In this episode Jordan Furlong explains why law has become a “buyers market” and how lawyers can take advantage of the opportunities presented by that market by becoming client-centered law practices. You can read more in Jordan’s book, “Law Is a Buyer’s Market: Building A Client-First Law Firm,” available as a paperback and for Kindle.
Jordan Furlong is a leading analyst of the global legal market and forecaster of its future development. He helps law firms and legal organizations understand why the legal services environment is undergoing radical change and how to build sustainable and competitive legal enterprises that can dominate the new market for legal services.
Voiceover: Welcome to the Lawyerist podcast with Sam Glover and Aaron Street. Each week, Lawyerist brings you advice and interviews to help you build a more successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market, and now, here are Sam and Aaron.
Sam Glover: Hi, I’m Sam Glover.
Aaron Street: I’m Aaron Street, and this is episode 124 of the Lawyerist podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today, we’re talking with Jordan Furlong about his new book and why law has become a buyer’s market.
Sam Glover: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Ruby Receptionists and its smart, charming receptionists who are perfect for small firms. Visit callruby.com/lawyerist to get a risk-free trial with Ruby.
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Sam Glover: Today’s podcast is also sponsored by FreshBooks, which is ridiculously easy to use and packed with powerful features. Try it now at freshbooks.com/lawyerist and enter “lawyerist” in the How Did You Hear About Us section.
Aaron Street: Today’s episode with Jordan is about kind of how the market dynamics of the legal industry are shifting. He has a thesis in his new book about how kind of buyers or clients are taking control of the dynamics of the industry and as part of that, I think he and you advocate for lawyers and small law firms, thinking more like businesses and thinking about clients as buyers and things like that, that we’ll get into in the episode, but one of the topics that I think is interesting to talk about then is something we’ve brought up a few times in the past about kind of identifying your ideal client or crafting personas of your ideal clients that you can have a story of who you’re looking for and how to find them. A couple of weeks ago, you went on a little bit of a tangent online in a chatroom about some of the pitfalls of thinking about client personas in too narrow a way and I thought it’d be interesting to chat for a little bit about your thesis.
Sam Glover: Yeah, so I was staring at a post that I had written about client personas and how you can use them to create a picture of your ideal client that you can then build your practice around and I’ve talked about it in seminars. I’ve talked about it on the site and probably on the podcast, and I kind of want to dial it back a little bit because what I realized very quickly as I’m looking at a persona and I’m realizing that if I built a marketing campaign around this person, I would miss out on a ton of people who didn’t look like her but that would’ve been amazing clients for a firm that wanted to serve that person and I realized that personas create blinders. When you have too detailed of an idea of your ideal client, you’re putting on blinders and you’re excluding a whole bunch of other people who would also be ideal clients but aren’t that close and I guess it’s worth saying like a persona is a very specific serve design term and the idea is that you create a person. You give them a car, a laptop, a phone.
Aaron Street: Name and age.
Sam Glover: A name, a picture, cut a picture out and in doing that, every time you add a characteristic to a person, you actually exclude everyone who doesn’t share that characteristic.
Aaron Street: Yeah, and in marketing exercises, it’s often thought to be valuable as far as kind of bucketing the segments of your populations that’s you’ve got. A Susie and a Ron, and whatever and you can market to the exclusive, New York, high-income Susie and you can market to the stay at home dad, Ron who watches TV or whatever it is, but what was interesting is in the conversation that kind of spurred this a few weeks ago, you were having a discussion with someone in the design community about how his book about, thinking about personas happened to kind of randomly, only include personas who were men.
Sam Glover: Yeah.
Aaron Street: You raised the issue with him and he was like, “Yeah, man, shit. I didn’t see that. I’ll fix it.”, and then we got into.
Sam Glover: Actually, he was more like, “Yes, I noticed that. I totally agree with it, and personas are bullshit and I’m pulling it out of my next edition.”
Aaron Street: Yeah, and so that then led to a conversation about kind of the bias, inherent in personas and I think one of the traps that it’s important to not get too caught up in is in this context, bias absolutely can include things like race and gender and orientation and disability status, but the bigger point is that they can be biases having nothing to do with kind of demographic identity. It’s just a matter that the more narrowly you say you are looking for a type of person or a specific person, the more you’re going to miss people who would be a great fit for you, but don’t have the particular job or industry or educational background or skin color that you said Ron and Susie were.
Sam Glover: It’s probably worth mentioning, so that the book is Designed for Use by Lukas Mathis, and I emailed Lukas and I’m like, “Here’s what I just realized.”, and he wrote back and he was like, “Yes, I totally agree with you and I hate that chapter” but personas are so deeply embedded in the world of technology design and marketing companies that when he tried to push on this, his early review was pushed back so much, he was like, “Fine, I’ll just include it.” But I think he called it dumpster fire of a chapter that he wants to get rid of for his next edition and it’s exactly that, that when you build too detailed of a persona, a lot of those details probably aren’t relevant.
Like if your persona is a white man and it’s not the whiteness or the man-ness that is important, but a woman might have different characteristics that if you build your marketing campaign or your business around a white man, you might inadvertently put off signals or exclude somebody who is exactly perfect for you in every way but happens to be of a different type of person or they live in a different place or they use different products whatever. I guess I just think it’s important to highlight that personas can be problematic and Lukas, Lukas Mathis points out that the other problem with them is that they’re just imaginary people. If you’ve imagined the person that does not actually resemble a client, then you can build a marketing campaign and a product for that imaginary person and no real person is ever going to be interested in.
