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About the Author
Kevin S. Gillespie is the co-founder and CEO of Text A Lawyer, Inc.  Text A Lawyer is a platform to connect people with legal questions to waiting lawyers for low fixed fees.  Paying lawyers to field captive client leads disrupts the entire legal advertising industry.     Kevin holds a JD from Vermont Law School and a BA in Business Administration & Entrepreneurship from Western State Colorado University.  Prior to (and during) law school, Kevin worked for Savoy Investment Management, Inc. as executive vice-president.  His decision to attend law school was based on his experience running Cold Pizza, Inc, a 501(c)(3) non-profit feeding the hungry on the streets of San Francisco’s Tenderloin.  Kevin found this experience much more rewarding than investment management and decided a law degree would help him make his career about helping others (in need).  After a short stint at the Colorado State Public Defender office in Grand Junction, Kevin decided to fall back on a legal tech business idea he had in a class taught by Jeannette Eicks, an advisor to Text A Lawyer.  Pairing his entrepreneurship skills with his law education has proved to be the right fit.  Kevin is happiest helping the Text A Lawyer team achieve their goals.

Learning Lessons for Justice, One Question at a Time

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We have an access to justice crisis: 86% of all civil legal needs go unmet.


And at the same time, 61% of Americans are unable to afford a $1,000 emergency. This means when people have a legal problem they often don’t view legal services as “accessible.” This may seem like an occasional occurrence but consider this: more than 90% of the tenants facing eviction in the DC housing court lacked legal representation while more than 90% of the landlords were represented. Going it alone in a complex legal system is a huge risk to the people who can least afford it. The system is designed to best help those who have resources; those without lawyers rarely achieve “justice.”


We started Text A Lawyer, Inc. to help tackle the access-to-justice crisis by seizing the business opportunity of unmet legal need. Text A Lawyer is a platform that instantly connects you with a local, vetted lawyer who provides actual legal advice. We offer a non-subscription, pay-per answer service so you are in control of costs and don’t need to worry about a running meter. It’s $21 to have you first question answered, and $11 to have follow-up questions answered. Afterwards, receive a transcript of your confidential chat with your lawyer. That’s it. Get legal advice from a local lawyer faster and cheaper than ordering a pizza for delivery.


Text A Lawyer works with a network of experienced solo and small firm lawyers. These participating lawyers earn small fees answering discrete legal questions while screening high quality leads. Clients with $21 of skin in the game may realize that their legal issues are more complicated than originally thought and hire lawyers they met on Text A Lawyer. For lawyers, using Text A Lawyer as a lead generation tool is better than spending inordinate amounts of time and money on maintaining a marketing and advertising plan. 


Legal technology is lagging behind other industries for a number of reasons, but it’s the key to increasing efficiency in the practice of law, promoting the accessibility of legal tools, and ultimately increasing access to justice. Companies like Text A Lawyer are the forerunners launching software designed to bridge the access-to-justice gap. However, being at the front comes with its share of battle scars.


Lesson 1: Be ready to fight for momentum


The legal profession isn’t just lagging on adopting technology – it’s being held back. Some state bar associations promote regulations that don’t keep up with existing technology, and others have deliberately taken a protectionist approach to prevent technological innovation under the guise of “legal ethics.” In economic terms, the supply/demand curve is being held out of equilibrium via legal ethics regulations. We should be leveraging technology to bridge the access gap for everyone, regardless of their income or the size of their business. Practically, this means loosening the strangulation grip on fee sharing and working with non-lawyers. Consider this: in the United Kingdom law firms are open to work with businesses and have non-lawyers. Law firms can and do hire people for marketing, accounting, management, and more. They are able to use the best practices of business to efficiently serve the people with a cost-effective business structure. Instances of abuse are rare, meaning those few bar associations are engaging in self-regulating protectionism, making the term “legal ethics” an oxymoron. 


We worked hard to ensure we comply with legal ethics rules to include states using them for protectionist purposes. We’ve taken cautious steps to maintain confidentiality and security. Despite this, Text A Lawyer has received criticism from people who made (incorrect) assumptions about our motives and business models. One state bar even wrote a preemptive ethics opinion to discourage us from increasing access to justice in their state. We won’t let this criticism stop us from helping people access lawyers efficiently and affordably. We will yell it from the rooftops until we drag the legal industry into the 21st century!


Lesson 2: Build a team that has the skills you lack


Don’t start a tech business unless you can do the tech and the business. 


While our founding team has an experienced businessman and a lady lawyer, we do not have any tech experience. We lacked the skills to know whether third-party developers we relied on were competent or worth our trust. We eventually hired Mark Wehrmeister, an experienced CTO. Mark helps us navigate the technical aspects of running a tech business. He translates the technobabble into simple English, and has transformed our failures into successes. 


If you ever find yourself in founder shoes, be sure to get a cofounder. Not just a buddy or choice-of-convenience, but someone who has the skills you lack (and desperately need). Then surround yourself with a trustworthy team of people who bring very different, helpful skills to the table and make sure they all are deeply committed to the mission. After all, what’s the point in being a social enterprise if you’re not swinging for the stands?


Lesson 3: Align your mission and profit motive


There are already nonprofits and government programs designed to improve access to justice. So why didn’t we start another one? 


Kevin has experience volunteering, working with nonprofits, and even started a 501(c)(3) charity feeding the hungry of San Francisco’s “Tenderloin” neighborhood. Kevin’s experiences taught him that there’s nothing more agile and able to meet consumer needs than a startup. They can alleviate customer “pain points” faster than most non-profits take notice. Text A Lawyer is legal first aid; stop the bleeding quickly and triage the next steps for legal treatment. Kevin explains more about the benefits of for-profit social enterprises here.


We are fully focused on understanding our customers’ needs. With more than 85 out of 100 people not connecting to legal advice, there’s a huge untapped market! By helping people that aren’t being reached otherwise we create a market out of existing demand. We do plan to grow with the assistance and financial backing of angel investors and venture capital. However, we’re in the rare position where helping more people access justice is built directly into our profit motive. And because we aren’t beholden to the grant writing process and philanthropists’ desires, we can keep pleasing our customers squarely in our sights.


Finally, celebrate your wins


Launching Text A Lawyer been a struggle, but it’s been worth it. The most rewarding part is coming to work every day on a startup solution that increases access to justice as its core operation. That said, being our own bosses isn’t bad either!


At its heart, Text A Lawyer is designed to expand access to timely legal advice to the people that need it most. Because we’re based out of Portland, we are starting with Oregon landlord-tenant law. After all, some who is facing eviction is experiencing a legit legal crisis that can result in homelessness.


Injustice is “pain.” For-profit businesses seek to alleviate customer “pain” (aka “injustice”). In this case, for-profit and the social justice mission to increase access to justice are perfectly aligned. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Justice is indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Well, consider Text A Lawyer to be a glue factory. Like glue, we help hold justice together by spreading a little everywhere.


By this time next year we hope to be running in twenty-five states. We’re also building an army of Spanish-speaking immigration lawyers who can work with clients around the U.S. to help with the current immigration crisis. Finally, we’re working with local governments to start a pilot program; using text message reminders to increase court attendance.


It may not be easy being at the front edge of a new revolution in technology, but it’s extremely rewarding: each time a lawyer answers a question there’s a person who becomes informed about their legal situation and is able to make an educated decision. Text A Lawyer is achieving justice, one (legal) question at a time!