By Kim Lyons Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
With the historically bad labor market for attorneys not showing signs of abating, finding work is still a challenge for new graduates.
A recent report by the National Law Journal found only 57 percent of 2013 law school graduates were able to obtain long-term, full-time jobs as lawyers.
That's the market that Hire an Esquire, a legal staffing firm co-founded by attorney Julia Shapiro and Andy Somerville, targeted when it was founded last year.
The partners didn't invent the idea of a legal staffing firm, but they did discover a disconnect between technology and some of the larger law firms that could be improved upon.
Shapiro found herself in need of a more flexible schedule in 2008 when she had health problems. During her illness, she started doing contract work but was surprised by the lack of a viable electronic system for tracking hours and submitting invoices. And she knew there had to be a better way to match qualified lawyers with specific kinds of projects at big law firms.
"It became very clear that we needed a more efficient process," she said. "I was dealing with firms that were used to faxing everything, that still only used paper spreadsheets to keep track of invoicing."
The company that she co-founded with Somerville, which has offices in Philadelphia and New York City, uses matching algorithms to pair experienced attorneys with law firms that need their specific expertise.
The company, which is backed by venture capital, just completed a $350,000 seed round of funding.
A new Pittsburgh office just opened. Somerville, a software and robotics engineer, will be based here.
"We get compared a lot to online dating," Shapiro said.
The Hire an Esquire system works like this: A big law firm needs a lawyer to work on its large commercial oil and gas project, for instance, and Hire an Esquire finds an attorney with the appropriate level of experience who can meet the job's time commitments.
But it doesn't just serve large firms, Shapiro added. The billing, time tracking and invoicing that the company can do on behalf of clients is a great help to smaller firms, she said.
She declined to name specific firms, but said Hire an Esquire counts nearly 70 law firms using its services. Most clients are based in New York, but the company works with firms all over the country, Shapiro said, and has 2,000 attorneys in its database.
Its typical lawyer is usually an associate with big firm experience but who isn't looking to make partner.
"They want more flexibility in their life and their career, and they know the partner track may not be as lucrative as it once was," she said. "They're entrepreneurial lawyers who like practicing law and don't want to quit entirely."
Shapiro said the company would like to expand further in the coming years and doesn't see the need for efficient legal staffing slowing down any time soon.
"The legal industry spends $21 billion a year in staffing," she noted. "It's a gigantic market."