Making legal services a subscription product can make sense
A lawyer friend talking about getting his estate planning updated said he felt the price was much too high for standard documents, and that it did not reflect what he believed to be documents generated from forms (or at least they should have been).
I made the radical suggestion that perhaps the documents should be free if he signed up for an estate-planning subscription with his attorney. He could get an annual checkup, questions answered, routine document changes and the like for an annual fee.
My friend really liked this idea, even though it would probably cost him more over the long run than hiring a lawyer whenever he felt he needed to redo his documents, especially since he thought it would be at least another 20 years before he would want to spend that much money to get them redone.
The subscription idea is an example of turning traditional legal services into a product, or what I call the “productization of services.” As clients continue to balk at high and uncertain legal fees and are unclear about what they are getting for their money, lawyers are turning to new approaches like productization.
Today’s technology might be just the tool to enhance your legal services or enable new business or income opportunities. Lawyers too often see new technology as a grudgingly necessary evil that threatens to change their everyday work practices—and not always for the better. It’s a good time to take a look at the ways technology might be able to enhance your legal services or enable new business or income opportunities.
Let’s move past the focus on the latest gadget or newest software to see what technology can actually help us do. Consider a few examples:
• Ernst & Young sells to the public an annual guide to income tax preparation.
• St. Louis attorney Larry Katzenstein turns a tool he uses to make tax calculations for charitable gifts into a software program sold to lawyers and other nonclient customers.
• Law firms create videos, packaged webinars, guides and other information products for sale to capitalize on what used to be one-off research projects for clients.
At the heart of each example is adaptation of a service or set of services traditionally done by time-based billing for a single or limited number of clients into an information product that can be licensed or sold to a much larger audience than the client base. The result is a new revenue stream. In other professions, this approach is often referred to as “making money while you sleep.”
In addition, these types of products—think of an employment discrimination training video that is sold to the public—might even work as marketing efforts for traditional legal services, resulting in the odd scenario where potential clients are actually paying for you to market to them.
The sweet spot will be the intersection of where clients are already complaining about the price for what they perceive to be commodity services (e.g., routine documents) and where you are creating information that gets reused on a regular basis.
Once you identify a sweet spot, you will want to think broadly about how technology might enable the creation of a product you can license or sell. It might be an app or program, but it’s more likely to be a video, webinar, book, guide or other information product that you publish, either traditionally or over the Internet.
In many cases the technology you already have will help you create products. In other cases you might need to buy only a limited amount of specialized technology.
Productization is a major trend in professions other than law. It is also a reasonable response to pricing pressures, outside competition and challenges of the billable-hour approach.
Obviously, there are many issues with productization that cannot be covered in a column of this size (ethics, ownership and revenue sharing), but if you want to do just one thing this year to improve your technology, I recommend considering practical application of technology to create new revenue streams.
Having the newest gadget is cool, but having a new business model will make you feel even better.
This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Subscription Offer: Making legal services a product can make sense.”
Dennis Kennedy is a St. Louis-based legal technology writer and information technology lawyer.