UpCounsel: Reviews and Business Model

Caveat Emptor: You get what you pay for and often that’s less than standard service in new “on-demand” marketplaces like UpCounsel.  Further, we are still verifying facts herein as it’s an on-going investigation. We recommend you do your own research in pursuit of the truth related to UpCounsel’s platform.  Everything herein is our opinion expressed based on our own experiences. 

We want your help finding the answers to help piece this mystery together! If you have had similar experiences with UpCounsel, please let us know.

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About 3 years ago, I decided to explore the idea of obtaining a patent for one of our portfolio companies. The patent was to integrate some of my discoveries in the field of online education. This patent would potentially be worth millions of dollars for our company, in particular, as it could easily become a proprietary asset in the event of a future merger or acquisition of this portfolio company.

After researching the idea for who, what, how, and ways I could obtain a patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), I realized it would be expensive to hire a traditional lawyer or law firm. The average cost of obtaining a patent through a route like this would have cost anywhere between $10,000 to $50,000. As a startup, I knew this cost was prohibitive and would take away the much-needed capital of running our business. Yes, you might say if it was worth millions, why not spend extra to hire a traditional firm…? and that’s when I would point you to a site that proffers itself as being as good as a traditional firm, but for much less the cost.

Well, it just so happened that I had concurrently stumbled across a website called “UpCounsel” (UpCounsel.com). As I had begun making investments in startups through various sites such as FundersClub, UpCounsel had been listed as an investment on their crowdfunding website. After further exploring UpCounsel’s business model, I thought it would not only be a smart site to utilize for my companies, but also a great possible investment. Offering “Business Legal Services On-Demand by Top Attorneys,” UpCounsel also promised attorneys who could do the job for much less money.

Well, the bottom line in this review of UpCounsel: I wish I had never used UpCounsel and I’m warning all startups, businesses and companies out there to never make the same mistake!

I’m now giving UpCounsel a chance to rectify their mistake…before pursuing this further; after spending years on this, it’s time for them to do what’s right and protect consumers.

The background and story about UpCounsel…

First, I came across UpCounsel’s website in 2014/2015, though this is an updated image of what the company’s site looks like now so you’re aware:

upcounsel-review-legal-services

 

As you can see from when I first signed up to begin using their service, until now, UpCounsel appears very professional… but as I discovered looks can be deceiving.

I explored UpCounsel’s easy-to-use website, searching for a patent attorney who could help us obtain a patent for our business…. and then they matched me with someone who’s very likely misrepresenting herself and her qualifications for any law practice in America.

Disclaimer:

The following information written about an attorney on UpCounsel with whom we worked is merely my/our opinion. You should research and investigate any attorney before you should choose to work with their platform. 

Problem #1 with UpCounsel:

The Attorneys and Profiles aren’t likely Verified, are probably misleading, and potentially fraudulent.

The attorney with whom UpCounsel matched me was listed plain and simple, her name is Kanika Radhakrishnan and she works with the Evergreen Valley Law Group.

Kanika Radhakrishnan (Review) “ Evergreen Valley Law Group”

After reviewing Kanika Radhakrishnan’s profile on UpCounsel where she claims to be a Harvard Law School (LLM) Graduate (this is still unverified), and an experienced attorney with years working on projects for startups, I decided to hire her… after all, getting an attorney from Harvard who offered full services for less than $5k, how could it go wrong?

Now, I did fully rely on UpCounsel’s representations in deciding to hire Kanika as we were in a bind and needed affordable counsel, but unfortunately I also did a deep dive into her social media profile AFTER I clicked hire (Still unsure what’s true!). I was quickly enticed to do a project with her because the project was only $4300 and would include all patent filings and research! Amazing! Again, caveat emptor, if the expected price for working with someone in a traditional field such as law is 1/10 the price, there’s probably a reason. Be careful before you say yes to such “affordable” services.

Here’s this “attorney’s” social media profile, which unfortunately I researched after the fact of hiring her through UpCounsel’s platform (still unsure what's true! please help us find the truth...)

