Taking the Law in Your Own Hands ... Virtually

LawGuru now offers paid legal advice as well as free advice

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    A website offering free legal advice is expanding with inexpensive counseling from real attorneys.

    If you've ever wondered if something is legal or whether you have grounds to sue someone, you might want to visit a website that offers free legal advice from bona fide attorneys.

    It is called LawGuru.com, and reliable advice is as close as your computer, laptop or smart phone.

    It was founded in 1997, and since then, has accumulated as database of more than 500,000 answered legal questions. Co-founder Bahman Eslamboly called the site "unique and revolutionary."

    This part is free.

    But not all legal questions have such simple answers. So now LawGuru.com is beginning a low-cost pay service that connects users with actual lawyers.

    For prices that range from $39 to $59, users can obtain legal advice that includes an attorney-client privilege, follow-up communications with the attorney and control of which attorneys will have an opportunity to answer.

    This legal relationship, however, is limited to particular questions asked by the user by means of the website.

    But unlike LawGuru's free service, the user's paid answered questions and correspondence with an attorney are kept private and not posted on the site.

    This new paid service is part of a growing trend in the legal industry that allows lawyers to unbundled their services and take only a part of a case and offer limited-scope representation.

    This way the lawyer is responsible only for the advice he or she gives on a specific issue or subject -- not on the entire case.

    This is a departure from the past when attorneys were required to stay with a case until its conclusion unless a court excused this obligation.

    Founder Eslamboly said the site will continue to offer free legal advice and he estimated it has already donated about $25 million worth of legal expertise since it was founded.

    "It has been very rewarding for us, but we are excited to be taking our business to the next level," he said.

    LawGuru's director of business services, Steven Martinez, said the website is also looking for attorneys who want to set up a virtual law practice on the site's platform.

    "The recession coupled with technology changes is causing a real shakeup in the legal industry right now," Martinez said. "A lot of attorneys are scrambling trying to figure out what their business will look like in 10 or 15 years."

    He added LawGuru is not trying to replace what lawyers do, but just give them another forum to market their expertise.

    Eslamboly and partner Kamran Barlavi originally founded the website to promote their own law practice, but they soon expanded it.

    They employ a small staff of software engineers, programmers, designers and customer service representatives at their Palm Desert office.

    One of the biggest challenges has been to design a system that complies with the laws and regulations in all states.

    "But it has always been our mission to improve and increase the public's access to affordable and reliable legal resources," Eslamboly added. "The legal profession is at a crossroads, and we hope to lead it in the right direction."