A commercial legal research website is under development that aims to harness the power of crowdsourcing to generate content and become the starting point for enquiries by lawyers and law students.
My Learned Friend  (MLF), the brainchild of Manchester-based marketing specialist Rick Yates and trainee solicitor Chelsea Bond, has recently received a £60,000 private investment from a technology investor. The site has soft launched and is due to launch formally in April.
The idea is that a simple rating system will allow members – who pay a low monthly subscription – to vote on the usefulness of content they encounter in the “starting point database” and add alternative sources of information if they wish.
MLF has been helped by the donation of content by law students from eight university law schools, including Plymouth, Staffordshire and the University of the West of England.
Mr Yates told Legal Futures it was “early days” for MLF, which was a “back-bedroom start-up”, but since the cash injection a small team of “freelance legal researchers” had been helping to build content before the formal launch. Eventually it would have content covering “20 or 25 areas of law”, he said.
A new “much more professional, visually engaging user interface” for the website was also being developed and a mobile phone app would be available in a fortnight or so, he said, adding: “We want to create an online research community that is a first port of call to someone who has a legal query, whether on case law or legislation, and has the need for information or recommendations.”
He emphasised MLF was not looking to rival established online legal research services. “We think we’ve identified a point in the journey that people make when doing legal research that exists slightly before they would go to a LexisNexis or a Westlaw.”
He said that once MLF was up and running, he would approach the large providers to see if they were interested in partnership based on the potential of his site to “drive traffic” to their services.
Mr Yates admitted that a key balance would need to be achieved between creating an online community that self-generated content and charging for the service. Current thinking was that there might be a £10-a-month subscription fee, with half that for law students.
The MLF website currently says: “We want to change the stigma that legal research products have to be expensive. Subscribe today with no contract and no commitment for less than the price of a good bottle of wine every month. “
Mr Yates said the biggest challenge was achieving the critical mass of visitors necessary to keep the site self-sustaining. “The real thing that is going to make it work is numbers. It’s really important that we have a large number of people accessing the service in order to keep the data fresh and up-to-date. It will really depend on the community feel if lawyers are going on there to discuss, comment, and rate and provide information that they think is relevant.”
Mr Yates said he and MLF’s investor, Divyesh Lakhani, were the only directors after Ms Bond took the decision to pursue her career in the law. Mr Yates and Ms Bond, a couple, invested £12,000 of their own money before attracting external investment. Mr Lakhani sold his software development company, Codework Ltd, in 2010.