Google Gives Online Legal Services Company $18.5M In Venture Capital

“Finally. Easy and affordable legal help.”

That is the tag line for Rocket Lawyer, an online legal services company that provides legal documents and offers legal advice on the web. Yesterday, Google Ventures announced it belongs to a group that has infused $18.5 million into Rocket Lawyer. Leaving law firms wondering, have we finally been replaced?

It is the job of venture capitalists to recognize opportunities within a variety of business segments. Although the U.S. legal industry has managed to escape many of the more radical technology-based business models, innovation within law firms is not uncommon (see, Clearspire).

However, Google’s venture with Rocket Lawyer is a signal to this multi-billion dollar industry that change is coming.

Rocket Lawyer was founded in 2008 by Charley Moore. With 70,000 users online each day, Rocket Lawyer, Moore explained to Daniel Fisher of Forbes, has doubled revenue for four straight years to amount to over $10 million in 2011. This makes it quite the venture capitalist-catch. And Google has finally “made it legal.”

Rocket Lawyer distributes online legal forms, from wills to Delaware certificates of incorporation, that non-attorneys can fill out and then store and share on the web. For just $19.95 a month, customers can also have their documents reviewed by an actual attorney. Subscribers get legal advice at no additional cost.

This business model may sound familiar, but Rocket Lawyer is eager to differentiate themselves from a similar service and online competitor, LegalZoom. LegalZoom uses the expertise of lawyers and bar officials across the United States and has been sued for practicing law without a license. Rocket Lawyer, on the other hand, is only associated with actual attorneys, handles federal issues nationwide, and, when a consumer has a question about New York contract law, for example, assigns the case to a lawyer licensed in that state, Moore explained to Fisher.

“Rocket Lawyer gives consumers technology to do things themselves with no human intervention at all,” said Moore to Fisher. “When they do need help, and they do, they can consult with a lawyer.”

How did Google get involved?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that legal documents is one of the most searched for categories on the world wide web. Does this insider information give Google a competitive advantage when choosing smart business investments? Absolutely. And, it legitimizes the idea of online, pre-paid legal services, which has previously been shrouded in controversy.

LegalZoom, itself, recently raised $66 million. There’s opportunity and money to be had… so, the question is, how can your firm compete? Consider offering online forms and free consultations (if you don’t already) and stop delaying your entree into social media and blogging.

Google’s latest investment seems to prove that offering online legal services is now a permanent part of the industry.

-WB

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