Nov. 4, 2015 – What does the future of solo and small firm law practice look like? Easy accessibility and flexible subscription-like service that puts client needs first.
Exactly the sort of innovations that lawyers have a history of achieving, says Carolyn Elefant, a well-known blogger on solo and small firm practice issues at MyShingle.com and a solo practitioner in Washington, D.C.
“Solos and small firms have always had a history of being the leaders. They were the ones who came up with the contingency fee, which is sort of the earliest forms of making legal services accessible.”
It is up to lawyers to continue this trend and “not just use technology for marketing, because that makes it very limited, but coming up with ways that you can use it to educate clients to come up with better forms of service and make these services more accessible.”
Elefant recently addressed the future of solo practice at the State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE® 2015 Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference, providing some insight into where it is headed and how lawyers can respond to changes.
The Future is … Accessibility
In many ways, the future of law is not that different from many of the changes other industries are experiencing.
“Consumers are becoming more accustomed to doing business online,” says Elefant. That means clients are “looking for lawyers to be more accessible or to be as accessible as the online nonlawyer providers.”
3 Mistakes Lawyers Make About the Future of Practice
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Don’t ignore technology. Don’t wait for clients to come to you. Don’t be a knee-jerk pessimist.
Making these mistakes only serves to help the competition, says Carolyn Elefant. Be proactive and open-minded, offer services to help clients avoid trouble, and see technology as empowering.
Unless, or until, lawyers make this leap to improving customer access to their services, they can expect “more competition from some of those non-law sources.”
So how can lawyers improve their accessibility to clients?
“One thing we can do is revisit our representation agreements,” says Elefant. “Make them shorter and provide ways that clients can sign them online or using electronic signatures instead of sending them a copy and waiting for it to come back by mail.”
Moreover, lawyers should pay close attention to their websites and other online services to ensure they are “designed to make things more understandable and presented in a way that consumers can understand them better.”
Elefant points to the mobile transportation app Uber as a model for attorney accessibility.
“The whole idea of being able to contact a lawyer that quickly and get in touch with them through a button, ask them a question, have the bill be taken care of by credit card sent to their email, there’s something that’s very appealing about that.”
Lawyers should be looking for ways that make it just as easy for clients to take advantage of legal services.
“I’m not suggesting that you create some service where someone pushes a button and a lawyer shows up, but … when it’s easy, [clients] pay for it and they don’t think about the price.”
“I think that would be an amazing innovation to make lawyers more accessible to people on an everyday basis.”
The Future is … Flexible Services
Lawyers should also reimagine the services they offer to be more flexible to client needs.
“Not every client needs the full service, $20,000 fee,” Elefant said. “There may be smaller pieces of service that we can provide to people: ongoing service, monitoring services, preventative services.”
Ethical Innovations: Safe Harbors and Crowdsourced Ethics
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Ethics regulations may have a chilling effect on legal innovation by preventing lawyers from competing with new business models, says Carolyn Elefant. To help make attorneys more competitive, she proposes that states consider creating protections for lawyers from disciplinary sanction who can reasonably justify their actions. In addition, bars could crowdsource ethics analysis to offer timely, cost-effective opinions on new developments.
Consider providing different types or levels of service.
This may include “some type of subscription service or some sort of ongoing service,” says Elefant.
For example, “with my home, I have a service that checks my boiler in the winter and my air conditioning in the summer. I pay $100 and they come every year.”
In a similar way, an attorney who represents small businesses or helps people with estate plans, may “want to have some sort of a checkup where they provide a product where every year the attorney will go through it, do an audit, see if everything is up-to-speed, and then perhaps offer discounted rates to make any changes that might be needed.”
The benefit to this approach, says Elefant, is that “you stay in touch with the client and you also have an ongoing source of revenue,” which is especially important for a solo or small business.
When it comes to unbundled services or limited scope representation, a lawyer might “agree to review a client’s contract or they might agree to handle a certain part of a case.” This could mean drafting the materials needed for an uncontested divorce, for example, but not actually appearing with the client in court.
Replay and Learn
Even if you missed the Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference, several sessions from the event are available to view via webcast replay on the follow dates:
Group 1 – 2015 Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference
Group 2 – 2015 Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference
Elefant cautions that lawyers will want to ensure they place restrictions on exactly how their services are conducted and ensure clients understand what is or is not included. “You want to make very clear about what you’re not doing, because you don’t want the client to assume you’re doing it and rely on it.”
Where is the Future of Law Practice Headed? Read On…
“It’s Time for Creative Disruption,” Wisconsin Lawyer, May 2015
ABA President William Hubbard says thinking differently about how lawyers deliver legal services may provide solutions to many of the challenges facing lawyers and people who need, but can’t afford, legal services.
“The Cloud Has Landed: 10 Legal Tech Innovations and What They Mean,” Wisconsin Lawyer, April 2015
No matter your practice area or the number of attorneys in your organization, the 10 legal technology innovations outlined here affect you. No matter the size of your bank account, you can’t afford to ignore them.
“What’s Hot, What’s Not: National and Global Practice Trends 2015,” Wisconsin Lawyer, February 2015
This annual report looks at what’s going on in the legal profession in the United States and in other parts of the world. The author believes law firms that acknowledge change and address it will survive stronger and more profitable than ever.
“What’s Hot, What’s Not: Wisconsin Practice Trends 2015,” Wisconsin Lawyer, February 2015
Borrowing a page from Robert Denney’s global look at trends in the legal profession, Wisconsin and regional attorneys and practice management experts weigh in on practice and marketing trends in the Dairy State.