Aaron Street: Yeah, and so then, that then kind of begs the question of, “So then what?”, and I think there are probably a number of answers about alternatives to how to target users, how to find an audience, how to market without adopting formal personas. I certainly think that a component of that is figuring out what common needs and value propositions of groups of people are so that it is very easy to say that if you are a small business lawyer, that new businesses in e-commerce have different needs characteristics than existing family-owned businesses in manufacturing or whatever.
Sam Glover: Yeah.
Aaron Street: That you can group together needs and solutions there that absolutely inform marketing campaigns and how to target people without resorting to narrowly identifying the demographic details of who.
Sam Glover: Yeah, and Lukas Mathis, his point is throughout his book and now that we’ve highlighted this, it’s obvious to me that this chapter is in some ways an exception and personas are sort of an exception to the idea that know what you need to do is, if you want to represent early stage startups, go talk to people who are early stage startups, learn in great detail and as much detail as you can, what kinds of problems they have and how they go about trying to solve them. The things that they tried to do before they tried to talk to a lawyer about their problem. All that, learn as much as you can about the people who you want to have as clients and then if building a persona is a helpful shorthand for you, fine. You can make one, but it’s no substitute and it’s completely backwards to start with a persona but it’s no substitute for actually knowing and having deep knowledge about the kinds of legal solutions that you want to provide and the problems that those are solutions to, so I don’t know.
For me, where I try to think about things from a design perspective pretty often, that was kind of like a mind blown, kind of a realization and if you’re not thinking about things from a design perspective, then maybe you want to.
Aaron Street: Since lies a buyers market, oh, do you see what I did there?
Sam Glover: Yeah, and which is, I mean that, I think this is fundamental to my conversation with Jordan Furlong and now I’m going to shut up and let you listen to it because it was an awesome conversation. I think you’ll enjoy it.
Jordan Furlong: Hi, I’m Jordan Furlong. I am a legal market analyst, speaker, author, and consultant, based in Ottawa, Canada, so I think I’m your Canadian for today, and I’m really happy to be here with you today, Sam, on your Lawyerist podcast.
Sam Glover: You are one of a select group of people we’ve had on the podcast, twice.
Jordan Furlong: Oh, wow. Oh, that’s awesome. Is it like Saturday Night Live? Is it like a five-time members club that you, Paul Simon shows up and so forth?
Sam Glover: Yeah, I mean at episode 500, let’s look back and see.
Jordan Furlong: Sounds great.
Sam Glover: Tell me more about what you’re doing right now. I know that you personally went through some changes in your strategy over the last, I don’t know, maybe year and now you’re pretty focused on Law21 I think.
Jordan Furlong: That’s right, yeah. I’ve focused now pretty much fully on my Law21 business, which has a number of elements to it I guess. There’s a, the bulk of what I do, which is speaking engagements. I go speak to law firms at their retreats or legal organizations at annual conferences, state bars off and then courts and law schools, people like that and my job there is essentially to tell people what is happening to the market for legal services, what’s going to continue to happen to it and what I think this particular group should do in order to adapt and respond to all these changes. I also keep my hand in, in terms of doing some consulting and some writing. I’ve written a series of white papers and reports recently and I mean yes, the big thing for me recently is that earlier in the spring, I published a book, which is called Law Is A Buyer’s Market: Building A Client-First Law Firm, which has met, happy and very pleased to say with a very positive response in the market.
Sam Glover: You know, and I want to talk about the book for the remainder of the podcast but before we do that, I think it’s interesting. You are a bit of a legal futurist but half or better of what involves is trying to accurately describe and help people think about what is happening now.
Jordan Furlong: Oh, absolutely.
Sam Glover: I mean you can’t begin to forecast anything until you identify the trends that are shaping what you’re trying to talk about in the future.
Jordan Furlong: Yup. Well, this is it, I mean, and I will occasionally get introduced at a conference, Jordan Furlong, here is a futurist and I’ll get up on and say, “You know, I’ll quibble slightly, I think I’m a presentist because what I’m here to say is that all these things that I’m talking to you about aren’t down the road. They’re not coming down the pipe bay are here.” My interest is in number one, sort of establishing the people, look, this is, here is the reality check that you need in terms of what’s happening to the market in which you operate. I’m a futurist in so far as, if I’m giving you an accurate assessment of where we are and I certainly hope that I am, then you can use that to plot a course forward and I think every organization, whether you’re a law firm or you’re, whatever entity or organization you’re running within the legal market, you got to be cognizant of what’s going on in this environment and be able to make changes accordingly.
I’ve had these conversations with people at bar associations and non-profits and law schools to say this is not just about the lawyers. It arguably it’s about these other supporting elements of the market as much as anything else.
Sam Glover: Well, I guess I sometimes wonder, it feels like law is particularly unwilling to acknowledge the trends that are currently shaping it and lawyers, and I wonder, do you feel like that’s true or is, do I just feel like that because I am so embedded in law, the business of law and really everyone is unwilling to acknowledge the changes that are shaping their own future?
