I sit back and think a lot about what legal futurist Richard Susskind wrote in his book “The End of Lawyers?” I think about it specifically in the context of big law firms. How will they adapt to changes in technology and their clients. Will they be the mouse that kept running or the mouse that stayed behind and asked “Who Stole My Cheese?” I think that the big law firms sense that something may need to be done, but aren’t exactly sure what. They’re curious. They’re not afraid. Why would they be? They have established brand names (although, I would argue, they are hard to distinguish from their competitors). They claim to offer exceptional legal services (but everyone does, so you can’t differentiate). They believe they have a loyal client base (but their clients often use multiple firms and often don’t recommend the firms they use because of issues with pricing, communication, and responsiveness). So should they be afraid?
I personally believe that the first thing that lawyers in big law firms will need to change is their mentality.
First, they must come to terms with the fact that they are running a business. They want to believe that they are providing professional services and that’s it. But the reality is that they are competing with other firms. They need to have a value proposition. They need to market themselves. They need a competitive advantage. They need to cut costs internally while increasing revenues. They have to invest in infrastructure to keep their capacity pumping full steam ahead.
Second, lawyers must realize that they are not individuals, but are part of a brand. Lawyers believe that they are superstars; that their clients only come to the firm because of their particular service and relationship. While this may be true to some extent, this will not be true for very long. If all lawyers provide the same exceptional service, how will clients differentiate them? Based on value added services? Based on responsiveness? Based on pricing? Perhaps all of the above, plus more. The idea is that law firms need a strategy that employs various tactics to keep existing clients, get new clients, and distinguish the brand. It’s the brand that counts above all else. It’s the brand that clients should think about when deciding whether to go with a particular law firm.
Third, adding value to legal services means stepping away from delivering standardized legal services through time-consuming legal representation. Here’s what I mean by this: certain legal services that can be offered at a discount or for free to clients of a law firm will add value in their clients’ eyes. For example, what if a Big Law Firm was to offer all of its clients FOR FREE the legal forms that we offer through this website? That would be a great value add to their clients. It would distinguish the Big Law Firm’s brand from its competitors. It would attract new clients. It would also free up the time of the Big Law Firm lawyers to handle the more complex and (presumably) profitable practice of law (e.g. litigation). The Big Law Firm could also offer to review the law firms its clients download for a set fee, thereby generating new sources of revenue. Another example is to have a video library: clients of a Big Law Firm could pay a subscription fee (or pay nothing at all) to access a video library of great legal information. Lawyers will need to get past the idea of giving away their bread and butter legal services: like Richard Susskind said in his book, those materials (be they in print or video format) will become the value added service that Big Law Firms can use as a marketing advantage.
If Big Law Firms are still unconvinced about any of this, I should simply conclude by saying: if they are not interested in doing anything innovative with technology to add value in the eyes of their clients (potential or existing), then their competitors will beat them to it; and the Big Law Firm will have to play catch-up!