Top 5 CloutLegal posts in '20 and what to expect in 2021

Ivan Rasic
December 23, 2020

2021 can't come fast enough

Wow, 2020 has been quite an emotionally taxing year. If you could sum it all up in one word, what would it be? Me, I’d label it with “uncertainty.”

(however, even uncertain times can’t stop all the builders, innovators, and learners in this space; entrepreneurial folks - I am using the term here loosely - are thriving just as going gets hard)

While I can't blame anyone feeling glad 2020 is coming to an end, most of us could also find plenty of highlights. Here I am looking at 2020 through the lenses of the CloutLegal publication.

Below are topics and trends covered by CloutLegal, which you have, statistically speaking, engaged with the most:

Top 5 CloutLegal articles by readership

CloutLegal contributors and the News Team have covered an array of Business of Law subtopics - from a decade(s) long debate within the legal community (the Billable Hour) to bleeding-edge tech trends and news (Decentralized Finance; world’s first crypto banks).

What stuck the most?

1. Law firms without the Billable Hour

What are the most prominent Law Firms without billable hours? And what do they do differently? This entry peaks as many of you were curious to learn about (their) best practices in shifting the underlying business model.

As one of my friends neatly put it (if you wish to shift your model away from the clock):

“You have to clear your mind from thinking about time as a unit for revenue. Even internally, it has to go. So, no timesheets, no time increments, no “if I charged this by the hour, it’d be…” when determining the fixed fee…”  -  Marko Porobija

Oh, and by the way - if you know more examples of law firms sans billable hours - drop me a line at editor(at)cloutlegal(dot)com. Happy to expand the list.

2. All about the Billable Hour

Many of you also got intrigued by this entry (yes, we can be quite polarized as a species). This article covered the downsides of using this business model as much as its development over the past decades.

Despite many pundits pointing at what, by now, should feel intuitive, the Billable Hour retains its shelf time at many legal service providers. Perhaps it's about the time that we accept this fact and move on? You know, let innovators innovate, and leave anyone else be?

In a webinar, one attendee asked if all lawyers have to innovate nowadays.

"Not really," I said and continued -

"Not all the lawyers will be innovators, much like not all the people in the world are. But then you also have to understand and accept the clear distinction between 99% and 1%."

Again business model related, this piece signifies that you are AT LEAST curious about exploring alternate business models. And if you look, I am sure you can spot a few interesting CaaS (Compliance as a Service) opportunities worth venturing into.

As Heather puts it:

“To package your legal service into a product, you have to: 1) define what it is; 2) identify the expected outcome; 3) describe what the package contains; 4) describe benefits to the user; 5) offer easy access and delivery; 6) provide a fixed cost.”

As to WHY would you want to do it, well… That should be up to you to decide. Some law firms and legal professionals find the scalability of SaaS-like revenues quite attractive, however. 

Are you in the business of selling hours

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

4. The critical law business driver

This entry is a natural progression from the previous one, as it busts some dated myths about what is truly important in growing your business of law. Also, it brings up the PMF (i.e., Product Market Fit) as the critical factor in getting your business off the ground. While always relevant, PMF is vital when you are creating new offerings.

In a nutshell, Product Market Fit is a state where your offering satisfies strong market demand. It determines the stickiness of your proposition and can single-handedly make or break your law business.

I encourage you to see this article for more details, and actively identify, (in)validate, and iterate your value hypothesis.

That this article also found its way among the top 5 is a telling sign. At least to me, it shows that legal service professionals aren’t only looking to invent new business models; they are also growing curious about how to automatize what is already there. 

And why wouldn’t they be? Done right, RPA in legal can entirely take over many processes from you and put you in the controller's seat. In my view, robotic process automation (sans AI) is a low hanging fruit that doesn’t require a steep learning curve nor invested resources (relative to fully-fledged AI solutions).

But I could be biased. I use RPA daily to assist me with various tasks that have to be done. It takes lots of legwork off my shoulders.

Photo by Bruce Tang on Unsplash

What can you expect from 2021?

It should go without saying, but below are areas that will gain even more prominence as we heat up with the transition to the digital economy:-

For starters, I fully expect the legal service productization train to continue. As a whole, the legal sector just started to realize all scalability opportunities that stem from such an approach to legal service delivery. There are already many projects rolling out in the space; however, on the "S" curve, I'd wager we are somewhere between the early adopters and the early majority stage.

I expect many more examples of partnerships between law firms and legal tech vendors (like this one, to name some). Additionally, professional and trade associations might develop products for their membership base (again, an example of a trilateral association here for an upcoming product launch).

(bonus - no-code platform vendors will only get more robust and easier to use; watch this space, it yet has only to grow in the months and years ahead)

As lawyers, law firms, and legal teams create productized offerings, they will quickly realize that a great USP (unique selling point) must involve great UX (user experience). And this is where and why design thinking is essential.

The dated practices of drafting up contracts (or other legal service vehicles) will wane. Don't think so? Then how do you feel about the below quote:

For a long, long time (...) clients presented their needs, and lawyers would create a document which not only client wouldn’t understand; often courts had to have lengthy deliberations on the meaning of specific contractual provisions or letter paragraphs.

In the last half-century, the legal language (especially English legalese) became increasingly complicated, detached from reality, and so overtly archaic that even the good, old Charles Dickens would get dizzy from reading some of today's contracts and general terms of use.”

User experience is a broad concept that considers how your clients feel at any touchpoints with you, your associates, and offerings. It isn't limited to only your "client relationship" or the "end-of-year" gifts you are likely to send.

You can't hide from it, lul it, or "buy" it. You have to work to make it great and then maintain the level.

Photo by My name is Yanick on Unsplash

Considering next hire(s) in light of the above

So what do the above two points mean for your next (law firm) hires? In the short term, probably not much. However, strategically, you will likely see more and more folks from varying backgrounds joining legal service teams to help them beef up their USPs.

Traditionally, most law firm hires fall into one of the following categories: partners, associates, Business Developer heads/managers, and SOME variant of office/financial administrators. If a firm goes beyond a certain headcount/revenue threshold, it would also have an IT admin or a CIO.

Technology roles

If law firms (or other legal service providers) productize their legal services, they will need technology roles beyond mere hardware and system administration. Software engineers come to mind as a knee-jerk thought, but they might even go with lighter technology roles with all the no-code platforms while having access to freelance software developers for more complex short-termed projects.

(to name an example, your product manager could connect various no-code modules that productize your service, yet you might still need someone to connect APIs, create custom HTTP requests, etc.)

Digital marketing strategy and roles

You will need to beef up your (online) marketing game no matter what. Even if you had some internal expertise so far, if you plan to enter the arms race with legal service products, you will need to consider all the competition and get strategic about your early battles and low hanging fruit.

Even more so, if you have never had anyone to assist your team around online marketing efforts, it is critical that you assess internal capacities and consider additional (strategic and operational) resources in the domain.

Digital marketing is a vast area, a horizontal in its own right, if you will, so you will need to know your goals before opting for the right hire.

Product design and UX roles

As per above - it is one thing to know the law, another to apply it, yet another to create a compelling product. Furthermore, user experience and legal design are critical, so consider all the roles mentioned above on the road to your transition to the digital economy.

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi from Pexels

Yes, you read that well.

While I remain bullish on technology as a whole to open up opportunities for new business models to sprout, I am bearish on buzzwords.

I am looking forward to the day when lawyers will consider using various software applications as mere “tools.” Why would your no-code or a doc automation platform feel any different than a dictation device? Their purpose is entirely the same - to get you ahead in your workflow and market.

Labeling everything “legaltech” might inadvertently create psychological barriers to its adoption by the majority. Let’s consider all the enabler platforms and technology as “tools” and move on with our innovation mission.

Oh, and as you probably noted from the text so far - 

The technology will get even more critical. But only as far as it helps you innovate your business model and create your compelling Unique Selling Proposition.

Ivan Rasic holds the Transnational Trade Law and Finance LLM, a program by Universidad de Deusto (Bilbao, ES), Universiteit van Tilburg (Tilburg, NL), and Goethe Universität (Frankfurt, DE). After his work in law firms and inhouse, he started a legal tech company.

Nowadays, Ivan leads STP Informationstechnologie GmbH's Sofia RnD center with project/development management, culture, strategy, and special project initiatives.

Ivan is an Ambassador at European Legal Tech Association (ELTA). He closely follows and writes on future of law, legal tech, ALSPs, and new ways of delivering legal services.

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