Jordan Furlong: Well, no, I think there’s definitely something to it. I mean I sort of get like a two stage process when talking to lawyers about these kinds of things. First is not so much an unwillingness, but an unawareness. It’s to say, “Oh, really? Really that’s happening? That’s going on?”, right and you can quote the stats at them and show them the trendlines and it’s like, “Oh, okay.”, so a lot of it is basically introducing new information like opening a door to a previously undisclosed room, turning on the lights and saying, “Check it out.”
Sam Glover: Well, I suppose that makes a lot of sense because most lawyers are really focused on their clients and their clients’ problems, and don’t spend a lot of time trying to think about law as an industry.
Jordan Furlong: Absolutely right. I mean I’ve had one occasion, you don’t get one liners off very often, but on one occasion, several years back, I had a lawyer criticize me say, “Yeah, well, but you don’t practice. You don’t know what it’s like down here in the trenches.”, and I said, “No, and I respect what you’re doing, but I have to tell you the view from the trenches isn’t really all that good.” What I’m trying to do is sort of stand up a little higher and say, “Here’s what’s across no man’s land.”
Sam Glover: There’s a reason why the general isn’t in the trenches.
Jordan Furlong: Yeah, exactly, good and bad reasons both.
Sam Glover: I guess I just promoted you to general.
Jordan Furlong: I’ll take it, and then there’s the second part of it, which is the unwillingness and that’s the resistance and I talk about this in the book a little bit. It’s not fair to single out lawyers specifically to say all lawyers are so ridiculously resistant to change. Everybody is resistant to change. Every organization, every individual, this is, it’s the human condition, but the way I put it is that lawyers are just uncommonly good at it because we’re very good at saying, “Oh, well. Yes, I understand, these are very important trends, but they don’t apply to my firm. They don’t apply to my practice.”, right. It’s distinguishing unwelcome precedent, right, which is something we learned to do in day one of law school so that’s really the thing. At that point, it becomes less about informing people and more about helping them get to a point where their resistance and their barriers are lowered enough that they can at least consider it. They can at least think about what they want to do and sometimes it takes a while because yeah, their resistance sometimes can be quite intense.
Sam Glover: Well, fortunately, I think the listeners of our podcast are uncommonly awoke to the changes that are shaping the world today and law practice in general and so let’s just assume that they are open to taking a real good objective hard look at law practice and so I could feel myself getting tempted to like go off on tangents and dive into the middle of the subject of your book, but let’s kind of start at the beginning. What are we even talking about? What is the buyer’s market and seller’s market and what’s that all about?
Jordan Furlong: Yeah, well, the thesis of the book is that for as long as we’ve had the environment for the purchase and sale of legal services and these can go back as far as you like, what your definitions on that. It has been a seller’s market in this sense that all of the power, all the knowledge, it’s a tremendous degree of asymmetry, favored the sellers of services, which is to say lawyers. We had pretty much exclusive access to the knowledge, the information, the portals into dispute resolution and legal recognition, the keys to the kingdom, right. We have that and nobody else did. Our clients and our would-be clients certainly didn’t have it, very low levels of general legal information, not just amongst consumer clients, but also even at the corporate level. Then also we had and still continue to have at least the United States and Canada, a pretty much near absolute exclusivity over the market and people will say, I’ll call it a monopoly.
People say, “Well, it’s not a monopoly because look at all these, there’s hundreds of thousands of lawyers. How can it be a monopoly?”, and so yeah, but it’s a hundreds of thousands of lawyers who are all doing the same thing and all are doing it the same way and all, there’s no competition in terms of, what if I want to get my legal services in a different way or under different circumstances or in different conditions and that option has not been available. You put all these elements together and that’s seller’s market, one of which the buyers have very little real influence, very little real power. They have to more or less take whatever the sellers of services are going to give them and that has begun to change. I think you can stretch the change process back about 10 or 15 years, but obviously, since the financial crisis that has accelerated considerably.
Sam Glover: You think it was changing anyway?
Jordan Furlong: I think it was changing anyway. We were talking about it. We’re writing about it for some point before this and a fair of it. I mean you can go back, you can find articles in the 1980s, in the 1990s saying, “The billable hour must die.”, right, and we’ve been chattering about it for ages and you began to see around the turn of the millennium a few shifts, but it wasn’t until financial crisis. I think everybody seems to, just trace the fact to that and I think that’s fair, that we began to see a whole bunch of trendlines converge. One is that of course, tremendous economic pressure on the consumers of legal services of all kinds and this, I think especially for solo and small firm lawyers who serve the consumer market.
This became very evident, but even for corporate law firms that were told by their in-house counsel, “We just don’t have the money to spend on you.”, right. “It’s not going to happen. My budget’s been frozen. It’s been cut back.” My staff have been whatever, but around the same time, we began to guess a growing series of options available to purchasers of legal services and you had this in terms of what I would call substitute for lawyers. You’re having technology coming along, which could too and this is very much the case year over year in an increasing fashion, technology.
Sam Glover: Let me stop you for a second and because, as soon as you say substitutes for lawyers, I can feel an entire industry of bristling hairs.
Jordan Furlong: Yeah, yeah.
Sam Glover: Say more about that. You explained it well in your book, but I want you to take a moment to explain.
