Video: Alternative Revenue Streams Panel [Lawyernomics 2018]

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Managing a successful law firm is like running any other successful business. It takes talent, hard work, a steady stream of clients, and—most importantly—the willingness and ability to adapt and change with consumer trends. And while many people might say legal innovation and new ideas are in short supply, or perhaps not even necessary, many forward-thinking attorneys believe differently.

The traditional lawyer is a character most people know well. They are intelligent, quick on their feet, good at arguing, and charge you by the hour for an undetermined amount of time. That’s not how this panel of attorneys operates.

Kimberly Bennet, Gabriel Cheong, and Brooke Moore are here to challenge your assumptions on how a lawyer can run his or her business, and more importantly, how one may adapt to meet the needs of the next generation of clients who need legal services. Instead of charging clients by the hour, this group bills up front and offers both on-demand and subscription legal fees.

For Bennet, who owns a virtual general counsel practice that focuses on trademark business and employment law, she was tired of chasing after clients for invoices and instead charges a flat fee up-front.

Additionally, she also offers a subscription service based on individual projects or needs that’s a lot like a legal-services version of Amazon Prime or Netflix. Unlike a retainer model, where a lawyer bills for future legal services, a subscription model means Bennet is actively working for the money she collects.

“There are quarterly reviews; there are included contracts reviews, there are as many calls as they want,” says Bennet. “And they’re actually on the project; we’re actually doing some type of work, so that could be an audit or a contract, or drafting a contract.”

Cheong, who runs a family law practice in Boston, MA, knows it’s unusual for lawyers in her practice area to not charge by the hour. She saw an opportunity to change this fee arrangement and implemented a subscription model based on purchasing four-month blocks. That’s because four months out is typically when discovery is done, and the client can decide whether or not to settle or purchase another four-month block of time.

For family law specifically, Cheong noticed her clients were sometimes hesitant to call and talk to her about any developments, or to merely vent, because they knew they were being billed hourly.

This was in direct contrast with her philosophy of having clients give her more information than not enough.

“I put it in terms of the unit that clients understand—which is on average, a four-month chunk of time—but really, it’s tied to something real in the background which is sort of the track assignment for the courts,” Cheong says.

Moore owns MyVirtual.Lawyer, a law firm run entirely online, and offers both flat-fee and subscription models as well. Whatever they choose, clients can pay upfront or make payments on a payment plan through auto-draft, so she never has to chase down an invoice.

Another way she harnesses the convenience and power of technology for a better client experience is through a client portal where most communications occur between lawyers and clients.

“They get faster responses that way,” Moore says. “They can be having some kind of crisis at midnight, and they know that there is a direct link to the attorney or staff member that they’re working with. It’s about time management.”

For lawyers looking to adopt some of these changes and find new revenue streams, there’s no substitute for staying curious. Cheong encourages attorneys always to check what’s new and what’s available, technology-wise, whether that means staying up to date with online communities or attending conferences at least once a year.

“I think there is a knee-jerk reaction for a lot of people, when their time is filled up, is to start looking into hiring people to do that work,” she says. “Your first reaction should be: how can I automate this, and how can I use technology to solve that problem before I start paying somebody 60, 80, $100,000 a year to do something that technology can probably do for maybe $1,000?”

Bennet echoes, “I tell businesses: tech before labor. Labor is a huge cost, so figure out a way to automate process technology.”

After adapting technology to automate some areas of the business to increase efficiency, lawyers can also use technology to bring in more clients. Whether that’s hosting webinars, virtual or in-person talks, or spending time interacting with people on social media, meeting people where they are can help lawyer market themselves and draw in more clients in the future.

“I think what sets you apart is you know that legal consumers are driving changes,” Moore says. “We don’t really have control so if we can meet them where they are and figure out your client, that’s what sets us apart.”

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