DmgCtrl's co-principal Mac Morgan (left) and Hire an Esquire's cofounder Julia Claire Shapiro, taken in the summer of 2012 when the two companies shared an office in Old City.
Hire an Esquire, a legal staffing startup with offices in New York City and Philadelphia, closed a $350,000 seed round mainly from West Coast and New York City investors, according to a release. It’s proven to be challenging to both raise funds and find customers in Philadelphia, said founder Julia Claire Shapiro, who lives in Philly and splits her time between here and New York.
Hire an Esquire offers an online platform that law firms can use to hire contract attorneys. The company plans to use the funds to serve more customers, including large law firms and in-house legal departments for Fortune 500 companies. Participating investors include NYC-based women angel group 37 Angels, NYC-based venture firm 645 Ventures and Silicon Valley-based Ulu Ventures.
Shapiro felt that the investment atmosphere in Philadelphia was “pretty bleak” for early stage startups.
“[Local investors’] portfolios seemed oriented towards a later iteration of an already established concept,” Shapiro wrote in an email.
Most of our round was raised as a result of two weeks in the Valley. Investors that I would never expect to give us so much as a passing thought were generous with their time and enthusiasm. For instance, Google’s Lawyer #2 [Miriam Rivera] met with me from a cold e-mail and her fund [Ulu Ventures] ultimately invested. We had been fundraising in New York and Philadelphia for months before this. NYC investors came on board after we secured our West Coast investors, Philly never did.
It was hard to get Philadelphia’s law firms on board, too.
“We got our first AMLaw clients in NYC after a few months of sales last spring, Philly is just coming around after almost 2.5 years of banging down the doors,” she wrote.
Hire an Esquire’s client base has doubled from 2013 to 2014, Shapiro said, from 32 to 68 law firms using the service. While most of their customers are based in New York City, they work with law firms all around the country. The company has 2,000 contract lawyers in their system.
Despite the business challenges she faced in Philly, Shapiro still calls it home. She works out of Center City coworking space CultureWorks when she’s here. The majority of her team (five of the seven team members) works out of New York City. Shapiro previously worked out of Benjamin’s Desk and an office in the Indy Hall building that she shared with software development firm DmgCtrl.