Jordan Furlong: Sure.
Sam Glover: When you talk about substitutes, what do you mean?
Jordan Furlong: Yeah, absolutely and this is a very loaded term and I should emphasize, I’m using it here in a very kind of in a value-neutral sense. In economic terms, a substitute is any product or service that so closely resembles another product or service in terms of its cost and its outcomes and its procedures that it is really immaterial whether you use one or the other and in the book, I used the example of McDonald’s and Burger King. If you consider them to be completely interchangeable and I think you should, then if you want fast food and the closest is Burger King, it’s like across town or they’ve just jacked up the price of a Whopper, you’ll go to McDonald’s because it’s all the same to you, right. Now that’s a perfect substitute. There are no perfect substitutes for lawyers. I am seriously doubtful there ever will be. I see no reason why anybody would want to develop one, right and so what I’m trying to say, if you could develop a perfect substitute for a lawyer, you’d have a lawyer. We’ve already got those, right. That’s not really necessary but.
Sam Glover: Well, maybe what you want, maybe ultimately you don’t want a Big Mac. Maybe what you want is a salad and there’s a fast food salad place across the street that will give you a healthier, cheaper or maybe well not cheaper option that you’re equally happy with.
Jordan Furlong: Exactly, because and that’s a great way of putting it, Sam, because it comes back to the outcome. What is the outcome you want as a consumer? I want to get fed, right. I want, it’s lunchtime, I’m hungry. I want to get some food in my stomach. Oh, there’s options other than McDonald’s, Burger King and whatever, awesome, right. I talk about in the book is that there are partial substitutes, which is to say products or services or people that can provide some aspect of what lawyers do to a level or a degree that is again, effectively indistinguishable from how a lawyer does it, such that if the lawyer is a more expensive option and lawyers always a more expensive option, that’s a general rule. Then you will use a substitute, right and that’s where we get into.
Sam Glover: In other words, the client is happy at the end either way.
Jordan Furlong: Yeah, absolutely, right, because again it’s about the outcome, right. What’s the result? Electronic discovery is a perfect example of that. We only ever had lawyers to do discovery of any kind and all of us who at one point, labored in those small rooms with the boxes full of documents, remember discovery very well and here comes electronic discovery, which is that race to a power of hunger, but now here comes software and it’s tons of software applications and programs that can do electronic discovery faster and cheaper and increasingly better than lawyers do it, right. That is, so that’s zooming past substituting the full-scale replacement. This is simply.
Sam Glover: Yeah, an improvement in that case.
Jordan Furlong: Yeah, yeah, exactly, but again, we’re seeing these popping up all over the market. We’re seeing little, one item and the way I described it in the book is that if you’re a lawyer, you’ve got 60 billable hours a week, whatever. I’m making up a number, and along comes a software program and it can do something that you can do.
Sam Glover: I don’t know, maybe we’ll call it legal zone.
Jordan Furlong: Exactly, just picking it at random, right, and I’ll give you some thoughts on that in a moment.
Sam Glover: Yeah.
Jordan Furlong: It comes along and what takes you an hour to do, it can do in a few minutes and it does it just as well and that’s not a stretch. There’s a lot of products on the market that can do that right now in the contract area alone, in terms of drafting, reviewing, analysis and so forth, right. What it means is as a lawyer, you are not competitive to that particular substitute, to that particular entry into the market. You’re not going to be able to offer your services at the rates or in the manner that you’ve done in the past. In practical terms, that hour is gone. Now you’re down to 59, right. Well, okay. Well, 59 is not fatal. 59 still looks pretty good, right, but then here comes something else to take away two hours and something else to take one and a half, and after a while, you just find that your inventory is getting dismantled piece by piece.
One of the things that I say to lawyers and I’ve written this in a couple of columns for Lawyerist is you got to take a good hard look at your inventory as a lawyer, especially a lawyer serving consumers and small businesses and say, “What precisely am I selling? What precisely are people buying from me and who else or what else is out there also offering the same thing, at least even in the ballpark of how I do it?”, because that is the competition you’re up against. That is a partial substitute for you. It’s a substitute for that one small aspect of what you do, but it’s not just one or two of these, it’s an army of them and that’s what we’re up against as lawyers right now.
Sam Glover: We need to take a short break to hear from our sponsors and when we come back, I want to raise a new vocabulary word that I learned from your book. A couple of words, credence goods, and so when we come back, I want to talk about credence goods. We’ll be back in a minute.
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Okay, Jordan. I teased the idea of [inaudible] good and this was a term that I learned from your book and I love it because it encapsulates this idea that clients are too dumb to understand whether or not they’ve gotten good legal services, which is like law practices are very paternalistic thing, right. Our ethics rule say you give the client what they need whether or not it’s what they want. We consider that to be our duty and we are selling, we say services that the client cannot properly evaluate on their own. They have to trust us and I think that’s what a credence good is, is you have to trust me that I’m going to give you the right thing and I’m going to charge you an enormous amount of money in order to do that.
