique needs that none of these services fully address. First, lawyers frequently need “on-the-ground,” assistance in other jurisdictions – for example, a paralegal who can pull a deed from court records or a trustworthy messenger who can print out an emailed pleading and file it at the court – but finding location-specific help at these more general sites can be difficult. Likewise, many times a lawyer may want services specific to the legal industry – such as an inexpensive web-developer with experience in creating lawyer-websites, a notary or a paralegal – and may not have the time or desire to comb through the more general sites to address a specific need. The site is also simple and mobile-friendly, making it easy for a lawyer to post on the fly and browse responses.
On the supply-side, Docket Hero also provides an opportunity for law students and solos and smalls with extra capacity to pick up additional work. In addition to allowing a lawyer to solicit services, Docket Hero also allows providers to post availability or list offers to perform certain tasks. For example, a solo who plans to be at the courthouse for a status call on the 5th of the month could list availability to cover appearances that same day. A law student who’s already cite-checking articles for the law review could offer to cite-check or proof an attorney’s briefs. Docket Hero makes it easy for service providers to include more than a line or two about their credentials and proposed work offers.
I’ve seen some of the early versions of how Docket Hero will work – and I love this idea for a couple of reasons. While I have used and like sites like Elance, they can be overwhelming because of the number of participating providers. Also, I don’t always want to bid a project – sometimes, I would rather just look at a list of resumes and choose one for a task – and that’s one feature enabled by DocketHero.
Most of all, I just love the concept of DocketHero; it resonated with me from the moment I heard about it. For one, DocketHero makes life easier for lawyers but more importantly, it creates a platform where lawyers can help others in the legal profession by passing on pieces of paying work here and there at a time when so many are unemployed or struggling. Although technically, DocketHero refers to service providers as “heroes,” in this economy, any lawyer who can help out a law students or new solos by hiring them for little pieces of work – a proofing project here, an appearance there — is a hero as well – and DocketHero makes it easier.
DocketHero hasn’t launched yet, but is looking for lawyers who may have projects to outsource as well as for lawyer and non-lawyer service providers who might have services to offer. Here’s the sign-up where you can register and keep up to date with the latest news on Docket Hero’s launch.
Note -Speaking of new business ideas, the founders of Priori Legal will be speaking at a MyShingle sponsored MeetUp in Washington DC on “Finding, Serving and Setting Fees for Startup and Small Business Clients: an Insider’s Perspective.” It’s a free event – and it’s filling up fast. To register and for more details, go here.