By Bob Glaves | CBF Executive Director
When I kicked off my 2020 Resolution for the Legal Profession series back in December, to say the world looked different from today would be the understatement of the century. But for everything else that can be said about how much things have changed in just a matter of months, the central point of the resolution—that there is much our legal profession can learn by looking at other professions and industries—has only become more apparent.
The way we do business in law already was not working well for the average person or for the lawyers trying to serve the consumer legal market, and other professions and industries were far ahead of us in modernizing their business practices. As we all adapt to the new normal where more people than ever need legal help and where remote, multichannel access will forevermore be a fundamental part of our lives, it is even more urgent for our legal profession to look beyond ourselves for solutions.
Key Takeaways from the Series
Along with the Resolution itself, the series consists of five posts:
- The inspiration for this 2020 Resolution was a real world example of what can happen when an inward-looking, heavily regulated industry is not serving its customer base well.
- Taxis were not serving the personal transportation market well. Uber and Lyft spotted the market dysfunction and came along with innovative new solutions and much better customer service, and consumers responded enthusiastically by voting with their feet.
- The insular, highly regulated taxi industry was caught flatfooted and hurt badly before ultimately responding to the new reality.
- Doing business in person not only was alive and well before the pandemic, it was still by far the dominant way we got things done. But the ways of doing so already had changed, and to survive today requires seamless integration with technology-based options. The pandemic has only accelerated this transition as people by necessity have gotten used to doing most things online.
- For routine transactions, consumers today expect access to a range of options allowing them to conveniently and efficiently handle some or all of the transaction on their own. For other transactions, they want to be able to go online to research their options and do their own cost-benefit analysis.
- People still generally prefer in-person interactions for (a) significant purchases and events in their lives, or (b) when they see a real value to being there in person.
- Change is happening whether companies like it or not. Those who are thriving today have adapted to the new realities of the market. Those who have not are struggling or gone.
- Three ways the medical and dental professions are well ahead of the legal profession in improving access:
- There is a continuum of care with many different entry points for the patient.
- A range of professionals are available to assist and are known by who they are rather than being called “non-doctors” or “non-dentists.”
- Key to the first two, doctors and dentists have a variety of business models available to them for their practices to best meet the needs of both the professionals and their patients.
- Three lessons stand out from the recent evolution of the tax and accounting professions in this context:
- Consumers have access to a continuum of resources and solutions that in most instances can be accessed from anywhere, starting with free and low-cost online self-help resources and gradually working up to more intensive, expert professional services depending on the situation.
- A range of professionals are available to serve the varying consumer needs.
- A variety of business models are available to the professionals that have fostered innovation and significant increases in access.
- The evolution of the music and entertainment industries over the past several decades reflects a much broader range of business and delivery models and a lot more innovation, choice, and accessibility for consumers than what we see in law.
- Those that have survived in these industries have adapted from the time to when they were only game in town to the modern multi-channel world.
- The quality of the content, the convenience, and the positive consumer experience are the enduring value the survivors offer their customers. And those who are thriving today are continually finding new or better ways to deliver their content and services.
The key takeaways above underscore that law is far behind other professions and industries in adapting our business models. But there is much we can learn from them, and we do not need to reinvent the wheel. They don’t all have everything right—for example, the medical profession is not exactly known for pricing transparency or great customer service—but collectively we can and should take the greatest hits to help build a new and improved legal profession.
Here are three common threads we should be particularly mindful of in this journey.
Options, Options, Options
For Clients: The expectations of clients, potential clients, and court patrons are shaped by what they experience in the rest of their lives. And they expect a continuum of options that starts online. And that goes for pricing too—having transparent, value-based options (e.g., one set price or a monthly subscription package) is now a default expectation.
For Lawyers: To deliver these options to clients requires a range of expertise beyond legal savvy that the typical lawyer does not possess, including business, marketing, technology, and finance. And for a solo or small firm lawyer trying to affordably and effectively serve the consumer legal market, limiting their business options to the traditional law firm partnership model is like asking them to do so with one or both hands tied behind their backs. Other professions are way ahead of us in giving their professionals a range of business models to choose from to best serve their clients.
Great Customer Service
This remains the core path to business success in every profession and industry, and it is within the power of every lawyer and law firm to prioritize this in their day to day work. It is astounding to consistently read surveys of how poorly our profession scores on this count.
No Free Passes
It is a “do or be done unto” world out there. Innovative new businesses and technologies are entering everyone’s worlds now, and the ones who survive and thrive are adapting. Consumers vote with their feet, and trying to retreat or wall off services from new competitors is the kiss of death.
Taking the Next Steps
Many of these lessons are things every lawyer and firm could do right now, and many already are proving success is possible by building them into their practices.
Other more fundamental solutions require regulatory reform, particularly the artificial and unnecessarily restrictive restraints on the business models available for the practice of law. The CBA/CBF Task Force on the Sustainable Practice of Law & Innovation has been hard at work tackling those regulatory issues and is putting the final touches on a comprehensive report and recommendations for modernizing the Rules of Professional Conduct as they relate to the business of law. The report will be released for public comment next month, with the final report and recommendations to be submitted to the Illinois Supreme Court this fall, and we encourage you to check it out.