Jordan Furlong: Yeah. I think that really, that expresses a lot of it. I mean I would [inaudible] my salesperson say the client’s too dumb to understand it, but it may be that the client doesn’t have reference points or the easy capacity to assess the value. I mean a credence good is something again, in economics terms, it’s a good or a service for which you as the buyer, you don’t really have the way to assess its value even after it’s been delivered, and like the classic example in the legal context is a last will. Regardless, no matter what happens, you as a buyer, you will never know if it was any good, right. Your heirs.
Sam Glover: Your heirs will.
Jordan Furlong: Yeah, your heirs will, will it for better or for worse, right, but even.
Sam Glover: Chances are the lawyers going to die before the client anyways so they won’t be able to make any intelligent decisions on that basis.
Jordan Furlong: Well, I suppose that’s true. That’s legal malpractice, but even on a more basic level, if you want to immigrate to another country and you received all the advice you want and you get there and you get to the border and you’re turned back because, “Oh, okay, well, now I know. It’s no good to me, right.”
Sam Glover: Sure.
Jordan Furlong: That’s part of the risk of legal services. A lot of the times, you don’t know if what you’ve got is any good until the rubber hits the road, until you’re in a position to actually deliver on it.
Sam Glover: You pointed out that, that’s actually only true for some things, like you’ve just identified two really good things where you can’t really tell until you get to somewhere further beyond the representation, but it’s really easy to figure out if a document review was accurate or not. It’s really easy to figure out whether some other legal services were accurate or not. If you get a lawyer to draft a contract, you’re going to find out very quickly whether or not it was a good contract or not in some cases.
Jordan Furlong: Yup.
Sam Glover: It just depends on the thing and so I think your point was that first of all, that only applies to some legal representation and legal issues, not all of them.
Jordan Furlong: Yup, I think that’s true and what it really comes down to and this goes back to the whole thing and you alluded to this, the gap between lawyers and clients. The historic gap, which in the past has been canyon-esque as I’m fond of saying, this is where the courts developed the idea of fiduciary duty because as there were such dependence on the part of the client on the service provider because the client doesn’t know and the client can’t be expected to know whether or not they’re being treated fairly or properly or what have you to getting good, you’re getting good services, and I don’t think that gap will ever close entirely but we are seeing the purchasers of legal services becoming more knowledgeable and more sophisticated, there is.
Sam Glover: They have options.
Jordan Furlong: Yeah, they have options. This is the thing, they have knowledge, they have options, the field thing from the detective stories, means, the motive and opportunity, right. They have knowledge they didn’t have before, as I’m fond of saying, there is more accurate legal knowledge available now to the world than there has ever been and it’s entirely down to lawyers and law firms producing this information, blog posts and newsletters.
Sam Glover: You can accurately argue that a lot of the information that people have about is irrelevant, but nevertheless, they have it and they’re going to act on it.
Jordan Furlong: Yeah, absolutely and the thing with this, they have access not only to primary and secondary sources of legal information, but I think more importantly, they increasingly have access to legal experience, right. I can go onto LinkedIn, I can go onto Facebook and I can say, “There’s this lawyer I want to use. Has anybody used him or her before? What’s been your experience?” This is what really, fundamentally, this is the gap that identified in the market. People want to know, what is it like to use this, stick in a lawyer. Am I going to get good service? Am I going to get accurate quality? Whatever the case might be. It’s one of the reasons why I keep saying if there’s one elephant waiting outside the room or one camel waiting outside the tent, it’s Amazon, right, because Amazon at the end of the day for me, it’s important not so much because it is the world’s department store, which it is. It’s also the world’s rating service, right, and you know.
Sam Glover: For literally, almost everything.
Jordan Furlong: For literally almost everything. If Amazon ever decides we’re going to get into lawyer ratings, look out.
Sam Glover: Yeah.
Jordan Furlong: That’s fine, so again, you can rely now on, and this is again down to a lot of the collaborative software we have because of the internet, but now people have information and knowledge so, it’s for ages. You and I go into a car dealership and I walk in and I can say to the salesperson, I know exactly what I want. I know what the manufacture sets their prices. I know what A, B, C and D, let’s do the transaction, right, whereas that wasn’t possible about 25 years ago. We are increasingly getting to the point, we’re not there yet, but we are heading in the direction where people are going to come to see lawyers with that level or something approaching that level of self awareness, self knowledge of their own situation. I call it self navigation, being able to make, go down some distance towards your own legal solution on your own, accurately and safely.
Sam Glover: Which many people are doing whether or not we want to acknowledge it.
Jordan Furlong: Oh, yeah.
Sam Glover: I mean Aaron and I have talked about this a little bit before that. We talked about an access to justice gap, but what people are usually talking about is an access to lawyers gap because there is actually no gap in the number of people who have their legal problems solved.
Jordan Furlong: Yes.
Sam Glover: 100% of legal problems get solved one way or another.
Jordan Furlong: Yup.
Sam Glover: Maybe not in a just way, but they get solved. People do it themselves. They end up in jail. They end up losing money, whatever. They get solved one way or another and so self navigation is, we maybe even should consider that the rule, not the exception.
