Besides having the most amazingly made-up name we have seen in a while, Shpoonkle is an interesting addition to the new crop of startups focused on creating a peer to peer online marketplace. Betabeat’s Nitasha Tiku just did a big report on the convenience economy fueled by companies like TaskRabbit and Zaarly. Schpoonkle is also looking to match supply and demand, but with a focus on the growing number of unemployed law school graduates.
According to some estimates from working law professors, as many as 50 percent of recent minted law school grads can’t find full time legal work nine months after leaving school. “At the same time, over a million people are being turned away from legal aid who can’t afford a $300 per hour lawyer,” says Shpoonkle founder and CEO Robert Niznik, 22, who just graduated from New York Law School this month. “With our model, we’ve been able to cut the cost of legal work to under $200 an hour and match a lot of lawyers hungry for work with new clients.”
Mr. Niznik started the business eight months ago while he was still in school after hearing horror stories about the post-graduation job market. He raised a small round from friends and family and since March has grown the company from eight to thirty five employees.
His users are people like Diana Mullaev, who graduated from Tuora Law School on Long Island in 2009. “It was devastating watching my classmates struggle to find work and handle their student debt. I remember the day my best girlfriend from law school called to tell me she got a job, I was so excited. But it turned out to working for Eddie Bauer.” Now Ms. Mullaev uses Shpoonkle a few times a month to find cases and build her personal injury practice.
Of course, not everyone is excited by this new model. Over at Solo Practice University, Susan Liebel writes, “Here you have a race to the bottom as lawyers bid against one another to pay the lowest fee to anonymous clients with legal problems.
Shpoonkle has hired a techie PR firm to pitch it around to sites like VentureBeat and yours truly. It’s found a far gentler reaction there than from the legal blogosphere. “Any lawyer who signs up for this service should be immediately disbarred, then tarred and feathers, then publicly humiliated. It doesn’t matter how awful a lawyer you are, how pathetic your business, how grossly incapable you may be in getting any client to retain you. Those are all good reasons to apply for the assistant manager’s position at Dairy Queen. This is worse…”
Why the bile? There have in fact been many attempts to create this kind of reverse auction model for legal services, where clients post their cases and lawyers bid for the work. None have succeeded so far, but as we have seen with sites like TaskRabbit, SkillShare and Kickstarter, the current economic climate and the strong social infrastructure now underpinning every part of the web is powering a new boom in peer-to-peer marketplaces.
And let’s not forget that name, “It’s just a funny word I made up,” Mr. Niznik told Betabeat. “It makes you stop and think, like Google when it first came out. Then you build it up as a brand.”
We’ll have what he’s having.