There are a number of change agents in the legal industry. What is a change agent? A change agent is someone who transforms their company and industry by focusing on improvements and innovation. This individual focuses on people and customers and improves things for the better.
I meet with over 100 lawyers per year, usually over coffee. Every time I see an interesting article, like a lawyer that opens in a Walmart or another lawyer that opened a law firm cafe. When I read about change agents like Lena Koke and Dale Barrett, I want to hear their story. What inspires a lawyer to want to work in a Walmart? Why would a lawyer want to serve coffee?
Most Law Firm’s Don’t Have Customer Service
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Unfortunately, law firms are traditionally terribly run businesses and that’s why the sector is ripe for disruption. Change agents can be a disruptor if they use business models to outsmart archaic partnership structures that haven’t changed in 200 years.
The legal industry was created by a roman emperor called Claudius, who ruled from AD 41 to 54. Before this, dealing with an issue or dispute on behalf of someone else was illegal. Claudius turned dealing with issues into a profession. It was not until the 1850s that universities started to offer law school, which paved the way for consistent education among lawyers.
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The Legal Industry Needs To Change
Between 1850-1970, the law industry did not seem to change much. Lawyers mostly worked as individuals, for fear of legal advice being influenced by having a partner. Lawyers would not market their practice as all business was to come from word of mouth. Marketing was seen as not classy, which some lawyers still believe in 2019. Lawyers would not have law firm brands, as the prestige was in their last name.
In the 70’s, some lawyers quickly released that economies of scale could be achieved by lawyers teaming up. Lawyers could share office space, a receptionist, and offices supplies. Certain law firms started operating under brand names, such as Denton’s and CMS (EEIG). Come 2019 and there are brands that don’t even include a name. Examples of these are Axess Law, ClearWay Law, and Lawyers & Lattes.
Axess Law is unique in that they opened in 13 Walmart’s. The theory behind this was that clients that need simple legal advice (wills and real estate closings) do not want to book an appointment at an intimidating law firm and drive across town. Instead, before they start their shopping at Walmart, they can quickly see the lawyer, make the payment, and receive the will once it’s ready. The main idea behind Axess Law is that it leverages technology and situates its offices in convenient locations so that clients who might otherwise find it difficult to find a convenient, affordable lawyer, can easily find one and make use of their services.
Result: one more access to justice problem solved in a creative way.
As Lena Koke, CEO of Axess Law says, “We’ve found solutions for so many of life’s problems. In comparison, these access to justice issues are not overly complex – we simply need the will (no pun intended!), drive and a little bit of creativity.”
Lawyers & Lattes
Lawyers & Lattes also aims to try and get around the formality of seeing a lawyer. I have been to their store and was surprised to see some people drinking coffee without speaking to a lawyer at all. My first concern was privacy. How can a client talk about tax issues in a public space? But they need is have the cafe up front, and a consultation room in the back. As such, the business is more of a cafe up front, and a law firm in the back.
Change Agents In The Legal Industry
One thing I noticed in speaking to Dale and Lena were that they share common traits. They shared a clear vision (access to justice), they were willing to deal with criticism from “old school lawyers,” they had a lot of experience as lawyers prior to innovating the industry, and they were social. This last trait is especially important if you want to run a law firm cafe.
Some lawyers are starting to get more creative with branding and technology. There is a massive opportunity for disruption in the legal industry. And 2019 is the right year to update this old industry.