LegalBee: Providing Legal Assistance For The Overworked Attorney

Sometimes you don’t look for the job. Sometimes the job finds you. That’s kind of how it’s worked out for south suburban Olympia Fields native attorney Shelley Whitehead, founder of an innovative business called LegalBee.

After earning a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Management from Iowa State University in 2005, Whitehead graduated from the Southern University Law Center in 2008 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

With her newly minted diploma, the young grad immediately landed an associate attorney position with a mid-sized law firm in the New Orleans area counseling corporate clients on employment, insurance defense and premises liability matters.

Whitehead left the firm in 2010. In addition to opening her own practice, she was often asked by other overwhelmed solo practitioners and small law firms to help them out with different types of legal projects.

The types of projects she handled included landlord/tenant disputes, successions and negotiating with companies on behalf of clients. She even worked with Gulf Coast claimants involved in the 2010 BP oil spill to document their claims and mediate disputes between them and BP’s representatives.

Shelley recalls, “I started to realize that this was becoming a business and that I could actually do this for a living instead of getting another job at another firm because I made more money doing these projects than at the firm.”

“There is a lot of overflow work for private attorneys and small firms,” Whitehead says. “It’s not just a case of them being overwhelmed, but a lot of times there are scheduling conflicts as they’re juggling cases.”

Creating A Hive
When family circumstances caused her to return to the Chicago area in 2012, she knew that the work she had been doing in Louisiana was infinitely transferable. The first Chicago attorney Whitehead contacted to see if help was needed was H. Yvonne Coleman.

Coleman is a solo practitioner with a general law practice concentrating in litigation, employment law, personal injury, and basic estate planning. She counsels employers and conducts internal workplace trainings, investigations, and mediations for employers who prefer to resolve disputes with employees and avoid costly litigation.

She has been chief of the civil rights and disability rights bureaus for the Illinois Attorney General, and general counsel with the Chicago Independent Police Review Authority.

She is currently president of the Cook County Bar Association Foundation, and a former member of the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Shelley had worked in the Law Offices of H. Yvonne Coleman during the summer of 2006, after her first year of law school. It was Whitehead’s first law-oriented job and there the young clerk researched and wrote memos on issues related to employment discrimination and litigation for Coleman.

She also assisted in the development and presentation of a sexual harassment training workshop and drafted and coordinated documents for real estate closings.

When now practicing attorney Whitehead returned to Chicago, Coleman was in the process of expanding her law practice and had an immediate need for legal assistance. The timing was perfect and Whitehead has been providing contract legal services to Coleman’s firm since then.

Not only that, but Coleman introduced her to others in the legal profession in the Chicago area who needed similar help.

“There is a lot of overflow work for private attorneys and small firms,” Whitehead says. “It’s not just a case of them being overwhelmed, but a lot of times there are scheduling conflicts as they’re juggling cases.”

LegalBee offers its attorneys flexibility and work-life balance, according to Whitehead. “Many attorneys love practicing law, but get frustrated by the long hours, demanding clients and office politics that often plague many legal environments,” she says.

The work in Chicago kept Whitehead busy, busy as a bee. But eventually she says she got more and more requests “to do things that weren’t in my area of expertise and things that I could do that I didn’t necessarily want to.

“So it wasn’t becoming too much work for me, but I started thinking that it would be really great if I had other people, then I could do it all.”

Thus, LegalBee was created. “I was able to find other attorneys who could work on things from home or wherever – things that I might not have wanted to do, extra work that was coming in. I could send them the cases, they could work on it, and it became a win-win for everybody. That’s how LegalBee was formed,” Whitehead says.

Diverse, Busy Bees
And it has hit with a bang within Chicago’s legal industry. Whitehead just incorporated LegalBee in 2015 and hired her first attorney last March. She currently has 11 attorneys in her hive now.

“I’m very proud of my ‘hive’ of freelance attorneys that work with me to assist other attorneys in better managing their practices,” Shelley says. “We provide superior legal skill, excellent substantive work and quick turnaround times at a fraction of the cost of hiring a permanent and salaried attorney.”

LegalBee is a network of experienced freelance attorneys that provide contract-based services primarily in the areas of legal research, motions, depositions, court appearances, appellate briefs, pleadings and transactional work.