UpCounsel-Attorneys

Here’s Kanika’s LinkedIn profile? Any red flags? Should I even have had to review her LinkedIn profile before selecting them on UpCounsel?

In hindsight, and knowing how important this project was to our business, I should have directly called Harvard Law School’s registrar, or asked for proof of education… which we now do because of UpCounsel’s failure to verify its “consultants”! The reality was, and still remains that, UpCounsel likely allows all of its attorneys to make claims about their educational pedigree and does little to assess the veracity of their attorneys’ claims.

In our opinion, it’s quite possible that a large percentage of UpCounsel’s attorneys are making up fake profiles and not doing anything to verify. Why do I think this might be the case? Well, even though UpCounsel’s Terms of Service, does reference the fact that they make no representations about the qualifications or claims about the attorney’s backgrounds (several times, in fact), to become an “attorney” on UpCounsel requires nothing more than a couple simple steps and check boxes.

It literally takes 2 minutes to become an attorney on UpCounsel. Try it yourself!

Now for a moment, can you imagine if state bar associations allowed people to begin practicing law without completing pages of verifications and background checks? Oh wait, you’ve seen this happen in media and entertainment… but why did it happen to our company??

UpCounsel’s process for approving attorneys allows people like Frank Abagnale to practice online.

After the fact (ex post facto for those attorneys) In my opinion, I’m certain that much of what was listed on Kanika’s profile was exaggerated, and that UpCounsel did nothing to verify it.

After having done some research on her background and having a friend sign up to test UpCounsel’s approval of new attorneys process, I’m convinced they do little (if anything) to prevent scammers or fraudulent profiles.

For the record: the penalties for practicing law without a license can be huge. Not only is it a misdemeanor in some states, but in others it’s a felony.

law-practice

The law above references “practicing law without a license, regulations."

Suffice it to say that UpCounsel does neither a basic verification of licensure, nor phone call to speak with the candidate who’s applying to do a legal project for someone on their website.

The legal question I would ask is: if there are attorneys and lawyers who have misled/misrepresented any of their qualifications listed in profile’s on UpCounsel, could the platform itself be liable?

Two Notes on Problem: This is a huge problem in the marketplace/on-demand startup space. As a venture capitalist now, it’s a class-action lawsuit waiting to happen as more companies are relying on services/on-demand to do traditional functions from medical to legal services.

We estimate that the lack of performance and communication for this patent has cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, as we did have several potential acquirers who backed away because they didn’t see the proprietary patent application that we were expecting.

 

Problem #2 with UpCounsel:

The Attorneys engage in perfunctory legal work, don’t communicate with clients, and don’t manage client expectations.

After we selected Kanika based on her background at “Harvard Law” and her purported track record on UpCounsel (as seen on her profile), there were many periods of silence from the attorney and ourselves. We had recently discovered a couple other companies in the online education/hiring space who were attempting to replicate our technologies. Thus, we needed to move quickly or else we could lose everything!

The types of attorneys that UpCounsel attracts...

The types of attorneys that UpCounsel attracts...

Kanika promised that the entire USPTO filing and process vis-a-vis UpCounsel would take less than a year. This is also a misrepresentation as we later discovered as patent filings can take much longer.

After taking weeks (we even gave her a great review predicated on the patent filing actually taking place), and then months without any word from Kanika, we reached out to UpCounsel directly to voice our concerns…

Here’s what I wrote in voicing my concerns to UpCounsel directly:

“We completed a project on UpCounsel last year titled, “Full Patent Application…” While I thought it had been taken care of, and in fact, the attorney (Kanika Radhakrishnan) was then responsive… we now have nothing to show for this. I couldn’t even find this application as pending when I spoke with the USPTO.

I’m afraid there could be a bigger issue here and would like to speak with someone @ UpCounsel.”

To which UpCounsel responded:

We then communicated our concerns directly with Kanika.

Numerous times.

Still no response… and any response from Kanika was followed up with a variation of it just takes time.

