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 U.S. 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 year more 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. Last month, 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. With a $2 million price tag, the sleek store was a "bet-the-company" risk, Abhyanker said.
"People think it's crazy," he said. "They might be right."
But Abhyanker can't help it his nature is to experiment. 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 not just mitigate risk.
He saw at an early age that the law is a necessary shield to invention. When Abhyanker was a teenager, his father, an Apple 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 said. "We are trying to create a place where people can come when they have a 'Eureka!' moment."
Abhyanker had a vision for what 21st century firms should look like as an associate at Blakely Sokoloff Taylor Zafman. But he says his suggestions for how to make the firm more global and web-friendly fell on deaf ears. And he struggled to meet the expectations of associates.
"I couldn't just close the door and bill time," he said. "I was looking for a place that would reward attorneys for what they can do, not how many hours they can bill."
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 said.
"The physical store is the next generation of our Internet property," he said. "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 lobby," he said. "It doesn't have to be profitable."
The face Abhyanker wants to present to the public is encapsulated in his store's decor: bright orange-and-white shelves bearing titles that range from best-sellers like Moonwalking with Einstein to DIY IP Law.
Big Law and Abhyanker's upstart shop seem like an unlikely match. But Abhyanker says he's been approached by leaders of Am Law 100 firms interested in acquiring his practice. (Alston & Bird was one; he declined to name two others he says he's talking to now). He says he is all ears: Being acquired could be a shortcut to his end goal: forming the world's largest law firm. And he has seen that it is hard for one man to change the legal industry all by himself.
"It's too big for one partner to manage properly," he said. "But I want to have the freedom to innovate."
If he returns to Big Law now, it just might let him.
This article originally appeared in The Recorder.