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Few things on the World Wide Web are more important than branding, and branding is something Richard Harroch understands very well. The partner at San Francisco’s Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe registers domain names for a hobby — he has at least 150 under his belt. So he’s taking no chances with anonymity for his latest venture: LawCommerce.com. The site is being billed (loudly) as an “e-marketplace” for legal professionals. The ambitious project hopes to function as a middleman between vendors of legal services — everything from information technology support to office supplies — and law firms. Harroch has experience with Internet business. He founded AllBusiness.com, which was recently sold to NBC Internet for $225 million. This time around, he’s got an advertising budget that allows his start-up to take out full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal. But is that enough? It was enough to enlist 33 prominent law firms as charter members of the site. “I thought if we could get 10, that would be amazing,” says Harroch, “and then we got 33.” He is banking on lawyers being fed up with a disorganized, inefficient marketplace. So far, they seem to be agreeing with him. Among the promising features LawCommerce.com will offer is extranet support. Still in its developmental stage, the site may provide extranets through an outside vendor, or with its own in-house staff, or a combination thereof. The technology services — if offered at a considerably lower price — could be a huge draw for small firms and sole practitioners. Palo Alto, CA’s Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati is among the firms that have invested in the company. In the opinion of Wilson partner Mario Rosati, who is also on LawCommerce.com’s advisory board, the Web applications will appeal to small and midsize firms. “I’m sure many of them don’t have budgets that would enable them to develop their own solutions,” Rosati says. “The idea that these law firms could secure solutions from this entity makes a lot of sense.” Firms are more hesitant. If the site operates as a broker, “it’s not likely we would use them,” says Don Oppenheimer, chief information and knowledge officer at Boston’s Goodwin, Procter & Hoar, a firm that is not affiliated with the site. Given that large firms are more likely to need extranets for document sharing with big clients, the demand from smaller firms for this service is uncertain. Nevertheless, adds Oppenheimer, “If [small firms] were able to somehow leverage purchasing power, and if this broker has relationships with vendors, it could be helpful.” If nothing else, LawCommerce.com will offer firms a catalog of vendors — and perhaps, at some point, feedback from attorneys on the vendors’ capabilities. Having all of the providers in one location would be a major boon, says a senior lawyer at a New York firm that is not a charter member. “I would love to be able to go to one place where all the vendors are present and get current information about them,” says the New York attorney. One-stop shopping is exactly what Harroch hopes to provide — and at a discount. “We will be negotiating various agreements,” he says, “because we’ll be having so many people buying things … there will be preferred pricing.” So far, LawCommerce.com has garnered several million dollars in investment money. It expects to make a profit with a revenue model that charges vendors a percentage of the transactions made through the site. The percentage will vary depending on the product or service, but could be as high as 30 percent. Harroch is certain that providers will be willing to participate because “the site will be a new distribution channel.” Harroch hopes some of the services will be available after three months, and that the entire “e-marketplace” will be operational by the end of the year. In the meantime, LawCommerce.com is operating out of Orrick’s offices and is using its staff. With the firm’s blessing, of course. In fact, when Harroch approached Ralph Baxter, Orrick’s CEO, Baxter was thrilled: “I thought it was a brilliant concept. It resonated with Orrick’s interest in continuing to participate in the technology sector and to improve the way legal services are delivered to clients.” In any event, Harroch is someone who is not afraid to aim high. In addition to being a shrewd businessman, he is the author of “Poker for Dummies.” When he played in the world championship of poker in 1998, he registered the URL “pokerchampion.com.” Unfortunately, he has not been able to put the site to use. Yet. “I came in 125th out of 375,” he says. But some of his poker skills may prove useful for working at a start-up. “To be a good poker player you have to stay up long hours,” he says. “Games will go on 12 to 14 hours at a time.” Thirty major law firms have signed on as charter members of a new legal services Web site. The site, LawCommerce, is at www.lawcommerce.com.

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