Over the last two days, I have outlined why some larger law firms may consider not charging for client access to “the law.” In day one , I posited that “the law” without more really has no value to clients. On day two, I mentioned the “castles and moats” valuation framework, and why giving some clients preferential access to vanilla firm legal resources can protect and enhance competitive positioning.
Yesterday I also stated that “free law” could include allowing select clients access to law firm Knowledge Management (KM) resources. To which intrepid legal observer Ron Friedmann commented “what KM?” As usual, Ron is on the mark. KM is like Billable Hour reform. Many years under discussion, always lagging in implementation.
But this gives the smaller percentage of larger law firms with even rudimentary KM a strategic advantage. They can emphasize this capability to potential clients and use it to make their services more “sticky” with current clients.
Two things I’ve heard in response to the “free law” idea. Would every client get access? What about issue X?
First, as to access. No, not all clients would get it. It might be “time on the roster” or “amount of annual spend” or some combination of both. Part of moving the free line is to reward clients for their historical use of your law firm and incentivize them for future use. We have heard earlier this year that some very large law firms are setting up client minimums on the intake side. A “free law” model could make for fewer, but better-spending, clients.
The other reason to give select clients “free law” is to make the competition look disorganized, Neanderthal, cheap, money-grubbing, tech-clueless or all of the above. Every large law firm wants to play in the high price/high value pool, but few do anything about it. Take some of the marketing budget that is spent on vanity advertising and put it to real use for clients that have been paying millions in legal fees for years.
Now, the objections. I haven’t heard them all, but I’ve heard quite a few. My top five:
— “It might impact attorney-client privilege.”
— “We could get sued for malpractice.”
— “What are our associates going to do if they can’t reinvent the wheel?
–“Clients that paid for this stuff wouldn’t like it.”
— “A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.” (Thanks, Honest Abe)
The bitter truth is that you will never succeed in the brave new legal world if you take a short-term view of risk and your bottom line. I am confident that smart lawyers with capable technical help can balance access with reasonable steps to preserve confidentiality and minimize risk. And even Honest Abe has to adjust to modern times; “free law” is inherently about charging for high-value legal advice and results. It is not about charging high prices for the basic widgets in the Law Factory.
What could happen if a few forward-thinking large law firms tried a small beta test of “free law?” I think it could knock their best clients off their feet (or at least their Aeron chairs). It would also expose some other firms as really offering very little value for a good chunk of their work.
And it could be a clever way to respond to the boilerplate RFP from a long-standing client. If they send you one, you just have the firm IT department modify the Free Law portal to generate this screen the next time they try to login: