Law firms traditionally run on partnership models that function unlike corporate models. It stops firms from driving innovation in content, messaging, and clientele experience. It also stops firms from adapting.
Law firms are well known for being old behemoths that exist in ages past, and being difficult to adapt. This is possibly one reason why there are so many startups targeting the profession of Law. The notion is that software can help. It’s a bigger issue, though; that old behemoth is not good at adapting because its inner workings stop it from adapting easily.
That’s not to say that disrupting the technology is not important. It’s essential to do this. As a solution, it is short-sighted and does little to help a profession that actually struggles to make decisions.
One could argue that the greatest and most effective disruption comes at the level of business model, especially when that model makes decision-making and governance simple and effective. When that happens, effective change to messaging, communications, and client experiences (of content, amongst other things) will change dramatically.
People are generally of the misunderstanding that law firms function like corporate bodies. I was, too. Indeed, firms do a good job at pretending to the world that they’re structured in the same way, and have the same business nous, as the accountant down the road.
They’re not, and they tend not to.
Stay with me on this one and you’ll see what I mean.
A Bit of Education: Typical Law Firm Structure
(Remembering generalisations tend to be invalid and some do vary from this model; on the whole, this is how firms function.)
Law firms exist on approximately four or five levels, at the very top of which are partners. They’re not called Partners because it’s a nice name; they’re called Partners because they are partners in the business. Depending on the size of the firm, there might be two partners, or there might be more than 50.
Most often, each partner governs his or her area of specialty. In order for a firm to make a decision, there needs to be consensus (or majority rules) across the level of ownership, or partnership.
Additionally, there is a level of competition within a law firm that shocks non-lawyers. Not only does a firm compete with other firms; but each lawyer is competing with everyone within his or her own firm. They compete for business and for clientele, even amongst their own teams.
Content Strategy in Existing Law Firm Models is Difficult
Let’s imagine, using a partnership model for a law firm, trying to run a content strategy for improved messaging, communication, and function. Further, let’s imagine that there is nobody in the business who is capable of spear-heading decision-making and agreeance, and moving things forward.
In a scenario where there are multiple partners, great ideas can be quashed by simple things, from lack of clarity to partner jealousy. For example: If Partner Bob wanted to do something amazing with the content and messaging for the clients of his Patents Law silo, and Partner Roger was even a bit unsure (or a bit jealous), he could delay decisions on budget spend interminably, simply by asking rounds of questions in partner meetings that require deliberation or research. With enough delay, or concern, the notion would simply go away because it would feel too big or too difficult, and it would become unfeasible.
Aim for Everyone, Appeal to No-one
Change, especially effective communication and content change, is impossible when the very workflow has a pre-existing bottleneck that cannot be removed. The problem, is that great brands communicate and relate extremely well.
A brand that is established on the premise of inner competition is hardly stable. Furthermore, a law firm’s brand is big and all-encompassing, which makes content creation really difficult.
For large firms, presenting content to everyone results in overall messaging that is bland, unspecific, and impersonal.
True Innovation Disrupts the Model
The issue for the forward-looking law firm is that existing structures prevent any serious innovation from taking place. The law firm that disrupts traditional models will be the victor of the information age.
It’s not just about software and technological development. It’s about a cohesive, collaborative approach that makes decision-making and communication inside-out simpler, and also makes for an outstanding customer experience. That experience shouldn’t just be with one lawyer in a firm, it should be part and parcel of a much broader interaction: From digital to print, in person to social media.
There are lawyers being told that LinkedIn is a “must”; sure, if your clients are businesses. If your clientele is younger, mostly families, then you’re better off on Facebook. Just as your brand can’t appeal to everyone, you can’t paint your content channels with one brush.
Model Disruption Benefits Your Communication
A collaborative approach could, for example, specify that Team A has 15 lawyers, which is a total of 120 hours that can be dedicated to Law Type X. Each client has a case manager, but collaborating with the rest of the team doesn’t put you at risk of losing the client to someone else. In fact, it may benefit your ability to help the client more quickly.
In a more collaborative model, you could empower individual teams to create specific messaging and communication to be used within their own spaces. So the clients of Family Law have a different experience to those in Intellectual Property Law. The audience is different, the needs and value matches are different. Therefore, the messages need to be different. The underpinning values and overall firm positioning would remain the same, but the content (delivery, type, channel, and function) would change according to its source, purpose, and audience, all of which are different for each silo in a firm.
There are side-benefits, too. With a collaborative environment, better ideas happen more consistently, morale improves, and you gain the ability to manage cases in a more effective and cohesive manner. (It improves the scope of managing a client when you have some team members with shortened hours, for family reasons for example.)
If this were to happen, you would also have less of a problem with decision-making because each team would own its decisions and budgets.
What About Smaller Firms?
There are smaller firms that still function in the same way. Decision-making takes time because there is no precedent set for making decisions quickly. Or, there might be, but in a small firm it’s all hands on deck to help the clientele, rather than thinking in terms of bigger-picture audience (or market) interaction.
With the right workflow and methodologies in place, a small firm could still present the right messages for the right people, in the right way. The sticking point is going to be agreeance. The workflow needs to focus on removing that friction, so that timing does not become a problem.
So for those guys, it is less about defining whole strategies for each area, and more about defining an effective approval pathway. You might think that each piece of everything would need to be approved by each person, but maybe that’s just the way you have always thought about things.
Trying to do what you’ve always done while wanting to do new things is the fastest way to kill your morale and stop yourself from innovating.