UpCounsel never reached out to us after they sent this email stating that their Head of Legal was “at the dentist” (as if this is our company’s concern?!) … and all of our internal communications related to this project were dismissed.

Almost 2 1/2 years have gone by, and still nothing!

And even a look at the patent filing completed by Kanika through UpCounsel … it was was less than par, but since this was our first filing with the UPSTO it appeared to be quality at the time. We ended up having to do markups and re-drafts on their counsel’s documents. In fact, we spent probably 4o hours or so (which could have been focused on our business operations) working to make sure Kanika even knew what our company offered. It turns out, Kanika and her team knew very little about our company even after we had done phone calls and explanatory briefings with her. The quality was/is poor: perhaps this is another reason there’s a delay with the USPTO.

However, rather than investigating the causes/concerns of its consumers (i.e. our business) when I had emailed UpCounsel’s support/legal team, they did nothing to investigate our concerns.

Then almost 2 years had gone by… we’re still without a patent, and the only reason we’re pursuing this now is to get a full refund ($4300), to make people aware that you have to be careful with these new online services, and hopefully so we don’t have to pursue legal options against UpCounsel (with treble damages).

Problem #3 with UpCounsel:

False advertising a “Guarantee”

After relaying our concerns several times with the UpCounsel team, through their online support (support@upcounsel.com), their website (using their Olark messaging platform) and also reaching out directly to the CEO of UpCounsel, Matt Faustman, still nothing.

Turns out, back in 2014 and 2015 when we signed up for UpCounsel’s marketplace for attorneys, that there was a “No-Hassle Guarantee” herein reading (Thank you website Archives).

UpCounsel’s website from 2014/2015 when we signed up…

UpCounsel-guarantee

No-Hassle client refund (by UpCounsel)

If you are unhappy with the work of an attorney you find and hire through our marketplace, just let us know. We want to make make it right and will credit your payments (up to $5,000) so you can hire someone else to do it for you. It’s that simple.”

Though UpCounsel recently updated their terms of service in 2016, the guarantee still exists:

UpCounsel's Team: Matt Faustman, Mason Blake, Tim Parks

UpCounsel's Team: Matt Faustman, Mason Blake, Tim Parks

The bottom line: there’s no guarantee with UpCounsel.

Though UpCounsel has a seemingly and patently obvious (no pun intended) process for refunding clients, they never do!

After repeatedly asking for a refund for our troubles, UpCounsel blamed it on their past staffers, their past business practices, and yet have still refused to help us obtain our refund based on what should be the easiest request possible: your terms of service and your guarantee say, “No Hassle…” so why the hassle?

To be clear, Matthew Faustman, I’m not looking to strike a faustian bargain. We just want a refund.

Your satisfaction guarantee existed and still existed.

And it’s incumbent upon startups, like yours, to treat your customers better.

If UpCounsel is engaging in widespread negligence regarding its attorneys’ credentials, that’s your job to figure out… not mine. My job as a successful venture capitalist and investor in some of America’s top startups, is to make sure that entities like yours stop acting like “startups” where you make excuses for culpability, and start acting like companies with long-term prospects.

Get us our refund. Do the right thing.

And start screening your attorneys and profiles to prevent this from happening to company’s like ours, ever again.

What’s next if we don’t obtain a refund from UpCounsel and a full apology:

(1) Filing a complaint with the FTC for “false advertising” to consumers relating to legal services you offered and continue to offer.  (Completed)

(2) Filing a complaint in the San Francisco District Court for negligence, fraudulent misrepresentation, and other damages related to this project. (Pending)

(3) Filing a complaint with the California Bar Association relating to the qualifications of said attorneys (and thousands more) listed on UpCounsel’s marketplace. (Pending)

(4) Social media postings to more than 23k followers and an email list of 100k people.

(5) Letting 30+ portfolio companies of ours know about this negligence.

Very simply, make this right, and prove to your current and future customers that doing what’s right goes beyond “terms of services.”