When forward thinkers predicted the looming change coming to legal services many years ago, the term “bespoke” was borrowed from the custom-tailoring trade. Sort of Savile Row meets Magic Circle, if you will.
One such visionary was Richard Susskind, who wrote about this back in 2005 and even had this graphic to go along with it:
The keen insight: on the left you get to charge more, and as you move right, you don’t. And over time, more legal work product moves to the right.
This morning Bloomberg profiles companies who are taking the notion of “bespoke” and disrupting it. Sort of made-to-measure meets “fast-to-market.”
One such company is J. Hilburn, which is seeking to offer high-end custom shirts at prices that are dramatically lower than the incumbent, bricks-and-mortar seller:
J. Hilburn keeps expenses in check by making items to order, eliminating costs associated with running warehouses and stores and avoiding the need to discount obsolete merchandise, said Hil Davis, co-founder and chief executive officer. A typical garment from most retailers is marked up three times as it works its way through the supply chain from the factory to the store, he said.
A men’s dress shirt costs J. Hilburn about $35 for fabric and another $22 for manufacturing. That $57 shirt sells for around $125 — about $200 less than a shirt by Ermenegildo Zegna Group sourced from the same Italian mill, Davis said. Zegna shirts cost $325 to $435 on Neiman Marcus Group Inc.’s website.
Note this price difference at the high end. J. Hilburn at $125 less than one-third the price of the $435 Zegna shirt at Neiman Marcus. That sounded familiar so I searched the Wired GC archives and found this from over a year ago, highlighting a similar potential savings by using high-end virtual lawyers:
What does this mean for clients? The 50% lower billing rate, plus efficient workflow, can sometimes translate into 60%+ savings. Yep, you read it right. Often one-third the price. Not just similar work, mind you: the same lawyers.
Same shirt; same lawyers?
What does this have to do with legal services? Well first, it’s easier (and faster) to disrupt hard goods than soft services. I think the takeaway for interested observers and affected lawyers is that these competitive forces are being unleashed on everyone, across all industries. It’s not just aimed at those of us with a bar ticket. J. Hilburn’s founder probably says it best:
It was obvious that you could slice a ton of fat out of the retail supply chain…
Swap out “legal” for “retail” and it becomes more familiar. And important.
One last thing: virtual lawyers don’t need to wear fancy shirts.
Bespoke tailors, and enlightened general counsel, know that to make a big cut, you need large scissors:
(Go ahead and run with this idea; but put the scissors down first.)