Are you in the business of selling hours?
You’ve probably heard that one before:
“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole...” - Theodore Levitt, the HBS Professor
However, the solutions clients are after could be packaged in various shapes and forms. And this is where you, and you alone, are in control.
Editor’s note: Jordan Furlong published his reflections from a parallel universe previously on his blog. Below are his thoughts, along with insights from other thinkers and doers.
What if we could see what the business of law is REALLY about? Why do our clients want to see, phone, or email us? Don’t they have a better way to spend their time?
“I've recently returned from a trip to a parallel universe, where an alternative timeline of history has unfolded. It was a fascinating place…”
Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash
Blockbuster crushed Netflix early on
JF: I saw Blockbuster locking in nearly the entire entertainment industry. They saw the internet develop and understood its potential as a movie distribution engine.
Blockbuster used its one genuine advantage over its competitors - a vast collection of films and its customers’ data - to crush any attempts of disrupting their business model.
Blockbuster wasn’t afraid of “cannibalizing its own business.” They were far more concerned about someone else doing it. But they took any powder out of competitors’ proverbial guns by disrupting their selves. Nowadays, Blockbuster is the world's leading source of movies online and even produces its own.
"We're not in the business of renting video cassettes. We're in the business of helping people enjoy the movie they want to see tonight..." - Blockbuster Executives, presumably
Kodak didn’t throw away its innovations
Kodak, the great photography multinational, praised its researchers for being among the first to develop the digital camera technology. Their leaders decided to create an entirely new line of products.
The company eventually invented digital photo technology that it now licenses to Microsoft's popular "mPhone" at an enormous profit.
"We're not in the business of selling film; we are in experiences business. We want to help people take pictures…” - Kodak's executives, in some other world
Photo by Yancy Min on Unsplash
Sears acquihired Amazon in its infancy
The global online shopping colossus, Sears, used to be a mere brick-and-mortar back in its days. Drawing from its original vision - to enable people to shop conveniently - they leveraged eCommerce.
Sears invested heavily and successfully in the technology to make it happen. They acquired a few startups on their way to global domination.
"We're not in the business of running department stores. Our goal is to help people easily get products and services from the convenience of their homes..." - Jeff Bezos, Sears Chief Innovation Officer
In our universe, things didn't quite turn out that way.
Blockbuster, Kodak, Sears (and likely many others) missed the opportunity to rethink just what business they were really in. Namely, if they have drawn from their original vision and leveraged modern technology, they could have achieved unparalleled growth.
Biglaw has resources to innovate
This alternative timeline reminds us that established market leaders don’t necessarily have to lose to startups and outsiders. Incumbents are best positioned to innovate and take new markets early on.
They already dominate within their original markets. Moreover, incumbents have capital, both human and financial, brand power, and a proven track record of success.
All they need is to be willing to think a little differently about themselves and their customers' actual needs.
Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash
This is precisely where the legal profession finds itself as we open the third decade of the 21st century. It is now beyond all doubt that technology has changed and will continue to improve the conditions under which legal services are bought and sold.
But it is not only technology anymore. The pandemic we witness is cornering and forcing us to invent new ways to deliver results. Case in point, so many organizations (including law firms) have moved to remote working in a jiffy.
“There is no going back to the way things used to be. And we shouldn't want to go back, because we can now serve our clients better and faster and less expensively and with a higher degree of quality than we could before. We're at the dawn of a golden age of legal services…” - Jordan Furlong
What advantage does Biglaw have?
CL: We often keep on beating about why Biglaw could consider changing its ways.
In previous articles, we have gone into the ins and outs of the billable hour, and why it may be a good idea to move away from billing hours and timesheets.
John Chisholm pointed at its many shortcomings. Conversely to what some would have you believe, it is not ethical, accurate, nor transparent. However, these are only some of the issues.
“Biglaw’s main problem is its inherent non-scalability. A lawyer earns only when working. Once the office closes for the day, its revenue is zero until the next morning.
You can increase revenue by either working more hours (which takes a toll on a person), increasing fees (which makes the clients unhappy), or hiring more lawyers and paralegals (which increases costs)...” - Marko Porobija
Photo by Shahadat Rahman on Unsplash
Likewise, John Grant pointed out why revenue tunnel-vision could be detrimental to your business of law. Cash is indeed king; however, if you don’t pay attention to your product-market-fit, you may be in for a tough ride.
That being said, Biglaw has some unfair advantages that it should put to good use.
Biglaw content, talent, and market share
Cash may be the king, but so is content.
“Legal publishers have one significant advantage - and that is, they own the content. Publishers have the upper hand over software companies that own no content…” - Jeroen Zweers
Content is not universally available. As such, it is an unfair advantage. Any biglaw firm that has been running for a while has vast repositories of proprietary legal knowledge. The only question is - does the know-how sit idly, or is it generating you scalable revenue?
Law firm talent, cast in years of experience, is capital that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Instead of looking at law firm partners through their “books of business”, tap in their expertise and create unique products (more about that later).
Your market share and existing business are a valuable asset. Not only they support your legal innovation efforts with their dollars, but they are also a fertile testing ground for any tests and learning with your legal products.
Likewise, your clients are the first go-to people for pitching said products.
So what could you do?
Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash
What if you could use your brand and goodwill to create a digital arm of your law firm? Of course, nobody asks you to shut off your current revenue pipeline. You certainly need your bottom line.
However, imagine if you would go into your archives (either physical or digital), and use the content therein. Then, you could think about different ways that content delivers value.
(you should naturally think about all the elements of a business model while doing so - e.g., your ideal target customer, channels for reaching them, problems you are solving for them, and your USP - before developing any products)
Legal products are a medium for serving the value brought by your content. Content is king, but products are vehicles.
The time to innovate is now
JF: Lawyers can lead the way into the new age. If we are willing, we will embrace legal tech and innovative thinking as opportunities, not threats.
“This is the perfect moment to innovate. Anyone not ready risks losing the race. There will be a lot of scorched earth. Many economies will take years to recover, but there will always be a need for legal assistance.
What people will not be prepared to do is to pay exorbitant fees if there is an option to subscribe to a legal service or to have fixed legal costs in general.” - Marko Porobija
These opportunities empower us to reach more people and businesses. We can help them faster, more effectively, and more profitably than ever before.
Legal service productization is inviting us to work fewer hours, connect more profoundly with clients, run better legal businesses, and lead happier personal lives.
Are you in the business of billing hours? Perhaps in the business of filling out forms, signing documents, and attending meetings? And what about the business of measuring out your life in six-minute increments?
Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash
If you are the lawyer I think you are, then the answer is no.
You are in the business of helping people solve problems. You help people and businesses get back on track and thrive.
But it's possible that your own law business has started to chase, measure, and reward the wrong things. If you have forgotten your purpose, you may need to step back and reflect.
The purpose of your law business is your clients.
It's high time for the legal profession to refocus their law practices, just about time for you to rethink and redesign your law business. You now have the chance to write your alternative history.
Jordan Furlong is a leading analyst of the global legal market and forecaster of its future development. He helps lawyers think differently about delivering legal services and empowers law firm leaders to re-engineer their firms’ purpose, strategy, and operations.
Jordan is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and Past Chair of the College’s InnovAction Awards.
He is the Strategic Advisor in Residence at Suffolk University Law School in Boston and serves as co-chair of the Board of Directors for its Institute for Law Practice Management and Innovation.
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 AG'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.