When the COVID-19 pandemic shined a spotlight on the antiquated parts of our justice system and exposed gaps in our legal practice models, courts and law firms quickly shifted. Now, there’s no turning back.
To help you plan for the future of your practice, you can embrace innovation mindsets — different ways of thinking to help us create processes and ideas that improve our lives.
In this space in this issue and next, you’ll be introduced to 20 tips to get you in an innovation frame of mind; help you find your innovation inspiration; give you practical ways to succeed in any innovation project; and equip you for long-term success.
GETTING INTO THE INNOVATION FRAME OF MIND
Choose your own adventure
You get to choose your adventures in law. You decide how you want to practice and whom you wish to serve.
When you’re busy, it’s hard to remember that you have agency over your tasks and priorities and your personal life, too. It’s hard to be honest about what you want to do and what it may take to get there, but you get to choose. By taking ownership of your practice, you empower yourself to change for the better. By embracing agency over passivity, we become open to change.
Where do you want to go?
You’re busy, but you need to set time each month for self-reflection and self-assessment of your goals. Reflect on your practice, including where you are and where you want to go. Self-reflection involves considering goals for:
- Client development
- Client pipelines and business development
- Client management
- Progress of your cases
- Your legal skills, practice management, and innovation
- Your personal management
Self-assessment requires taking stock in your performance. For example, think about a recent challenging situation and how you applied your legal skills.
- What was the situation? What pressures made this a challenge?
- How did you react?
- How did you proceed?
- What other options were available?
- How might you proceed differently in future situations?
Now think about your legal innovation journey.
- What’s working?
- Is there an area you wish to further refine?
- Are there areas you wish to work on next?
Use your diverse skills to drive change
A good lawyer doesn’t just know the law — they use their skills to serve clients. The lawyer mindset is more than understanding and applying the law; it involves business development, people and project management, leadership, emotional intelligence, and empathy.1 Recognize the diverse skills you use and harness your skills to innovate. If you’re worried that some areas are not where they should be, it could be a sign of room for growth and improvement.
Take inspiration from other sectors
It’s often said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. Lawyers should take inspiration from other sectors. For example, if client no-shows are an issue, consider how doctors and dentists reduce the risk of no-shows for appointments through simple changes like calling patients to confirm or smartphone apps that simplify and automate confirmation.
Focus on client experiences
Law practices exist to serve clients, who have more choices than ever. Considering the client perspective is important for finding, retaining, and growing your relationships with them. Clients are a great source of ideas for change. When thinking about current and prospective clients, consider:
- How potential clients learn about your services (or why they might not learn about you at all.)
- A prospective client’s first contact with and initial impression of your firm.
- The intake experience. What kind of client onboarding do you provide? How do you prepare clients before the first meeting? How do you build trust from the start?
- How the client feels about when and how you communicate with them.
- Whether fees are clear and clients understand their bills.
- The offboarding experience. Do your clients leave satisfied?
- Keeping in touch with former clients. Do clients feel connected to you and your practice?
Daring to dream: Moonshots and minimum viable products
You might be at a point where you’re dreaming big or have an idea whose time may have come. Everyone fears failure, but we should at times allow for moonshots.
If you’re unsure whether your idea could become a reality, try using the concept of minimum viable product (MVP).2 Think about the service you hope to provide and the need it would meet or problem it would address. Then ask yourself:
- Who is the target market?
- What is the minimum reasonable expense to launch?
- What is the minimum number of clients/average fee per client needed to make the practice viable?
Perhaps now more than ever, lawyers can explore new ways of delivering legal services. Remote capabilities have eroded traditional geographical limitations on providing services, enabling lawyers to attract clients from afar. Remote practice also reduces costs associated with traditional brick-and-mortar offices.
These changes allow for hyper-specialization. Until recently, a small-town lawyer might have served clients only within a reasonable drive of their office. Now, that same lawyer can serve clients worldwide.
Finding inspiration from the “1,000 fans” concept
There are lots of ways to develop your MVP or test your moonshot. Kevin Kelly’s 2008 essay on the concept of 1,000 true fans is a helpful starting point.3 A lawyer with 1,000 dedicated clients paying $100 for services generates $100,000 in revenue. A base of 10 clients spending $10,000 on legal services also generates $100,000. Depending on your practice, the number of clients and spending per client will vary. Consider how many clients you would ideally serve and the average price point per client to get a sense of your firm’s niche, its “true fan” client base, and your ideal revenue model.
Solo and small firms are well positioned to serve niche markets and have direct, meaningful relationships with clients. For example, there are lawyers focused on assisting with student debt, issues related to horse ownership, and cryptocurrency.
Responding to unmet legal needs
Whether it’s reviewing an employment contract, helping a small business struggling to comply with regulatory duties, or assisting a DIY litigant looking for general guidance, there are underserved markets where affordable legal services could flourish with the proper business modeling, technology, and innovation. It just takes opening up one untapped market for a firm to find success while serving unmet legal needs.
Finding your dream clients
Do you have dream clients? Get closer to a practice filled with these people by reflecting on what a dream client is to you. Consider developing client personas as an ideal client archetype. Push yourself to identify what that ideal client looks like. Think about past clients: Whom have you enjoyed working with? What made this client a dream client? What sector is the client in?
Looking ahead, who is this dream client? Describe them in one sentence. How would they keep in contact with you? What frustrates them? What inspires them? What keeps them up at night? What are their pain points, and how can you help them alleviate them?
In the next issue, the focus turns to realizing your innovations and tips for transforming your practice over the long haul.