Growth in the Legal Sector
How might Google, Microsoft or Netflix achieve growth if they were a law firm?
Cloud based technology firms are growing at rates as high as 45% year over year and most law firms are experiencing a growth rates of less than 3%. The growth strategies of companies such as Google, Microsoft and Netflix could boost the growth and profitability in the professional services industry and more importantly improve the user experience. The fundamentals of the success of tech companies emerge from the principles of: empowering the user; a growth mindset; transparent business process and fees; leveraging data to make decisions and nurturing a magnetic culture that attracts employees and clients.
The professional services industry maybe more complicated than doing a Google search, creating a document, choosing a movie or ordering a ride but these growth strategies provide interesting insights on how to create exponential growth in professional services.
Focus on the User
Google has experienced exponential growth over the last twenty years.
One of their key pillars of success has been about “focusing on the user”. Google empowers people all over the world with the ability to ask any question and get an answer, for free. “For the first 18 months of its existence, Google didn’t make a penny from its basic web-search service. Only then did it make the transition from good technology to great technology with a critical mass of users.” (Fast Company 03/31/03) By democratizing knowledge and giving something away for free, they built a $53.5 billion dollar company with a growth rate of that is three times as high as the S&P average.
The concept of offering a freemium product to empower a client with knowledge is not yet common in the legal world. Lasha Van Der Bij started her company, Optimize Legal, to enable law firms to offer their clients curated legal knowledge. They can provide this as a value added service to their larger clients or they can charge a subscription fee. Van Der Bij says “the revenue stream is often secondary, as the bigger piece is providing clients with the ability to easily see changes in the law. They will need assistance changing their internal company policies, practices and template documents, and that’s where the law firm steps into help.” When Google offered the search engine the world began asking more questions, not less. Productizing knowledge is an instrument to growth over and above hourly legal fees.
A growth mindset
The newest leader of cultural transformation in the technology world is Microsoft, the powerhouse that recently experienced a cultural change from a “fixed mindset: to a “growth mindset”. Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella took over at Microsoft in 2014 and in just four short years has tripled the stock price of the company. How has he helped Microsoft to grow when growth, prior to his leadership had been stagnating? Nadella turned inwards to reflect on how the mindset of the company might affect positive growth. After reading the book “Mindset, the new culture of success” by Carol Dweck, he realized that the company needed to shift from a mindset of “know it alls” to “learn it alls”. When a company is operating in a fixed mindset, mentally, they will continue to do things as they have always done them. When they are operating in a growth mindset they will question the status quo and find new and better ways. He said “When we exercise a growth mindset by being customer obsessed, diverse, and inclusive and act as one Microsoft, that’s when we live our mission and truly make a difference in the world”.
The professional services world has an opportunity to adopt a growth mindset, to look for new ways to make their clients happy by asking themselves and their clients how they might do better. By constantly engaging clients, soliciting feedback and then pivoting or iterating like their technology counterparts they have an interesting opportunity to engage more clients.
Transparent Business Processes and Fees
Uber was able to disrupt a transportation business that began in 1897. For hundreds of years, taxis provided a service where they picked people up and dropped them off wherever they wanted leveraging a taxi meter. San Francisco based Uber and then Lyft provided an attractive alternative. Uber was able to side-step some of the regulatory requirements and provide a service that is more cost effective, faster and with more value to the user. They empowered the client with the ability to know the exact price before they even order the ride and they also offered a view on the location of the car and when it will pick them up. They could easily check the progress of the car while it’s on its way. Some people believe that they moved forward because of price but really it’s about transparency, data and empowering the user.
Legal clients are asking for the same transparency. In the 2016 study report, “How legal technology will change the business of law” produced by Boston Consulting and Bucerious Law School they mentioned that “Big law’s clients have also begun demanding greater transparency on fees and more seamless collaboration between their in-house staff and external lawyers.”
