Peter Carayiannis is a Toronto lawyer and Andrew Johnston is a young law school graduate. The two met in March 2014 while Carayiannis was coaching students on pitching their business ideas. Johnston, part of the ReInvent Law program at Michigan State University had the idea for an app that would quickly find a replacement lawyer if you couldn’t make it to court.
“I thought it was a terrific idea and encouraged him to pursue it,” Carayiannis told me in an email interview. “A few months later he called me and that’s when we decide to build this business together.”
StandIn is part of a growing trend of business models built upon connecting people. ZDNet reports that companies like Uber and AirBnB are middlemen, profitably bringing together property owners and customers in need for short terms.
Carayiannis’ market research in the US, the UK, and Canada indicated that the most common answer to the question, “How often is a lawyer forced to miss a scheduled court appearance?” is, “All the time.”
Right now, lawyers are using solutions such as emailing entire listservs to negotiate replacements. “I guess an email blast to an indiscriminate email list was a good idea in 1997,” Carayiannis said. “But we can do a lot better today.”
There are lots of reasons lawyers can’t make their court appearances, including:
- The morning court appearance takes too long and interferes with an afternoon appearance down the hall, down the street, or in another town.
- Bad weather stops a lawyer from making it on time.
- A sick son or daughter means a lawyer can’t make it to court.
“We know this happens every day, in every courthouse in America,” Carayiannis said.
“I would be surprised if anyone in the legal profession could argue that courts function at an optimal level of efficiency,” Carayiannis said. “Everybody works hard but the wheels of justice grind slowly.”
Access to justice is a huge problem, just like access to affordable, convenient ground transportation and short-term housing was for Uber and AirBnB.
“We found a supply of lawyers looking to do work on their feet, in court, handling high volume court appearances and advocating for their clients,” Carayiannis said. “Now we are matching that supply of eager and active lawyers to a group of professionals who need the extra capacity. It’s a classic case of taking up slack in the system, to find efficiencies, all with the goal of serving the ultimate client – the defendant in court.”
“As lawyers we always want to provide the best possible service to our clients,” Carayiannis said. “A client shouldn’t suffer because of this, especially when the solution is quite literally in our hands.”
How it works
StandIn lets lawyers who can’t make it to a court appearance find a stand-in for them. Lawyers log in and see who is available near the courthouse they need to be at. They can sort by experience, expertise, and availability.
When the appearance is complete, Stripe processes credit card payments instantly within the app.
“I believe in this idea,” Carayiannis wrote. “I think it’s a beautiful piece of technology that solves an existing problem in a simple way.”
Uber and AirBnB have faced significant legal challenges from incumbent businesses. Carayiannis isn’t worried about a similar fate for StandIn. “Every day across the US and Canada, lawyers retain other lawyers and paralegals to handle their matters on an agency basis,” Carayiannis wrote. “The same rules around agency, confidentiality, conflicts of interest and privilege would apply to people using the app as it would for somebody emailing the Listserve [sic] or picking up a phone to call in a favor.”
Brokers between lawyers have existed for a while, says Carayiannis. “There are per diem services in New York and booking agents in Toronto, and we’ve heard some of them charge up to half of the booking price to the lawyer handling the appearance.”
StandIn doesn’t charge referral fees or engage in fee sharing. “And certainly would not dream of taking a 50% cut,” Carayiannis wrote. “We charge a nominal fixed service charge for processing the transaction, and allow the stand-ins and lawyers to set their own price.”
What does the future of legal tech hold?
Carayiannis sees technology not just as law’s future, but its present. He describes the legal field as notoriously behind others in this area.
“It’s not news to say that lawyers have not been early adopters!” Carayiannis wrote, “But this is changing and I have a lot of confidence that young lawyers will revolutionize the business and practice of law. I care about the legal world realizing its full technological potential – it will benefit the court system, my colleagues, and their clients.”
He is bullish on legal technology, “It is really limitless.”
“As long as individual legal professionals are willing to put the client first, focus on Access to Justice and are willing to adopt new solutions, amazing things will be built.”
What developments are you most excited about?
“There are great things being developed in LegalTech right now. But what I am most excited about is the change in the attitude and mindset of my colleagues. When I show the app to someone in the legal field, they are enthusiastic and positive about it. There is an attitude of joyful anticipation humming around the legal realm and the possibilities technology has to offer.”
Why mentor young entrepreneurs?
“Young people with ideas are a great place to start. And this idea started with a young law school graduate, Andrew Johnston, who came out of the ReInvent Law program at Michigan State University. I met Andrew in March 2014 when I coached students on pitching their business ideas. Andrew had the idea for StandIn. I thought it was a terrific idea and encouraged him to pursue it. A few months later he called me and that’s when we decide to build this business together.”
To learn more about Peter and StandIn, check out the website.
What legal tech innovations are you most excited about? Do you think more networking apps are in our future? Let us know in the comments!
Images by Abby Kahler
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