That’s a really, er, interesting idea……

16 03 2010

Product development remains a concept that’s alien to many law firms. Firstly, the idea of highly tailored legal services being associated with something as, well, crude, as a “product” is just plain wrong. Secondly, the firms just deliver what the clients want, so that’s really a type of product development, right? Unfortunately there’s a world of difference between this approach, and actually spotting a market need, creating a service to meet that need, testing it, pricing it, crafting and communicating a value proposition, and then (horror of horrors) actually proactively selling it.

I thought the lightbulb was supposed to go on when we have a good idea?

Don’t get me wrong, some firms are very good at this, but they are still in the minority. When the credit crunch rolled round, most of my in-house peers knew that a restructuring was on the cards (and once the depth of the recession became clear, it was often a fairly severe one that was required). This often involved external counsel for specialist advice, and particularly support for the HR teams. Why, I wondered to myself, hasn’t a firm packaged up a nice, client friendly offer to help with this? Something a little different from hourly rate employment advice; maybe a slicker process, maybe different presentation, maybe a faster resolution, maybe priced more attractively; ideally all with proof points of the value that was captured, nicely wrapped up, and differentiated from the competition. But nobody did.

The next challenges for law firms that do “get” product development, is to keep the process client focussed. It’s all too tempting to base the service ideas on what the lawyers think the clients need, rather than what they actually need. Most clients love to talk about their business, and using those lawyerly skill investigating business problems rather than legal ones (when the clock is ticking) is, in my experience, always time well spent. A great read on this subject is Tuned-in by Stull Myers and Scott, and explains why it’s easy not to keep the client at the forefront of the product development process (and how to remedy that).

Finally, the last little nugget to chew over (watch your teeth), is the fact that good product development requires innovation, and I believe personally that the flip side of this is that it will involve failure, something lawyers generally don’t like to talk about. I don’t necessarily advocate the “fail big, fail often” approach of some innovation gurus, but I do think it’s important not to be scared to experiment, and to learn the lessons when failure does raise its poorly groomed head.