Is there room for cooperation between bar associations and the private sector in the world of lawyer search?
The co-founder of Zeekbeek and those at a handful of Midwestern state bars think so.
"We've seen a need to connect people with lawyers and for us to align with bar associations," says attorney Robert Aicher, Zeekbeek's CEO and cofounder. "They have credibility and a concern about ethics that will attract good customers to our website."
Using data from the State Bar of Michigan, Zeekbeek.com has become an online marketplace where consumers can connect with lawyers in the state. Unlike other private firms in the LRS arena, such as Avvo, LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer, Zeekbeek works with the bar to develop and promote the online presence.
"We're not a lawyer referral service. We're a website that gathers information," Aicher says. "We're trying to give the bar associations a better database to do a much better job with marketing to clients and other attorneys."
Michigan is the first bar to have an operational agreement with Zeekbeek, with services just getting under way. Three other neighboring state bars—Indiana, Ohio and Illinois—have recently signed on with Zeekbeek, which is part of CloudLaw, Inc.
While there are no fees paid by the bars to Zeekbeek, Aicher says the lawyer profile information provided by the bars will be the basis for future fee-bearing enhanced services the company will offer to attorneys, such as search engine optimization, personalized URLs, search analytics, and other practice-related services.
The State Bar of Michigan began talking to Zeekbeek a few years ago at a time when "we were having our lunch money stolen by people who were more technologically adept," says Tom Rombach, a past state bar president who formed the bar's 21st Century Task Force.
What attracted the bar to Zeekbeek, Rombach says, is the notion that "this is controlled by the profession, instead of being controlled by an entrepreneur. It's the organized bar's response to the technology competition."
Rombach, who likens this to the development of Casemaker as a member benefit for bar associations more than a decade ago, believes that the combination of Zeekbeek and multiple bar associations can provide a competitive advantage for those bars when it comes to providing legal referral and online lawyer profile information.
"We're not looking to make any money on it," he notes. "We want to especially enable our solo and small-firm practitioners to have a web presence, without having to spend money for the expertise."
While still in the early stages, the partnership is already attracting plenty of attention from other associations, Rombach says, adding that it has potential use for just about any bar association.