Jordan Furlong: Honestly, I think so and I remember reading a post, in fact this maybe even before I began blogging. I may have written this as a magazine editorial. I said there are courts and at the time, there’s only a few, but now I think it’s standard. There are family law courts in Canada and the US where the majority of litigants are self represented, and now I think that’s overwhelmingly the rule at pretty much everywhere. At the time I said, what has happened is we’re in a middle of a default switch. The default setting is if you go to court, you go with a lawyer, right, and it’s unusual to be self represented. We are now, right now, we’ve passed that Rubicon. We’re over that hill. It is now unusual to be represented by a lawyer in family court, and we’re going to start seeing more of that in a whole bunch of areas and when people’s default expectations, their assumptions get changed. That’s game changing for our markets. We didn’t realize it as lawyers. We didn’t realize how powerful it was that people assumed you needed a lawyer to do something.
Sam Glover: Yeah.
Jordan Furlong: When they stopped assuming that, rightly or wrongly, I’m not saying it’s a good idea, but when they stop assuming that you need a lawyer to do stuff, then your whole world changes and that’s where we are as lawyers right now. The assumptions that clients and would be clients have been making about the legal system and about lawyers for decades and decades, those assumptions are falling away right now.
Sam Glover: Let that sink in for a second. Now that lawyers have to prove their value, it’s essentially what you’re saying. It is now, it isn’t just a buyer’s market in the sense that people can make intelligent decisions between legal options. They’re making decisions whether or not to even hire a lawyer in the first place.
Jordan Furlong: Yup.
Sam Glover: How should a firm approach that market especially the small business, consumer market that most small firms and solos are faced with?
Jordan Furlong: I think it would start with a couple of realizations. The first is to lose any semblance of the belief that our clients need us or even want us, right. There’s an assumption that borders, if it doesn’t actually cross over the border and setup shop to arrogance, that we are just so essential. The thing, it drives me nuts, I get this every so often, lawyers says, “Oh, sure, people can go off and deal with their own thing on their own. You can hire the legals in et cetera, but when that all falls apart, you’ll come back to me.”, and one lawyer actually says this to me, “Ka-ching, more money in my pocket down the road.”
Sam Glover: I’ve heard that more than once, yeah.
Jordan Furlong: Oh, you know and I just want to, what I want to do is separate, but what I want to say to that person, that is incredibly, it is unprofessional. It’s immature. It’s unhelpful and it’s unbecoming of a lawyer to talk that way, but setting all that aside. The larger issue that you’re up against in that situation is your, the markets that you want to serve doesn’t necessarily have any interest in you, right, and is not obliged to go to you anymore. I mean even just literally today, I was looking over a post I wrote and someone commented on it and said, “Well, the key is education. We have to educate clients about our value.” It’s like if you have to educate people about the value of the services, then you’re already, you’ve already lost.
Sam Glover: Yeah.
Jordan Furlong: You’ve already lost the competition.
Sam Glover: That’s true, but that’s not the strategy.
Jordan Furlong: No, absolutely. Well, and to the extent there’s any value, they have been pushing bar associations to do this for years. I said, “You want to do something for your lawyers, build a publicity campaign around how a lawyer produces value because your individual members can’t do this.”, but at the end of the day, it really is about, it’s understanding where your clients are coming from, what are they looking for, what do they need? The second thing is you kind of realize is, not only do our clients, would be clients, feel no particular inclination to deal with us, a lot of times, they don’t even know that what they’re dealing with is a legal problem, right?
Sam Glover: Yeah.
Jordan Furlong: This is a work that, Rebecca Sandefur at University of, I want to say Illinois, Champaign Urbana, has really been ground breaking in the very—
Sam Glover: Yeah, totally. That was an amazing study that she did.
Jordan Furlong: Yeah, it is and folks, if you haven’t seen it, look it up because what is basically established is, we talk about the access to justice gap and unmet legal needs, but there is a huge category of simply unrecognized, unrealized legal needs. People are suffering through something and they don’t realize, A, it’s actually a legal issue and B, there’s actually a legal remedy.
Sam Glover: Yeah.
Jordan Furlong: You want to educate people on something, educate them on that, right. Educate them on, if you’re going through this, there are solutions and remedies available to you, right.
Sam Glover: Well, and the other piece of that and I don’t want to dwell too much on it, but the other piece of that, which is one of my soapbox is that cost is one of the minor reasons why people decide not to seek legal help.
Jordan Furlong: Yeah.
Sam Glover: I think cost is an important thing in the way people make decisions, but it is not the primary mover when it comes to why people don’t hire lawyers.
Jordan Furlong: Yeah, no, absolutely. It’s in the mix, but it does not, I mean and to the extent it’s in the mix as often as not, it isn’t even the quantum necessarily, it’s the unpredictability. It’s the fact that I don’t know when your meter starts, right, so again, so took it back to the question that you actually asked.
Sam Glover: Yeah, what do we do?
Jordan Furlong: What do you actually do as lawyers? It’s a larger advice of course, it’s like several chapters in the book, but when it comes.
Sam Glover: Well, I’ll tell you one thing that I think about is like, the problem with the sellers market isn’t, I mean yeah, it’s great. There’s basically just money for the asking, but the problem is this traditional legal model of one lawyer, one client, I bill by the hour, that’s a boring way to make a living.
Jordan Furlong: Yeah.
Sam Glover: Honestly, and it turns out to be a hard way to make a really hard way, really challenging emotionally, financially, whatever. It’s a hard way to make a decent living. Some lawyers are successful but lots of lawyers just toil away and they just make a middle class income off of that kind of work.
