When Emily Peterson commenced her science/law degree, majoring in astrophysics, she found herself caught within the broad parameters of all things law-related.
"I'm interested in laws," she says. "Whether they be man-made laws or the laws of the universe."
She juggled the possibility of working in astrophysics, but after undertaking summer clerkships at Allens Arthur Robinson and Malleson Stephen Jaques, then finally her articles at Arnold Block Leibler (ABL), Peterson decided a career in law was a much more promising option.
These days the career might still be in law, but rather than working as a lawyer she's found a new calling in the laws of transparency. Having encountered a significant gap in the market for legal brokerage services, Peterson launched her online service, Legal Tender, in a bid to provide the necessary matchmaking link between individual or small business clients and law firms.
Recent data collected by the NSW and Victorian legal services commissions shows that the bulk of legal complaints received usually pertain to problems around legal costs and bills, so she says any service that can aid in facilitating more friendly and transparent relations between clients and lawyers appears welcome.
Concern regarding the billing rates of lawyers, particularly when dealing with the "mum and dad" type clients or small businesses, is an issue that touched close to home for Peterson and provided the inspiration to see the potential of Legal Tender.
She says the idea originated upon hearing the disappointment her parents faced in not understanding the full options available to them in selecting a lawyer. "I thought, 'There's nothing out there that is a true brokering system for lawyers'," says Peterson. "There was nothing that tells people how much they are going to be charged and what the skills are that the lawyers actually have."
While at university, and into her time as a lawyer at ABL, Peterson contemplated the possible legal scenarios that might arise prompting individual clients and small businesses to seek legal advice. From there, she developed numerous questionnaires relevant to each scenario, and applied them to Legal Tender to offer clients the structure to provide as much detail as possible about their case before requesting bids from law firms for the work.
Legal Tender then matches the details of the case with a number of suitable firms who are contacted and invited to tender for the matter - a process that should see clients receive three bids from law firms within one business day. The service is free for clients but the selected law firms pay a flat fee of $55 to Legal Tender.
At first glance, launching a new service in the heart of the global financial crisis appears a crazy idea, but it also makes sense in the context of just what the service is offering. "The people that have to get legal advice now want a better deal through competition," says Peterson. "The flipside is that law firms are laying people off left, right and centre because they don't have enough billable hours. Law firms are loving Legal Tender, and we're seeing them bidding within one hour of receiving an invitation to tender."
Law firms have already shown enough interest to assure Peterson that the future is looking bright for the initiative. With 80 law firms already on board in Victoria, Peterson has outlined ambitious plans to expand nationally in the coming weeks. "I want to create a nationwide service that becomes the first point of call for people who want to shop around ... Then I want to expand into different professions like accounting."
For more information visit www.legaltender.com.au