The Two Faces of The Law

Posted on September 1st, 2011 by Chrissie Lightfoot

First published (edited version) in Legal Futures 1st September 2011

With the plethora of reports and blog posts of late whizzing around cyberland in relation to online legal document and service providers, legal innovation, the law firm business model and the future of the legal profession I reckon we’re transitioning toward ‘two faces of the law’.

I believe two dominant umbrella business models are coming to the fore in relation to who, what, where, why, when and how we serve our clients:  Face to Face and Interface.

At a time of great change I believe a key differentiator in the success of both of these models and their adopters will be the ‘humanisation’ of lawyers.  As we transit even more in the years to come, as Artificial Intelligence (AI) evolves further within legal provision and service and Singularity edges even closer, ‘humanisation’, that is, our ability to simply be human- a social creature – and naked (our authentic self with Lawyerly Intellectual Capital and empathy), will become even more important and valuable.

During August we’ve seen the following revelations:

  • Rocket Lawyer has been backed by Google Ventures with a whopping $18.5million treasure chest. Rocket Lawyer, founded by a lawyer, provides legal documents for consumers. It has a network of approximately 6,000 practising lawyers in the USA on hand to review forms created by Rocket Lawyer’s documentation system. It’s not a law firm and the lawyers involved are part of a referral network; they are not employees. It plans to enter the UK legal market in 2012.
  • LegalZoom, the best known legal brand in the USA, also founded by lawyers, has had $66 million pumped into the business in the last few months. Again, not a law firm, LegalZoom provides legal documents created via its documentation system and checks are made by its customer care team, who amend errors such as spelling mistakes, capitalisation and so on. It will also be entering the UK online legal market in 2012.
  • Aderant acquired Client Services and CompuLaw for an undisclosed sum. Aderant, a software vendor used by law firms for billing, content management, and practice management is now the legal technology field’s largest independent software provider and its newly expanded applications catalogue is similar to that of LexisNexis, but without content and research services.
  • Hewlett-Packard purchased Autonomy, which is a leading e-discovery provider, for a staggering $10 billion.
  • Entrepreneur Ajaz Ahmed (the founder of Freeserve) has joined forces with Last Cawthra Feather, a UK Yorkshire law firm, to launch Legal365 (powered by Epoq Legal – desktop lawyer service already established in the UK). Legal365, an online venture providing automated document assembly where lawyers will be on hand to help fill-out fixed fee legal documents the customer has purchased plans to roll-out a UK national network of city centre law shops. Mr Ahmed hinted that Legal365 could even become a franchise.
  • Slater & Gordon, a leading Australian law firm and the world’s first to list on the Stock Exchange is eyeing up the UK legal market opportunities. It’s one of its business priorities for the coming year.

Here in the UK QualitySolicitors, founded by a lawyer, is already up and running with its business model. Legal365 will be soon. Legal365 is a different model to that of QualitySolicitors (with its WHSmith Legal Access Points) by providing advice on the spot, rather than arranging appointments at another location.

So, the Americans are coming, the Aussies are coming, the techy geeks are coming, the entrepreneurs are coming…  and the disruptors will be here to stay and to agitate.

The new legal marketplace

Clearly, the transformation and arguably re-invention of legal service provision is well and truly underway and, as legal commentator Jordan Furlong puts it, “we’ve begun crossing over from the old legal marketplace to the new one.”

In reading Jordan’s thought provoking ‘Goodbye to all that’ blog post, three statements struck me:

1) “the new providers and new technologies are not going to replace lawyers’… but they are going to marginalize us and ‘render law firms mostly irrelevant”.

2) “lawyers still have outstanding value to offer in certain quarters, but we need to concentrate our market offerings around that value, and we need better platforms for our services than traditional law firms provide.”

3) “lawyers are smart, knowledgeable, creative and trustworthy professionals who, unfortunately, suffer from poor business acumen, terrible management skills, wildly disproportionate aversion to risk, outsized revenue expectations, and a business model about 25 years out of date. The market won’t abandon them — they have unique and sometimes extraordinarily valuable skills and characteristics — but it will find the best use for them: expert specialists with limited influence over the larger process.”

I agree. I would add that as we lawyers become marginalized, our role and value both Face to Face and at the Interface will be in extolling our expert niche specialism with exceptional emotional intelligence whilst delivering extraordinary customer service (humanisation – naked – something AI and computers will never be… or will they?).

The franchise model

Not surprisingly, ALL of the business models mentioned above are different. But I confess, I was wondering when somebody, a non-lawyer, would come up with the idea (and act on it) of rolling out a legal franchise from scratch welcoming and supporting frustrated entrepreneurial lawyers who are looking to capitalize on this transformation, re-invent themselves and start up their own ‘business of law’ with all of the usual trappings and trimmings associated with the benefits of being a franchisee.

The franchise business model has stood the test of time in the business world. It’s a proven model which works. It could work for the new legal world, perhaps?

Imagine a legal business model for the franchisee where there are NO existing solicitors firms already at ‘the coal face’ with potential conflict where uniform brand, values, quality, outdated fee structures and legacy systems, policies and governance would be an issue. Wouldn’t it be a marvellous opportunity for a franchisor, attractive for the entrepreneurial lawyer franchisee and great for the customer if uniformity of brand, values, quality and extraordinary customer service was available and achievable by combining a joined up Face to Face relationship building approach whilst embracing online document technology, at the Interface?

It appears face2face solicitors has done exactly that. It is alive and kicking right now in the UK. As the first national franchise for lawyers and/or law firms, face2face solicitors is the brainchild of a team of  business experts who have provided strategic planning advice to business professionals for many years.

I’ve taken a thorough look at the face2face solicitors website and, due to my curiosity, I even picked up the phone to ask them a few probing questions.

