America / ARTICLES / United States

Beta Boston (A Boston Globe site): “The court’s Kayak?”

JustiServ-GavelJustiserv, a new website set to launch later this year, plans to publish the prices lawyers charge for various legal services, and will allow consumers to review attorneys and compare their fees — and even pay online through PayPal.

For founder Michael Gants, 21, the mission is personal: The Harvard alum said it was only through his mother, a lawyer, that he was able to get the education and healthcare he needed as he battled a chronic disease growing up, and he wanted to make those kinds of legal resources more widely and affordably available.

“Now you have to call around to different lawyers and they tell you $100 or $200 per hour. Once you sign up with a lawyer, you don’t know what they should be charging you for,” he said. “It’s great for lawyers, but ask someone who is a consumer, and it doesn’t make any sense.”

JustiServ will use multiple choice questions to figure out what type of legal service a person needs. Attorneys will have to fill out questionnaires about how much they charge to be listed on the site.

The site will allow lawyers to keep their prices down by spending less time looking for clients, Gants said. He also plans to attract more young law school graduates, almost half of whom are unemployed, he said.

“Right now, lawyers are like really fancy restaurants that are mostly empty,” he said. “We’re trying to change the way law works – so they can make up in volume what they may lose in terms of fees.”

While there are already a number of websites that help people find lawyers, none of them allow consumers to compare how much different attorneys charge, said Mary Lu Bilek, the dean of the UMass Law.

“I think that is what Justiserv adds to the mix,” she said. “It will be interesting to see whether this has any large scale effect on what lawyers charge.”

She hopes the site will make legal services accessible to the more than 80 percent of the state’s residents who go to court on their own while battling evictions or fighting over custody. This is an increase from ten years ago, when 60 percent of people in civil court didn’t have a lawyer, she said.

Gants is making his site together with investor Jon Gosier, who recently went through the trouble of hiring an attorney during a divorce. Gosier spent about two days calling around to law firms, and ended up paying $3,000, which was twice what he said he had expected.

“The divorce lawyer gave me his hourly rate, but I have no idea how many hours he spent on my case,” he said. “I think the site is going to be successful because it will break down every single thing per hour before you get the bill – not after you get the bill.”

Gants presented his project at a TEDx conference in Brookline last month. He plans to launch his site in the next few months.

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