A. The lawyers are not asking for it and, without a roadmap to ensure success, the legal marketing function is not incentivized to pave the way.

I recently presented on the productization of legal services and subscription-based offerings in the B2B legal space at the Legal Marketing Association’s annual conference. See Post 037 (noting large structural difference between B2C and B2B legal sectors). The conference and the session were, from a NewLaw perspective, underwhelming.

In this column, I will provide context and then share my learnings from this experience.

 Q: What is the productization of legal services?

A: “In a professional services firm, a product is created when some aspect of a service is automated, infused with analytics, and monetized differently.” Mohanbir Sawhney, “Putting Products into Services,” Harv Bus Rev (Sept 2016).

The key feature of productization is scale. In a traditional law firm, you have leverage—partners leverage associates to deliver more services—but not scale. Productization is attractive because it allows you to scale scarce legal expertise. See, e.g., Post 248 (discussing technology as a new form of leverages that “scales” much better than people).  On-demand digital legal training is a low-hanging fruit example. For a deep dive on productization, see Gabriel Teninbaum, Productizing Legal Work: Providing Legal Expertise at Scale (2021).

Q: How was the productization of legal services introduced and positioned at the recent Legal Marketing Association annual conference?

The theme of the conference was to “Stretch Beyond, Together” and the conference organizers invited Richard and Daniel Susskind to keynote and the Big 4 and Law Company speakers with the stated objective to stretch the thinking of legal marketers.

An overview of Richard Susskind’s keynote for context:

Richard led with the classic B-school example of a company like Black & Decker focusing on selling a nice hole in the wall, with the method of achieving it as secondary. Don’t Sell Drills, Sell Holes | Inc.com. The point being to focus on outcomes, not inputs. With many law firm marketing functions still measuring value through support activity (ex. # of legal alerts) versus the benefit delivered, this focus on mindset and outcomes was fitting.

He then went into the drivers of change.

  1. The more for less dynamic, boiling responsive solutions down to labor arbitrage, process, and technology.
  2. The resulting market change with Big 4, legal tech startups, and law companies each trying to do in law what Amazon did the traditional bookseller. He emphasized that: “The competition that beats you doesn’t look like you.”
  3. And lastly, our increasingly capable systems – the technology itself.

Richard discussed the move from automation—grafting tech onto traditional ways of working — to innovation—using technology not to sustain/support old ways of working but to work in entirely different ways. See Post 283 (example of a technology-enabled process in litigation context that solves a business problem for the C-suite). And highlighted that technology will change the client experience, with new interactions through technology and new business models to deliver services (solutions?).

At the close, Richard charged the legal marketing community with the responsibility to:

  • be the jungle guides for law firms on these changes, and
  • actively build the systems to change the legal market.

Yes! Legal marketing functions already consider the client experience and should be doing everything they can to understand and build how that experience will be increasingly digital.

But, alas, no.

The following fishbowl session meant to capture the energy from the keynote and funnel it into peer conversations was poorly attended. A senior conference organizer sighed to me: “They just don’t get it.”

Why? I began asking questions. Here’s what I learned.

Q: Why are most law firm marketing professionals “ho-hum” on the productization of legal services?

There are several reasons.

Secondary trauma. In response to my question about productization, one CMO jumped and exclaimed that it was going to put her out of a job. Why? Because that’s what she had heard from the lawyers in her firm.

In that firm, productization equates to commoditization which equates to the disruption of fiefdoms and lawyer exceptionalism. See Post 283 (on how legal runs on a scarcity mindset and must evolve to an abundance mindset to stay relevant). Instead of flipping the script and showing how productization can equal an enhanced client experience, this group of legal marketers has adopted the stress and associated myopic view of a lawyer who fears tech.

Some legal marketing professionals reported that their firms saw the promise of productization and were excited about it, but just didn’t know where to start. This category was the exception, not the rule.

Fixed Role Mindset. In Corporate America, the marketeers are often integral to setting company strategy, as they are out in the marketplace and see the opportunity. But not so in law.

Instead, legal marketers market and predominantly view themselves as support to lawyers in marketing existing services through business development efforts.  They don’t build the offerings and, from what I heard at the conference, they don’t want to build them.

I don’t blame them—building is hard, especially with lawyers. What surprised me, though, is that there also didn’t seem to be an understanding or appetite to leverage the productized outputs from other business-side functions (e.g., the Knowledge Management or Innovation teams). The general impression I got is that, unless a lawyer comes to the marketing team and says, “look at this shiny new widget I built (with the Innovation/KM team), can you help me sell it?,” the marketing team is not going to get involved.

Perhaps this population has growth mindsets and the appetite to lead in areas that are more aligned with their interests and comfort zones, or are necessary for survival like the Covid-prompted switch to virtual events, but that up-skilling appetite does not seem to apply to creating products.

Imposter Syndrome. I heard a clear concern around marketing products because these professionals market services, and the two disciplines take “different skills and a different focus.” Cf. Doug J. Chung, “How to Shift from Selling Products to Selling Services,” Harv Bus Rev (Mar-Apr 2021).

To this, however, I throw my hands up and reply: “Oh, come on!” You are selling products alongside lawyer services. The services remain the law firm’s bread and butter, remain the marketing functions’ focus and competency. The products are just new tools and excuses to get in front of clients and, often, stay there. Products are sticky.

Despite my high hopes, it seems the legal marketing tribe is not going to be the group that advances law firms in NewLaw ways.

Knowledge Management, my next bet is on you.  But you must collaborate with client-facing tech teams, get closer to the clients, and educate the marketing function about what you do.

If KM fails, then we truly will be waiting for the next generation. And that bet is shaky. Law firms are not making the required investments for a generational strategy. Cf. Post 235 (noting that some change is so fundamental that change management needs to focus on the next generation).

Perhaps there is no short-term hope within the incumbents. NewLaw might be stuck waiting until the “flip.” See Clayton M. Christensen, Michael E. Raynor, & Rory McDonald, “What Is Disruptive Innovation?,” Harv Bus Rev (Dec 2015) (addressing the underserved bottom of a market creates growth trajectory that can reach upmarket and dislodge entrenched providers).

Q: What’s so “Fundamental” about this?

If you are, or want to be, part of the NewLaw movement to better serve clients and simultaneously create a more equitable—and frankly interesting—profession, be smart about where you spend your time and otherwise place your bets.

Diversify your network.

Not only will a diverse, multidisciplinary network help you to be resourceful when you are called upon to build something great, but it will also ensure that you don’t become entrenched in a stalled part of the market.