Exclusive: The Beagle has landed – consumer law forum launches ‘all of market’ comparison website

Briscoe: Profession needs a bit of respect

LegalBeagles, the decade-old consumer law forum, has launched an ‘all of market’ comparison website after raising nearly £1m in seed funding for the venture.

It has transformed its original LB Compare site into JustBeagle and pulled in open data from the Solicitors Regulation Authority to list every law firm in the country, including contact details.

Unlike its predecessor, users can compare firms on price and user ratings.

Firms can pay to expand their profiles on the site, with prices for small firms starting at £900. There are no referral fees payable on work generated through the site.

Every firm is to be given an initial review and rating, which will be an aggregate of their scores on other websites, such as TrustPilot and Solicitor.info. Users will be able to give reviews and ratings, but LegalBeagles chief executive Kate Briscoe said the company has listened to the profession’s concerns about how these work.

Users will have to provide a functioning email address and there will be spot checks to ensure reviews are genuine.

Where a subscribing firm is given a rating of two stars or fewer, JustBeagle will contact them and the author to encourage them to discuss their differences and also offer the use of Resolver, an automated complaints system. If no resolution is achieved after a week, the review will be published.

This gives law firms “a chance to manage their online reputation”, said Ms Briscoe.

She added that there may in time be a link to firms’ complaints data, but the site itself would not pull that or disciplinary information into the profiles.

Ms Briscoe set up LegalBeagles with Sharon Coleman in 2007, and she told Legal Futures that the site now has 1.7m unique visitors a year, many of whom ask for recommendations of lawyers. It also gave firms a chance to piggyback on its search engine clout.

They are also introducing advertising on LegalBeagles for the first time, some of which will go to firms signed up to JustBeagle. The aim is provide a “digital hub” for introductions of work between consumers and law firms.

Ms Briscoe has raised £970,000 in seed round financing from high net-worth individuals and private crowd funding, including investment platform SyndicateRoom. This provided a “12-18 month runway”.

She said that this was a challenging time for law firms, with the Competition and Markets Authority pushing the Solicitors Regulation Authority into requiring firms to be more transparent with their prices, as well as legal aid cuts, alternative business structures and unregulated businesses moving into the market.

“The profession needs a bit of respect in the way it’s treated,” she said. “We’re giving it a chance to adjust to the new legal landscape… Law firms have not had access to a neutral platform to showcase and benchmark their services cleanly and openly.”

The site allows users to search for local and/or national providers, and promotes the use of fixed fees.

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