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Yelp Meets 'Perry Mason': Behind a San Francisco Firm's Entertainment App

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From a distance, the concept behind WinOrLose, a new mobile app developed by the small San Francisco-based firm Wood Robbins, is actually pretty simple: Users post a legal problem, and attorneys tell them whether they have a case or not.

Essentially it’s the digital equivalent of a good old-fashioned bar association referral. But there’s also the Judge Judy-esque law as entertainment factor of it all, which allows spectators to rate an attorney’s advice or push the more engaging cases up the app’s feed. Think Yelp meets “Perry Mason.”

“It’s real-life legal drama. … Not everybody will have a case to post every day, but I’m hoping they’ll keep it on their phone just to see what other people’s problems are,” said Greg Wood, a partner at Wood Robbins.

According to Wood, the firm was drawn to the idea by the one-two combo of both modernizing how lawyers and clients connect and the entertainment value the cases involved could hold for the general public. He doesn't think that many lawyers participate in the referral programs set up by their local bar associations. One reason? A series of 10-minute phone calls with potential clients who wind up having no case is time that won't soon be recovered.

Reading a case summary delivered via an app seems more manageable. Wood sees broader possibilities in how the app could eventually be expanded and used by other professional groups—realtors, for example—to connect with people in the market for their services.

"This is a new way for them to sort of reach people," Wood said.

Here are the particulars: Users submit a case that is then reviewed by a moderator, who will return the post with questions or suggestions for improvement if necessary. Once the case is posted, attorneys have the opportunity to weigh in after they’ve completed a registration process that includes submitting their bar number for verification.

Users can submit their opinion on both the validity of the case itself and the rationale that lawyers post with their analysis. There's also a question and answer function that allows lawyers to inquire further about the nature of the case.

“People are in a way bidding for a connection with lawyers like someone might bid a construction site job or something. And they’re getting responses, an aggregate number of responses, as opposed to two or three,” Wood said.

Wood Robbins isn’t the only firm to attempting to catch some attention with an app. Earlier this month, Crowell & Morning released an app that provides frequent updates on regulations surrounding government contracts. And you can’t throw a rock without hitting compliance apps like Willkie Farr & Gallagher’s Compliance Concourse or Parson Behle Lab’s CCPA IQ.

In other words, the legal marketplace is crowded, and Wood thinks that lawyers looking to step out have to venture beyond the standard Facebook or Google ads.

"There’s a gazillion lawyers below us who are looking for any way to connect with people, solo practitioners in particular," he said.

To be sure, WinOrLose would like to attract eyeballs that aren't necessarily attached to a specific legal need or an otherwise finite engagement. It exists to provide 24/7 entertainment in the hopes that keeping up with the legal problems of random strangers enables the same ritualistic voyeurism common to Facebook and Twitter feeds.

There's even a button that spectators can use to boost some, well, juicier cases. Users and lawyers can pay to have their posts/responses bumped further up in the app's feed and Wood can foresee a time when attorneys forking over cash to have their practices advertised on the app.

Of course attracting that kind of ad revenue requires traffic and traffic requires somehow breaking away from the glut of digital content on the web.

“There is this sort of need for some sort of digital way to get to people, because they’re staring at screen all day. So if you want to get to the person you have to find a way, and I don’t think there’s a lot of ways to do that,” Wood said.