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March 12, 2014

Retooling your Practice for the Future – Join the conversation

by WSBA
WSBA President Patrick Palace
Online chat transcript now available.

View the transcript. Chat with Paula Littlewood and Patrick Palace

The old economy is not coming back, neither is yesterday. A wise man once advised, “Give up all hope of a more perfect past.”

It’s not about more protections, rebuilding the lawyer monopoly or crushing the non-lawyer legal service uprising.

Let’s change the conversation.

It is about creating a business model for law firms that allow lawyers to provide instantly available access, quick issue resolution, and specialized knowledge, all wrapped in an affordable package that allows lawyers to grow a viable profitable firm while making legal services available to a new market of citizens that had been previously priced out of the justice.

In 2003 the Task Force on Civil Equal Justice Funding completed a civil legal needs study based only on Washington data that proved that the market for legal services was vast, unmet and untapped. At a minimum, if 1 in 7 spent $100 on legal services it would be a $100 million dollar industry annually.

Regardless of market size, the questions for each of us, and for the profession, is “What does the business model look like for small and solo practices to effectively capture this market?” and “Who is going to be the first amongst us to break this market wide open?”

We have a bar populated with the newest generation of tech savvy digital natives, an untapped robust legal market, immense need for a new legal services delivery model, a underemployed population of young legal minds, and an antiquated business model that is no longer competitive causing thousands of solo and small practitioners to rethink how they practice law. It’s the combination of all these factors that leads to the perfect swarm.

In this new conversation, change is not a threat, but an opportunity. Limited License Legal Technicians are not competition, but a new access point. Unbundled legal services aren’t a weapon to degrade quality, but a tool to grow a market. And Access to Justice is not a well intentioned legal theory, but the path to economic revitalization for practitioners and social equality for the have somes and have nots.

It has been said that “There’s no shortage of remarkable ideas, what’s missing is the will to execute them.”

For example LawZam produces an app that helps clients find a lawyer and then provides free video conferencing with the lawyer from a smart phone. Docracy is a sharing site for contracts and legal documents. Lawyers can upload documents in exchange for branding, a web presence, and recognition when the document is downloaded by a consumer. Velawsity and Clio offer cloud based practice management systems. This is just a short list of the many tools that will be the drivers for developing the new practice model.

Imagine if we as a profession created an incubator for new legal business models. What if we had an R&D Department at the WSBA to test models and to build a successful prototype business model?

At City University in New York, Fred Rooney started an incubator for low bono attorneys in 2007. In his program lawyers pay rent for shared space for 12-18 months while training in business skills and professional development. The program has now expanded to 9 incubators run by Rooney and more are starting up around the country.

Closer to home the WSBA has partnered with our three law schools to provide services to those of moderate means.

We as a profession need to imagine a new way to do business. We need to imagine a working business model that partners with other legal service providers, that embraces current and future technology, that serves the enourmous market of unmet need. Most importantly we need to imagine a business model that defines success with real sustainable profits, justice and greater access.

Right now there are those in our legal community, right on the front lines in small offices who are forging the path towards this new model.

The more we build together the sooner we succeed together.

View the transcript.

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