Inside out lawyers?

29 08 2010

An inside out lawyer would be messy, no question. I’m not sure exactly what lawyers are made of, but I bet the middle is pretty gooey, and you certainly wouldn’t want that stuff on your carpet. But law firms are different, in fact I think they are usually inside out…..

Angie's attempt to turn herself outside in to help with product development ended in disaster

Over the past few years I’ve spoken with a number of people in the profession  about product development, and have met varying responses, ranging from “we sell services, not products, and legal services don’t change so we don’t need any development”, to “how do we do that?” and finally “it’s a great product with a strong value proposition, you should meet the product manager”. Ok, so I exaggerated the last one, but not by much.

I’ve written about the need for innovation in law firms a number of times, but here my message is different.  One of the challenges law firms have in the way they approach the market, is they think “inside out” i.e. what capabilities do we have that we can sell (never mind if anyone wants to buy them or not).  I’ve often wondered about the reason for this, and when I was hammering through the reading for my MBA dissertation on law firm strategy, I came across some suggestions that this may be because lawyers have traditionally prided themselves on the quality of their work, viewing this as the critical success factor in the profession as well as a source of intellectual pride, and as result were disproportionately internally focussed.

However, it wasn’t until I read Tuned in (by Craig Stull, Phil Myers and David Meerman Scott) that I realised this phenomenon was just as common (or at least nearly as common!) in plenty of other businesses.  The book (which is a good read) explains that good product development starts with “outside in” thinking, which in legal terms means with the client. This makes absolute sense to me; if you are developing a product, it’s surely best to develop one that meets a market need.

Let me give you an example; I can remember being in-house just before the credit crunch really took effect. Many large companies were looking at restructuring and were going to need employment law advice. The in-house lawyers knew they could pick up the phone and get the advice they needed from their regular employment law advisors (no doubt at a competitive hourly rate), but how many times did the phone ring with a law firm pro-actively offering a nicely packaged restructuring service?

I’m talking about a service that gave me the advice I wanted, nicely presented, with a clear defined price. A service that the person calling could concisely and effectively explain the benefits and crucially, how it was different from other advice I might get on the subject.

Needless to say the phone didn’t ring much. Or indeed at all.

Now I don’t pretend this is easy: it’s not. You have to be close to clients and understand their industry to spot the market need. You have to be prepared to fail: it maybe you have a great product, but don’t get to market quickly enough. Maybe you get the product right but the price wrong. But to quote a cognitive hypnotherapist I met last week “there is no failure, only feedback”.

The ever changing nature of the law can be a blessing in that new market needs arise frequently. Why not turn yourself from inside out to outside in, and see if you can spot one?


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6 responses

30 08 2010
Natalie Galbato

Agree with your comments and this is across industries. I am surprised at how many industries lack a critical product management function as they don’t see their services as a product. Even when they do see it as a service, they too often productize without the customer making it less compelling to convince internal sales people there is really a repeatable service. Market backed offerings make so much sense.

31 08 2010
intelligentchallenge

Thanks Natalie: the ongoing management of products once they are developed is another area where law firms often struggle, but if it is done properly it can bring a huge amount of focus to both clients and internal resourcing.

2 09 2010
Rob Berman

Neat take on product development in the law profession. When I have chatted with lawyers it is about billable hours and offering their suite of services to those who need it. The example you provided about packing the employment services was brilliant product development in a services industry.

Rob

3 09 2010
intelligentchallenge

Thanks Rob: appreciate the comment. IMHO the billable hours causes culture law firms so many problems, yet it is so deeply ingrained in almost every facet of the business it is difficult to shift.

6 11 2010
Kristien Vermoesen

Nice read. We did a survey on the online presence of 50 leading Belgian law firms; only one had the good idea of developing and marketing a services bundle. They positioned it as an “insurance” against legal matters for small and medium businesses, which is a nice idea. Full report here: http://www.finn.be/whitepaper/online-marketing-law-firms-belgium-2010 (registration required).

8 11 2010
Intelligent Challenge

Thanks Kristien – the Belgian legal market is not one I know well, so it’s really interesting to have that comparison.

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