Now, usually, I don’t as a rule make such an overt plug in favour of a particular business model (seriously, I don’t 🙂 ) but I’m tempted to with this one because I can see the mega attraction for both lawyers and customers during this transitional period.

What attractions do I see? Read on…

A new concept

Law providers, both existing and start-up, operating in the alternative business structures landscape – and global legal market place for that matter – will require a different type of approach to their business:  even more client-focused but with a far lower cost-base to enable them to meet the challenges and exploit the opportunities that lie ahead.

face2face solicitors appears to be a new concept in legal provision operation, designed for small-to-medium sized firms and/or frustrated entrepreneurial lawyers who want to take control of their future in the newly competitive world. It appears to have been designed specifically to counter the growing number of web and call centre based, low-cost providers of ‘face-less’ legal services.

The way I understand it, it’s pretty much a ‘law business in a box’ where franchisees will be able to start up their business without the ‘this is the way we’ve always done things around here’ mentality and the ‘baggage’. I’m a firm believer and eternal optimist that the future is bright for progressive entrepreneurial  lawyers and small firms who love the law but recognise the need to deliver it in a new innovative whilst personal (human) way.

What I particularly like about this model is that the franchisees at face2face solicitors will be vetted for their drive and passion in delivering extraordinary customer service in a new way to their clients. All franchisees are fully supported and receive continual training and mentoring to help them to develop and build their own successful business in the law, an essential part of which is the development of personal brands – the ‘Brand, Me’ – something which is dear to my heart.

A cool option

As I understand it, what will be attractive for potential franchisees is as follows:

  • Accessing a host of ‘best of breed’ I.T. and services – including Virtual Practices legal accounting, case and practice management from SOS;
  • Compliance and Risk Management embracing latest Outcome Focused Regulations;
  • Bags of help and advice for marketing – something we lawyers would definitely welcome no doubt;
  • On-going Mentoring on a monthly basis – business savvy support;
  • On-going CPD training in management / marketing / sales / team motivation;
  • Being part of a network of likeminded people;
  • Being part of a strong national brand;
  • Preferential PII arrangements;
  • Lower start up costs;
  • Franchise financing – to be offered; and
  • Creating and building value for their practice for subsequent retirement/exit.

I guess if you’re looking to be a player in the new legal market place and would prefer to straddle Face to Face and the Interface, and you’re considering grappling with the challenges of taking the best of the old and integrating the best of the new, face2face solicitors looks like a pretty cool option. I can’t see how one could put a complete legal start-up business together for anything like the alternative capital and cash-flow outlay or loss of control and reduced equity alternative, as would be the case if one chooses to go down the external funding (venture capital; business angel; listing) route when Legal Service Act 2007 takes full effect.

This franchise model is worthy of further investigation, I reckon.

Professional evolution

As for the paradigm shift and getting your head around this model and potential opportunity think of it this way. As Mike O’Hara says it:

Even though you went to law school and have spent your career so far practicing law, the truth is, you actually run your own small business—regardless of the size of your firm. And while you may like to think of your practice as a runs-itself enterprise, your long-term success depends on your ability to think and act as an entrepreneur (in between practicing law, that is).”

You may now be questioning yourself as to whether or not you are an entrepreneur, or could become an entrepreneurial lawyer. Let me help you. I’ve just read ‘Are You an Entrepreneurial Attorney’ blog post by Mike. In the post I found the following definition of an entrepreneur and an interesting quick quiz:

An entrepreneur:

‘… an innovator who establishes a new business … strong beliefs about market opportunities … willingly accepts a high level of personal, professional and financial risk.’

Based on information from The Entrepreneurs Guild, if you take this quiz you can assess your own entrepreneurial tendencies and entrepreneurial comfort level. Albeit there will obviously be shades of grey, for the purpose of this exercise just see if you mostly ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ with the following statements:

  • I’m great at and enjoy networking
  • I’m optimistic about positive, successful results
  • I need to do it my way
  • Results derive primarily from my own behaviour and actions
  • I thrive on innovation
  • The most important thing is achieving the goal
  • I have a plan, and work my plan
  • I’m comfortable with change, ambiguity and uncertainty
  • I’m self-motivated
  • I’m a risk-taker

If you mostly ‘agree’ and presently think, feel and act in a way in relation to the above statements then you’re already well on your way to becoming an entrepreneurial lawyer and the face2face solicitors legal franchise business model could be for you.

I wrote a blog post a year ago entitled ‘Frustrated Lawyers R Us. Plan ‘B’ Mutiny?’. If it resonated with you and you’re maybe feeling a little disenfranchised right now, maybe consider a franchise.

As the legal profession and our industry continues to re-invent itself, transform and transit ever more so toward two faces of the lawFace to Face and Interface – I have no doubt there will be a plethora of new business models which spring up under the two dominant umbrella models to compete feverishly in this plump, innovative, new and increasingly fragmented and diverse global legal market.

The way I see it, it’s a wonderful and exciting time of opportunity for both personal re-invention and professional evolution for us lawyers and I welcome the ‘humanisation’ of lawyers (and no doubt many customers and lawyers do too) in the face-off between Face To Face and Interface.

Whether we like it or not, agree with it or not, welcome it or not, to quote the ubiquitous ‘future’ statement by Neuromancer author William Gibson, “the future is here… it’s just not evenly distributed yet”.  You bet. It probably never will be.

Accordingly, “the great excitement of the future is that we can shape it” (Charles Handy).

Chrissie Lightfoot
The Entrepreneur Lawyer
(of the naked kind)
Author of The Naked Lawyer: RIP to XXX – How To Market, Brand & Sell YOU!

Posted in Entrepreneurs, Future Law, Law Management, Lawyers | 13 Comments »