What can law firms learn from Amazon?

At the Legal Geek Uncertain Decade Summit  that was held virtually in the end of April, key note speakers Richard Susskind and Mark Cohen discussed law firm innovation and where they are missing the mark on innovation for their clients. As Richard Susskind put it, many law firms have overpromised and underdelivered. Lawyers have spoken a lot about innovation, but in very vague terms; for some law firms innovation seems to be about process improvement, whereas for others it seems to be mostly about marketing.

Mark Cohen therefore suggested that legal professionals could learn a great deal from Amazon and how it excels with data, when it comes to innovation based on true client knowledge. “You need to know your customers better than yourself in order to delight them,” which, as Mark explained, meant that you must be measuring everything and that you must find ways to understand how the client feels during your engagements. How many law firms can anticipate how the client may feel through each step of a complete matter process, similar to the way Amazon knows what their customers want, and how and when and why they decide buy something?

Not many probably. Or as Mark Cohen summarized the innovation situation on the legal market: “We are at the foothills now, and our clients are scaling for the mountain.”

Richard Susskind added that most law firms are lagging behind where they should be transforming themselves through innovation, and that the clock is ticking with the increased competition from alternative legal services providers and the Big Four consulting companies. “Don’t wait to change your model when you get pressure to do so by your competition,” he warned. “It will be too late.”

When it comes to innovation though, some law firms are already what Richard Susskind called “second-generation firms” that have baked innovation into their planning, and are not simply looking for quick-wins. The features separating these second-generation law firms on innovation are inter alia that they focus on reinventing their business models rather than just improving their current processes, they are not just satisfied with winning a pitch bur are thinking about stealing the whole business form their competition, and they have a majority of partners buying in and not just intellectually but also so emotionally that they see it as the lifeblood of the organization. For all ten features and more in depth explanations, please see the collection in Legal Geek’s summary for Legal Executive Institute “Amazon law & innovation take center stage at Legal Geek’s Uncertain Decade summit”.

These days, when there are so many self-proclaimed experts within legal tech, it is deeply appreciated to get true insights from persons with real expertise within the field, like Mark Cohen and Richard Susskind. Mark Cohen co-founded the first law company Clearspire already in 2008, which received tremendous interest in the global media. Everyone seemed to applaud the initiative. Everyone except the clients sadly. Due to the disappointing financial result, Clearspire closed their business in 2014.

One of Mark Cohen’s comments about this failure was this insightful one: “We did not give the market what it wanted from us and became slaves to the elegance of our vision. This is a cautionary tale for entrepreneurs and established businesses alike: listen to the marketplace.” (Please see “The Clearspire Story”.)

There are some great wisdoms to be found here. Instead of focusing on appreciations within the legal tech industry, much more focus ought to be put on your customers/clients; focus on finding ways to understand your clients and their needs. Just like Mark Cohen and Richard Susskind pointed out in their seminar at Legal Geek Uncertain Decade Summit. That is the true recipe for success!