PETALING JAYA: Though legal services are increasingly a necessity, the process of finding the right lawyer that fits one’s needs and budget still remains a haphazard fumble through friends’ recommendations and cold calls.
Looking to solve that, lawyer discovery site CanLaw adopted hotel booking sites’ ethos of letting users filter lawyers by specialty and geography, then connecting them to the lawyers for an estimate and track record.
"Imagine going to a store and asking how much a watch costs, and being told they can't reply up front, but the price may go up and down. You don’t see this happening in other industries," said CanLaw chief executive officer Loo Soon Yi, 28.
He adds that while it was standard for potential-clients to call for quotes or ask around about a lawyer’s track record, the lack of information online made it unnecessarily time consuming and frustrating for users who were often in an urgent need.
Loo says the case information shared to get a quote would be kept anonymous, with the private information of the user divulged to the lawyer only once both sides agree to work together.
The service was free for users and lawyers, though CanLaw was seeking the Bar Council's approval to charge a lawyers a montly fee to be listed, similar to the strategy used by Singaporean-based lawyer directory Asia Law Network.
“Many lawyers are afraid that legal tech would be a disruptor and take away their livelihood, but actually we just want to make things more transparent and efficient,” said Loo, adding that forward-looking lawyers would realise the importance of an online platforms for clients to reach them.
CanLaw head of marketing and communications Pang Jo Fan, 24, said such services would help level the playing field for small law firms.
According to Bar Council statistics, small firms – those with less than five lawyers – make up about 88% of the firms in the country, amounting for 4,699 of the 5,299 registered firms.
Pang believes making access to lawyers easier would also spare people from resorting to touts, who illegally funnel people to specific lawyers for a finders fee.
To comply with touting regulations, CanLaw only allows users to reach out to lawyers and not vice-versa, according to those that fit the user’s criteria then leaving them to choose with no element of recommendation.
The team revealed they had recently raised an undisclosed sum through an investment firm linked to Brickfields Asia College’s (BAC).
The funding would be used primarily on marketing and on-boarding lawyers in Klang Valley while the company is also expanding in Penang, Malacca and Johor.
Despite repeated attempts to contact BAC, they declined to comment on the investment.
The funding follows an RM150,000 CIP 150 Catalyst grant from government-backed Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd which allowed CanLaw’s three founders to go full time and expand to a team of seven.
Legal Profession Committee co-chair Brendan Siva confirmed that CanLaw had approached and had discussions with the Legal Profession Committee.
“However, we have not yet come to a decision yet and the matter is still being deliberated at committee level,” he said, when contacted over email.
In the Malaysian Bar Annual Report for its upcoming AGM this Saturday, the Committee stated that it was “considering CanLaw’s enquiry on whether legal firms are allowed to publicise their services on CanLaw’s website, for a fee”.