Jordan Furlong: Yeah, and at the heart of these practices of struggle like that is, again as you allude to, this sense that whatever comes my way, I as a lawyer need to do. This is about the lawyer’s services. The first thing I say to law firms is stop thinking of yourself as a law firm. Think of yourself as a legal solutions firm because that’s what people are coming to you for. No one’s coming to you to buy the law. No one’s coming to you to buy your time or your hours or your expertise. They could not care less about any of these things. They have a problem. They want a solution and they want the easiest, simplest, shortest, most convenient accessible way to get there.
Sam Glover: Which is either going to produce one of two reactions in people, right? Oh my God, that’s not what we do. This is what lawyers do, or the other is wow, that opens up a whole new playing field of possible ways to serve clients, including ways that have never been done before, new client service models. I can innovate. I can be an entrepreneur. I don’t just have to sit in a chair behind a shingle and do things the way everybody else is doing. I think that’s super inspiring and exciting and I think the change to a buyer’s market actually kind of frees lawyers to be more creative and have more interesting professional lives.
Jordan Furlong: I think it’s exactly right and it brings back the very old poem, two men looked through prison bars. One saw mud, the other stars. It’s how are you going to deal with the challenge, the situation, and somewhere, anytime there’s a challenge, there’s usually somewhere in the vicinity an opportunity as well. I think as a provider of legal services, whether you’re a solo practice or [inaudible] running a firm, whatever the case might be. If you’re offering legal services, then reorient everything you do around what is it that people are coming to me looking for? What do they want? What do they need? What are they asking about? A lot of the times, they don’t even necessarily know. They might come to you saying, “I want A.”, and if you sit down and listen to them closely and attentively, it’s like, “Actually, what I think you need here is a little bit of A but a whole lot of B and in six months’ time, you’re going to need some C.”
A lot of that is intelligent listening but it’s also being able to analyze where the client situation is at and what they need.
Sam Glover: Thinking beyond legal problems to problem problems.
Jordan Furlong: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s a listening part. I mean I’m convinced, I don’t have any stats, I don’t think there are any stats on this. It’s possible, but I am sure that a huge majority, a huge number of lawyer client relationships go right off the rails at the first meeting, at the initial retainer when the client comes in and starts talking about what they want and at some point, the lawyer’s going to interrupt them and I saw a study once that said the amount of time between when the client starts speaking and a lawyer interrupts them is at seven seconds, which I can totally believe, right?
Sam Glover: Yes.
Jordan Furlong: At some point, the lawyer’s going to say, “Oh okay, well here are the issues A, B, C, D.”, and they didn’t ask right, and they’re going to list all the legal things you’re going to do this, you’re going to do that, and the client’s like, “I haven’t finished telling you my story yet. I haven’t finished telling you how upset I am that this has happened to me or how unfair.” It’s like let them talk, let them vent. They’re looking for someone to listen to them and to pay attention to them and care about them. I think consistently, the best lawyers, the most successful lawyers I know fit that description exactly. A lot of them are listening to this podcast right now saying, “Yeah, that’s what I’m doing. That’s why I make the difference.”
Sam Glover: Let’s be clear. Any computer in the world that can be programmed to not interrupt someone for seven and a half seconds.
Jordan Furlong: Yes, absolutely. It’s not that hard, right? We’re given two ears and one mouth for a reason. Again, in terms of what you then do as a law firm, let’s say okay I get it. I am a legal solutions firm. How is it different from what I do right now? Then I think you start looking around and saying, “What are the best tools available to me by which I can provide solutions?” That doesn’t mean or doesn’t necessarily mean what’s the artificially intelligent whatever robot that I can deploy in this case. A lot of times there’s yeah, sometimes there’s a software program that can generate, say the agreements you need a whole lot faster and a whole lot more efficiently and effectively than you can. I think you should use it. Here’s the test. If you were the client and you knew this was available and you knew it worked, would you want the lawyer to use it? If the answer is yes, and invariably, the answer is yes, go ahead and do that, right?
Sam Glover: Although I will say and I absolutely but, nothing about being innovative requires you to adopt technology tools. Conduit Law is one of the most innovative firms on the planet and the most advanced technology tool they use was email as far as I was able to tell when I talked to Peter before they got picked by Deloitte.
Jordan Furlong: Yeah, exactly.
Sam Glover: They had an innovative business model but it wasn’t like everybody was walking around with their own personal AI.
Jordan Furlong: No, absolutely, and this opens up the second very important part of it, it’s the operations. How are you actually creating and delivering the services that you’ve got? It could be something as simple as process improvement and running your business more, not just more efficiently, not just more streamlined fashion but with fewer errors, the whole lean law thing is basically about that. How do we reduce waste? How do we reduce elimination and errors and redundancies and all these things? Find ways in which you can do that. There’s tons of information about that and anybody can, any law firm, any practice of any size can benefit from that. It comes down to I am running a business, yes, it is a professional business and we have professional ethical standards. I get all of that but we are running a business and there is not a business in the world that gets to be bloated and inefficient and to take its own sweet time doing it whatever way it feels like.
Sam Glover: Except for law firms.
Jordan Furlong: Except for law firms.
Sam Glover: 10 or 15 years ago.