At one time taxis would have said that there is no way to predict what a cab fare would be as there were so many variables such as traffic, weather and an understanding of distance to be travelled. Uber simply leveraged data and existing infrastructure to solve those problems. How can the legal world do the same to leverage the same kind of growth?
Leveraging data to make decisions
Netflix has overtaken Disney as the world’s most valuable data company (forbes May 27th 2018 “How Analytics has given Netflix the Edge over Hollywood”). Netflix employs 5000 people to Disney’s 20,000. “The latest Netflix series is not being made because a producer had a divine inspiration or a moment of lucidity, but because a data model says it will work.” “Just get your data to the cloud now” said Eric Schmidt, Former Executive Chairman of Google. What he meant by that is that none of the data analytics, customer intelligence, agility and scale etc is really available or feasible unless you are in the cloud. Netflix can now anticipate our needs by curating tv and movie choices before we even think of them.
Netflix leverages the power of the cloud. Many law firms have a “no cloud” policy for security reasons. The organizations that are most vulnerable to cyber attacks are on premise systems with the practice of emailing files around. According to Gartner, “through 2020, public cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS) workloads will suffer at least 60% fewer security incidents than those in traditional data centers.” (Gartner Is the Cloud Secure? March 27, 2018, Contributor: Kasey Panetta).
The cloud is the way to store and leverage data because of it’s security, price and ability to scale. Law firms have a great deal of data that once in the cloud they can leverage to make better decisions for both their firm and their clients. With data analytics law firms can anticipate their clients needs and gain a competitive advantage.
Nurturing a magnetic culture that attracts employees and clients
Technology companies are famous for their corporate culture and their customers love them for that. At Google, two million people a year apply for openings at the fast growing company. They go through an intense interview process that looks primarily for a growth mindset. One million people a year visit the Google campus in Mountainview - just to be a part of it. Corporate culture is a powerful way to attract new employees and customers.
Simplex Legal is a rapidly growing law firm whose foundation is based on doing what’s right for their clients. Martine Boucher, co-founder wants to, as she says “we do what's right for our clients and our staff and make sure that our employees are enjoying their lives” To achieve this she has turned first to the corporate culture of her firm. When she onboards a new lawyer or staff member she has a conversation with them of where they want to be in their lives both professionally and personally. She then finds assignments for them that will both challenge them and meet their schedule. Boucher subscribes to the “happy employee” equals a happy client model for a business model and it works. Their approach has been financially rewarding and they have practically doubled both the number of lawyers in their firm and revenue in the last year.
In her speech at CLOC 2018, Mary O’Carroll, the chief legal counsel at Google gave an inspiring speech about the potential for change in legal. However, at the end of it she expressed what many lawyers from in house legal departments are feeling - that the professional services firms are not responding quickly enough to the way that they now want to do business. They are asking the law firms that they deal with to change, to listen to their needs, yet they are still not being heard. Yet there is hope and as O’Carroll says “when we simultaneously see progress and achievement, alongside absolutely backward and entrenched thinking? I think it shows that we are entering into a new stage in legal operations.”
There is a massive difference in growth rates between tech and legal, however if they band together and share growth strategies that leverage technology, legal services can blossom.
The secret to activating growth will involve significant changes in law firm culture, mindset and a willingness put clients first. The firms that have begun to make the moves required are edging closer to tech firm growth. Clients will be choosing with their wallets and pressure from the big four and legal tech companies will be offering them attractive alternatives to firms that don’t focus on the user.
About the Author Katie McLean is a proven leader in sales, marketing and alliances with experience at Google, Oracle, HP and Xerox. Katie is most comfortable leading organizations with innovative, ground-breaking and disruptive technologies. Trained in Cloud and SaaS sales, she has built high performing teams around new concepts and has experience hiring, managing and leading people. Her personal passion is around building purpose and people first companies that attract the best customers, partners and employees through an inspiring corporate culture.