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LegalForce Creator Shakes Things Up, Again
If there is one thing Raj Abhyanker can't stand, it's stability. The entrepreneur shook up the field of trademark law in 2009 by launching Trademarkia, a website that lets users comb through more than a century's worth of records from the Patent and Trademark Office and then apply for their own trademarks. The site has brought 24,000 active clients to his law firm, LegalForce RAPC Worldwide, which filed 12,000 trademarks worldwide last yearmore than any other firm.
Abhyanker has a book of business that many in Big Law would envy. But he is a far cry from a risk-averse law firm leader. In February he disrupted his own business model, opening a three-story storefront in downtown Palo Alto where anyone can buy books, attend legal seminars, and sit down with LegalForce attorneys.
The son of an entrepreneur, Abhyanker learned his first computer program at age 5. Although he is armed with a J.D., he considers himself to be an engineer first and a lawyer second. Like an engineer, he says, he aims to solve problems. He saw at an early age that the law is a necessary shield to invention. When Abhyanker was a teenager, his father, an Apple Inc. retailer, went bankrupt after the company launched its own stores.
That experience left Abhyanker convinced that the law should be more accessible to the public. Enter Trademarkia, a site that helps everyday people protect their ideas, and the Palo Alto storefront, which Abhyanker envisions as a space where passersby can come for advice on divorce, DUIs, or a disruptive business idea.
"In the entire Bay Area, there's nowhere where you can walk in and see a lawyer at 8 p.m. at night," he says.
Abhyanker had a vision for what 21st- century firms should look like when he was an associate at Blakely Sokoloff Taylor Zafman. But he says his suggestions for how to make the firm more Web-friendly fell on deaf ears. And he struggled to meet the expectations of associates.
He left to build that firm himself in 2005. He was a solo practitioner until a few years ago, when Trademarkia flooded him with business. LegalForce now has about 60 attorneys in Mountain View and overseas, though Abhyanker is still the only partner. With more than 4 million page views per month, the firm's place online is secure. A brick-and-mortar presence was the next step, Abhyanker says.
"The physical store is the next generation of our Internet property," he says. "We are trying to form deeper relationships with clients so they know they can access not just through the Web but in person."
Abhyanker's firm specializes in patent and trademark law, and he is looking for partner firms that can handle immigration, bankruptcy, personal injury, criminal law, family law, estate planning, and corporate work. The firms would handle inquiries online and at the store. Though it was a significant investment, Abhyanker does not expect the store to be profitable right away. Its financial performance is besides the point, he insists.
"My retail store is my hobby," he says. "It doesn't have to be profitable."