“Transactional is basically contractual work,” Shelley explains. “Drafting contracts, real estate closings, intellectual property, trademark registration, copyright registration, estate planning, helping with wills and trusts – things that don’t involve being sued and going to court, but still need a lawyer to be involved.

“Then we do litigation, which is when you sue someone or you’re getting sued and you go to court for hearings, drafting and filing motions – that whole process.

“We do appearances for things like status hearings, where the attorney may not have time to go or has to actually argue something in another court somewhere else.

“Mostly we do litigation. We’ll help attorneys decide whether they want to take a case, develop strategy, do the research, draft motions, and assist with trial preparation and appeals.”

The attorneys in the hive are a very mixed bag, Whitehead explains. They are Black, White and brown; most have been practicing at least 10 years, some seasoned ones have been practicing for 30 or more years.

They are all Illinois-licensed attorneys; some are licensed in other states. Some still actually have their own practices as well and they are all diverse in terms of specialties and areas of interests.

“It really runs the gamut and there are enough attorneys available in the hive so there’s no pressure on any of them to take particular assignments,” Shelley says.

“And since we have attorneys who have preferences for particular areas, they take assignments that they like so that what they’re working on is really not a ‘job’ for them.”

LegalBee offers its attorneys flexibility and work-life balance, according to Whitehead. “Many attorneys love practicing law, but get frustrated by the long hours, demanding clients and office politics that often plague many legal environments,” she says.

“It happened to me. But LegalBee provides freelance attorneys with the opportunity to create their own schedule and pick which projects they work on, all while engaging in substantive legal work.”

Business Is Good
The attorneys who have used LegalBee rave about its services.

Yvonne Coleman says, “I have worked with LegalBee on civil litigation and employment law cases. I know that I can count on them to provide work that is timely, accurate, professional and cost effective.”

program2Atty. Denise Mercherson says, “LegalBee attorneys have excellent writing skills, are extremely organized and complete tasks on time. That’s a real bonus when an attorney has many deadlines to meet.”

And Atty. LaVetta Williams adds, “LegalBee has served our law firm as an independent contractor on at least three or four separate research and writing assignments, all of which have produced a more than acceptable work product.”

Whitehead has enjoyed the success of her new venture to the degree that she admits to preferring the role of being a businesswoman.

“I’m the marketing person. I go out and get the work and the business,” she says. “People also call me with work opportunities and I can send it out to whichever attorney is available and whose area of expertise that is.

“I charge the clients and then pay my workers well. I like running the business part and I will eventually phase out completely from doing the legal work myself.”

She’s optimistic about succeeding because she says there’s really no service available like LegalBee for its particular niche.

“As far as the competition, there are companies that provide services to the larger firms with 500-plus attorneys who get these large cases and hire contract attorneys to review endless documents, which is tedious and low-paying and barely considered practicing law,” Whitehead says.

“Our niche is solo practitioners and small firms that need help on substantive matters, so we help attorneys who need help with important aspects of their cases.”

Whitehead considers that a bonus for small firms to be able to reduce their workload and operating expenses in significant categories such as overhead, payroll and benefits.

Furthermore, she says, “The added support LegalBee provides allows attorneys more time to build their practice while lowering their clients’ legal fees. In this economic environment, clients are looking to give their business to firms who provide lower hourly rates, while at the same time law firms are seeking more cost-effective ways to provide their services.

“LegalBee helps both the firms and their clients profit by providing a quality and cost-effective solution to their project and legal staffing needs.”

As the company grows, Shelley’s goal is to eventually provide paralegal and administrative support to clients and to have LegalBee be a one-stop shop for lawyers.

Like the bumblebee that’s not supposed to be able to fly, don’t tell Shelley that her hive can’t go national. In fact, she’s already planning on ways to take the business global.

Whitehead’s plan is to grow LegalBee into a national firm within five years, by tapping into different markets city-by-city and finding attorneys there who can do the work.

(If you are an overworked solo practicing attorney or small law firm that needs another lawyer to assist you with court coverage or handle other aspects of your case, or if you are an experienced attorney looking for a flexible alternative to practicing law and still work on substantive projects, you can contact Shelley Whitehead at 312/380-9571 or For more information, visit

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