Jordan Furlong: That period is done. I am absolutely convinced of that. That period is over. We are now in a period where we must be responsive. We have to be prompt. We have to be quick but we mostly have to be as attentive to what people are looking for and zeroing in as quickly as possible on a solution and delivering them that solution in ways that make sense to them. That’s what being a lawyer is going to be about from now on.
Sam Glover: I guess maybe by way of moving towards a conclusion here, I think that one of the things that you’re hinting at here is that lawyers need to be willing to engage with ideas that they haven’t traditionally engaged with.
Jordan Furlong: Yes.
Sam Glover: Because ordinarily, you go to a bar meeting or a solo and small firm conference, whatever and you say, “You know, I’ve been thinking about, I’ve been thinking about doing flat fees.”, and usually what happens is 9 out of the 10 people that you’re talking with will tell you that they tried it and it failed and it’s a terrible idea and it goes against their client’s interests. If you’re lucky, there’s another person there who has tried it and maybe is even billing flat fees and then you can have maybe a drink with them later and have a productive conversation but that automatic defensiveness that that’s not how we do it, it won’t work, is one of the most toxic things that I see and it doesn’t mean that you have to adopt everything but I feel like a willingness to engage with new ideas or even just other ideas is probably the one biggest most important thing that lawyers can do and learn how to test those ideas, bounce them off of people who will listen and engage with them too. If you do those things, you can start building a firm around legal solution, not just churning out hours.
Jordan Furlong: I think it’s absolutely right and I think the willingness you spoke of, that’s the on/off switch right there, for whether a lawyer is going to be, whether a lawyer’s going to pursue this or not. It is not that lawyers can’t understand this. Every lawyer I meet is intelligent. Every lawyer I meet is hardworking. That goes without saying. It entirely comes down to whether or not the lawyer is willing to ask himself or herself a basic question. If I wasn’t already doing things the way I’m doing them, is this how I would start doing it? Just because I’ve always done it this way, do I have to keep on doing it? A lot of lawyers don’t ask themselves that question. They resist asking that question. They don’t want to. That’s honestly, Sam, that’s what it comes down to. I cannot think of any lawyer who’s come up to me after a presentation and said, “I don’t understand what you’re talking about. This doesn’t make any, it doesn’t compute.”
They understand it completely but when they come up to me, and it’s half and half. Half have come up and say, “Wow, that was awesome. I’m going to go do this. We’re already trying this and it’s great” and half have come up and they start giving me all the reasons why it’s not going to work and why they don’t want to do it. I was like, “Don’t do it.” Seriously, if you don’t want to do this, don’t. If you don’t want to believe this, because people believe what they want to believe. If you don’t want to believe that’s what’s happening to the market, if you don’t want to believe this is the way of the future, you don’t have to. You’re a grown up. Do what you feel like, but it’s the ones who are interested, the ones who at least say, “Maybe I should honestly consider it”—just doing that alone puts you in the tiny minority of lawyers who are going to be in a position to lead the market into the era in which it’s now heading very fast.
Sam Glover: We have barely touched on the smallest portion of Jordan’s book, Law is a Buyer’s Market. I’ve had a review copy and I’m mostly way through it and it is a really good informative book. If you are wondering about the future of your own practice, if you’re experiencing some of the changes, if you’re curious about what, to learn more about what we’ve talked about, go and get it. It is a nuanced, intelligent well researched introduction, really comprehensive treatment of this whole concept that we’ve been talking about, the shape of the legal market has been shifting.
For big firm lawyers, especially managers, it’s a no-brainer. Partners, managers, whatever get this. For small firm lawyers, you’re going to find a lot in it too. I know at the beginning of the book, Jordan, in the introduction, you say, “Big firm lawyers are going to get more out of it.”, but honestly, most of the book really goes across the size spectrum and I think apart from things like where you talk about the thread of the Big Four accounting firms, that’s obviously not something small firms have to worry much about but apart from those pieces, I think lawyers at firms of all sizes will get a ton out of this.
Jordan Furlong: Well, thank you very much.
Sam Glover: Go and get the book. I’ll put the link in the show notes. I think it’s really worth your time. If you’ve been listening to us and I’m going to put in my own plug here because if you’ve been listening to us and you’re like, “Yes, yes, yes, I get that. I’m trying to do that.”, you really should consider applying for an invitation to the small conference that we have been doing. We’re scheduling our third one in August, the application period is open right now. If you are listening to this and it is resonating with you and you’re hearing a kindred spirit in Jordan Furlong, then we probably need to have you at TBD Law at some point. Go to our website, lawyers.com/tbdlaw. TBD as in to be determined, and fill out the application. We’d love to hear from you. Jordan, thank you so much for being with us today. I am resisting the impulse to just keep kicking out with you for another hour and a half but I really appreciate you being on the podcast today.
Jordan Furlong: It’s been my pleasure, Sam. Thank you very much.
Aaron Street: Make sure to catch next week’s episode of the Lawyerist podcast. If you’d like more information about today’s show, please visit lawyerist.com/podcast or legaltalknetwork.com. You can subscribe via iTunes or anywhere podcast are found. Both Lawyerist and the Legal Talk Network can be found on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and you can download the free app from Legal Talk Network in Google Play or iTunes.
Sam Glover: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network. Nothing said during this podcast is legal advice.