If a lawyer provides a company with a helpful answer to a legal question, at no charge, the lawyer gets a foot in the door to be hired by that company for additional business. That, anyway, is the operating principle behind LawPivot, a website where companies can pose legal questions and get answers from lawyers who are knowledgeable about the subject matter.

The site positions itself as a resource for start-up and smaller companies that have no in-house lawyer or that need answers to questions in areas outside their in-house lawyer’s focus areas. It was started last fall by a management team of three lawyers that includes the former lead M&A lawyer at Apple Inc. The company has raised some $600,000 in funding from various investors, including Google Ventures.

When a company submits a legal question, LawPivot runs it through a proprietary search engine to suggest the lawyers most qualified to provide an answer. The company can opt to send its question to the lawyers LawPivot recommends or to any other lawyers listed on the site. The company may receive replies from multiple lawyers and can follow-up with individual lawyers as needed.

For now, all of this is free of charge. Companies are charged nothing to ask up to three questions a month, lawyers are charged nothing to participate in the site, and lawyers earn nothing for providing an answer. Eventually, LawPivot will begin charging companies $80 for each question they submit.

For lawyers, the incentive to participate is the opportunity to establish good will. The answers they provide may lead to opportunities later on for the companies they help to send them paying business. Each lawyer who participates gets a full profile page that includes information on the types of questions the lawyer has answered and testimonials from companies the lawyer has helped.

So far, the site operates only in California. It plans to expand to other states and is accepting sign-ups from lawyers and companies to be notified when it comes to their state.

LawPivot’s Q&A format is not unique, of course. Sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Quora provide forums for users to ask questions about virtually any topic, and Avvo allows consumers to get answers from lawyers to legal questions. LawPivot distinguishes itself from these other sites by emphasizing its focus on the specific legal needs of companies. Also, while the questions and answers on sites such as LinkedIn and Avvo can be seen by anyone, the questions and answers on LawPivot remain private to the company.

Do sites such as LawPivot actually help lawyers generate business? Surveys suggest that they do. In December 2009, Avvo sampled a group of users who’d submitted questions, asking them if they’d consider hiring a lawyer who provided an answer to their question. Twenty-one percent said “yes” and another 47 percent said “maybe” — that it would be a factor they would consider in deciding on a lawyer. Just last month, an ABA poll was published that found that nearly half of consumers said they would be likely to use an online Q&A site to help them find a lawyer.

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.