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Prairielaw.com: Straight Talk About the Law

The language and letter of the law is incomprehensible to most people, so they need to hire lawyers to provide some kind of explanation. But Prairielaw.com seeks to explain legal issues as it brings people together with the lawyers who can help them most.

Explains founder Kevin O'Keefe, "There is a need for straight talk about the law."

O'Keefe was a successful trial lawyer in LaCrosse, Wis., for more than 15 years when he first went online, and soon saw the legal potential of the Internet. Soon enough he was spending several hours a day answering questions and giving advice, all off the clock. These efforts helped to promote his own firm and its Web site, but he had other motivations. "I enjoyed the hell of it," he said. "The best way to end each day is to make a positive influence on someone."

Pretty soon, O'Keefe found that answering questions online and sharing his legal knowledge was more rewarding than the practice of law itself. After starting the first Prairielaw.com Website while in Wisconsin, he decided to get serious in 1998. He closed his practice and moved across country to Seattle, as he judged it was the best place to find new investors and turn the idea into a business. He didn't want to be a broker, existing on referral fees, so decided to keep doing what gave him the most joy. "I thought if I continued to meet this need of providing this information, the resources would flow to me."

A new improved Prairielaw.com site is scheduled to open this Spring, and will take advantage of the interactive quality of the Internet. People will meet online to discuss certain cases. For instance, someone who is considering filing a medical negligence or harassment suit can talk to others who have been in the same boat. Furthermore, people can post comments about specific lawyers.

"Free speech is always dangerous," said O'Keefe. "That's why we have to be careful here. But we want the good lawyers to rise to the top. This feedback will determine lawyers' reputations and help people make informed decisions about who to hire. Eventually we can make people feel more comfortable about lawyers, and they will use them more."

The company had a pre-money valuation of $3 million, and completed a $1.15 million round through eFund LLC in October 1999. The second round is projected for April 1.

O'Keefe said there was no trouble raising money, and attributed this more to his attitude than his business plan. "People invest more on passion and enthusiasm than a business model on a spreadsheet," he said. "A lot of people put together a business plan just to say that they have one. I would just give everything away. I didn't hide anything. I just said 'this is how I'm going to make money' and told them that I was the person most uniquely qualified to run that business."

O'Keefe's attitude impressed eFund LLC partner George Lightbody. who called him, "An impassioned, focused guy." He picked up his family and moved to Seattle, which shows a tremendous commitment.

"There is no dominant law site on the Internet," Lightbody said. "The discussion of law is too often couched in complicated words and expensive bills. The idea of providing the information that can help people, in plain language, plays right into the strengths of the Web. Lawyers are good people, who want to help the average person. The average person needs this help. So by breaking down the barriers we can create something that supports the greater good."

"This is not rocket science," O'Keefe said. "Much of what lawyers do is easily understandable by lay people, or should be."

IN A NUTSHELL:

Company Name: Prairielaw.com
Address: 83 King St. Suite 212, Seattle Wash. 98104
Phone: (206) 624-3861
Fax: (206) 624-4198
Contact e-mail address: nancy@prairielaw.com
Web Address: http://www.prairie