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“At a time when legal fees are astronomically high, and the economy is dismal, the demand for affordable legal help is stronger than ever.”

Entrepreneur Robert Niznik

Shpoonkle.com is an interactive free reverse auction web site that provides a marketplace where lawyers and potential clients can connect. Shpoonkle aims to help its users find more affordable legal assistance. It also provides a venue where lawyers can find casework and jobs.

Founded by Robert Niznik, the Shpoonkle model has become a successful and recognizable brand in less than a year. Focused on the Legal Services niche and making justice affordable, while helping legal professionals find work, Robert and the Shpoonkle Team has added many features to the model in the first year.

MO: How did you come up with the idea for Shpoonkle and more importantly, how did you come up with the name?

Robert: I was in Law School and many of my peers were graduating and having problems finding work and jobs. At about the same time, I read an article about the amount of people that are turned away from legal aid every year. It seemed ironic and unfathomable to me, that so many people needed legal help, and at the same time there were so many young and/or established lawyers looking for clients; so why not work to connect the two. I wanted a name that didn’t have any previous connotation to it, so when people would hear “Shpoonkle” in the future, it would come to mean affordable legal help. Legal problems can be very scary for most people, and Shpoonkle is funny sounding, and it’s hard not to smile when you say it, so I hope it makes a very serious process, a little less intimidating for the consumer.

MO: How does Shpoonkle work? How has the site evolved since you first launched less than a year ago?

Robert: Shpoonkle is a free reverse legal auction. The process is completely confidential, and only validated lawyers in good standing are allowed membership and access to the site. A client will anonymously post a case; and no one can see their case, but Shpoonkle member attorneys. Once the case is posted, an email is sent to all the relevant Shpoonkle attorneys in that geographic and practice area. These attorneys will then competitively bid on that case. They will typically describe their experience, languages they speak, and feedback to the case posting. Clients can view the attorneys profile page and see information about them beyond their contact information. No contact information is exchanged during the auction, and when the client picks a winner, the auction is closed and the client and winning attorney are sent the other’s contact information. If the client and attorney meet and if it’s not a good fit, each are under no obligation to proceed, and can try again on Shpoonkle.

We have had several evolutions to the site; we have made the interface easier to navigate, added more functionality, and focused on user experience. Consumers love the site, as we are saving them money and making finding a quality attorney easier. Our Shpoonkle attorneys love us as they are saving time, money in marketing/advertising, and finding new clients. We are in the process of launching some amazing new features and resources in the next month that will really aid and educate anyone who needs legal help.

MO: Have you noticed any trends in the types of cases that clients are seeking representation?

Robert: Some of the trends we noticed are that clients are not picking the “cheapest” attorney as many of our critics have barked about, clients are picking the bids that are fair and the attorney who is a better match for their needs (speaks their language, preferred gender, approachable, and friendly). As far as areas of law or types of cases, the cases on Shpoonkle really are diverse. We do see a lot of accident, medical, family law, and a lot of intellectual property cases posted. We see a definite trend in lawyers realizing that being flexible with a client on Shpoonkle builds a rapport for future dealings with that client. An example, one experienced attorney was branching into his own practice when we launched, he was flexible in his rate, and the client he won on Shpoonkle has turned into one of his biggest billable clients.

MO: The services on the site are currently free to both Attorneys and Clients. What does your business model look like and how are you bringing in revenue?

Robert: Shpoonkle is striving to keep the services free to everyone as long as possible. I am committed to supporting advocacy in the legal services marketplace. Clients will never be charged on Shpoonkle, attorneys at some point may pay a modest fee to participate, but not this fiscal year. At this point, we are bringing in revenue via advertising on the site due to incredible media and traffic we are experiencing. We have also started to talk to some investors about taking Shpoonkle to the next level.

MO: Shpoonkle has grown significantly in the past year averaging 10,000 daily visitors to the site, and appearing in over 1000 domestic and international media outlets. How have you managed to gain such impressive momentum since launching last year?

Robert: At a time when legal fees are astronomically high, and the economy is dismal, the demand for affordable legal help is evident. I think Shpoonkle is an idea whose time has come. Shpoonkle just makes sense to most people who need legal help. Our culture is driven by the internet as a medium; it is used in every facet of our lives. Why not use it to find a good lawyer from the comfort of your home? Why not ask for flexibility and competitive rates when it comes to legal services, when we expect it from everything else we pay for? We have had some wonderful support from the media and great accolades from various press organizations that has helped us to gain traction and keep momentum. Also, since Shpoonkle is free and helping people, many people feel why not try it? We are saving people on average almost 30% off the national average for legal fees, so we are attracting attention and interest. Attorneys who are technically savvy also see us a great free tool to access more clients, save consult time, and market them effectively.

MO: Can you talk about your decision to expand payment options for clients and legal professionals to include bartering. ? How has the introduction of bartering as a method of payment worked so far? Can you give us any examples of what these transactions have included and what kind of feedback you’ve received so far?

Robert: Sure, as you know bartering has been around for a very long time. Using it in the legal field is not a new concept, but it has not been used to the scale being used on Shpoonkle. When bartering is done fairly and equitably it can be a huge benefit to the parties involved. The economy has been really difficult for most people, client and attorney and adding bartering to the menu of potential payment options between the auctions participants seemed to make sense. We had members asking us to add this option before we initiated it, and so far it has been working well in several cases. One interesting example of bartering was an online business offering free banner ads for the attorney’s practice in exchange for legal work. The feedback has been positive and it seems to be working well for those who choose that option.

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