Understanding your Legal Services Business Model


I just left the Washington State Bar’s “Future of the Practice” meeting and there was some great discussion about ways to increase access to legal services. If you aren’t familiar with some of the steps that the Washington bar is taking, including their creation of the Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLT) role, they (we—I’m a WA bar member!) are on the cusp of some solidly innovative work to evolve the practice of law.

One of the things that came up repeatedly in the meeting was the notion that most lawyers simply don’t have business models that can profitably support clients at the lower end of the resources spectrum. That simultaneously strikes me as true and insane. How is it that lawyers can’t seem to meet the demand of the majority of people who need legal services?Continue reading

Improve your legal ops first, then improve your software.

post-it cube

If you’ve been following this site, you know that I’ve already blogged Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 from my forthcoming book, Kanban for Lawyers. The next chapter (below) is more of an interlude, but it hits on an important point. Too many lawyers (and people in general) look at technology as some sort of magic wand that will fix all ills. Sure there is some intuitive and transformative technology out there. But even with the best tech tools, most technologists will admit that the real improvements come from the process changes that the technology inspires.

And if the technology isn’t one of those truly magical things like the iPhone or Gmail where process improvements are almost intuitive (even if you don’t use them, these things were transformative when they launched), then focusing on adapting your workflows is even more important. Even though legal tech has made huge strides, as Seyfarth Shaw’s Ken Grady said recently, law has yet to see our “killer app.”

Rather than making a big investment in technology then, most legal teams would do better to model some improvements in the physical world before mapping those changes to the virtual one. In Jason Freid’s and David Hansson’s excellent book REWORK, they point out that removing layers of abstraction is often the key to major breakthroughs (see p. 97). This is especially true with process change.

So break out a pack of sticky notes and clear space on your wall or white board. Then spend some time bodily interacting with your work and your process. You’ll be amazed at what you discover when you do.

Kanban for Lawyers Chapter 2.5: A Word About Software

By this point you’ve probably started thinking “I bet there is some great software tool I could use to automate this!” Your Google or App Store search history may already contain some version of the term “kanban app.”

This is natural, I get it. It is a good thought actually. And yes, there are some great programs out there for building and maintaining Kanban systems.

But you’re not ready.

Soon we will be able to consider software, but first you need to know why making an investment in researching, buying, implementing, and maintaining a software tool is the best possible use of your resources right now. And right now, it is not.

You just built your first Kanban board with an incredibly low investment. Now this board hasn’t helped you deliver greater value to your customers (yet), and it hasn’t enabled you to capture some of that value in the form of revenue (yet), but it has given you something that is even more important to your long-term success: knowledge.

This Minimum Viable Product you’ve created, along with the retrospective you just conducted, has taught you something. And it promises to teach you much, much more without a whole lot of additional investment. But if you go off and install an app, your relative investment in this thing will skyrocket. You’ll have to pay some money, spend some time learning the tool, and you’ll risk being sucked down the rabbit hole of endless configuration and modification.

I’m glad you’re excited and I understand your desire to get this Kanban thing up and running as quickly as possible. But moving quickly isn’t the point: The point is learning. Learning how to see your workflow. Learning about your tasks and your products (yes, you have products) and how to describe your work. Learning how to recognize value and how to avoid waste. These things will come, and they will come more quickly than you expect. But software will force you into some programmer’s view of how you should work, and that will inhibit your learning. At best it will delay your progress, and at worst it will stall your efforts completely. And then all your investment will have been for naught.

There is something irreplaceable about learning in a physical environment. A big part of what we’re trying to do is get you to truly see your workflow in the broadest sense, and I doubt you have a screen that can rival your wall for size and scope and taking it all in. Even if you do (and someday we probably will), there is something tactile and kinesthetic about bodily interacting with the stickies and columns on your board. Once you learn to see, and feel, and experience your workflow in a physical way, then you will be in a position to translate that experience to a virtual tool.

You may even decide to start using software at that point, but you may not. I know of people and teams who have been using Kanban for years without making that choice. If and when you do come to that decision, however, I want it to be from a position of strength. Strength comes from confidence, and confidence comes from knowledge and experience.

Building strength, however, requires training, and effective training must follow a plan. Right now your training plan involves channeling your inner Rocky Balboa to move physical objects through the world, not some mechanistic Ivan Drago interacting with newfangled machines. It may seem rustic, maybe a little quaint, but I guarantee you there is no better way to train.

So please, set aside your software aspirations for now, and let’s get stronger.


Photo Credit: Angela, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

© 2015, John E. Grant

Three Steps to Improved Legal Operations

A few weeks ago I woke up on a Saturday to a small explosion on my Twitter feed (when you write on an arcane topic like legal operations, small explosions seem significant). Turns out Joshua Lenon from Clio was presenting at the LegalLean conference in Toronto, where he was liberally and admittedly teaching from this very blog*. His presentation is great, and you can watch it below.

#LegalLean at MaRS: Joshua Lenon – Unlocking Value in the Traditional Legal Industry from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.

Stealing back from Joshua, I really like one of the things he talks about at the end pertaining to legal process/project management and I want to try to expand on it a little.Continue reading

The Insidious Harms of Multitasking

Are you unconsciously cheating yourself and your clients by multitasking? Many people assume that multitasking creates efficiency, but as Oregon Law School professor Elizabeth Ruiz Frost writes in the February/March edition of the Oregon State Bar Bulletin, this logic is deeply flawed. Prof. Frost outlines the growing body of research showing how multitasking, far from improving our ability to get things done, actually hurts both the efficiency and quality of the work being performed. Not only that, it often has a harmful effect on seemingly unrelated tasks.Continue reading

Kanban for Lawyers, Part 2: A Retrospective


If you haven’t already, you should probably go check out my last post, which is essentially Chapter 1 of my in-progress book Kanban For Lawyers. As I write this, I’m currently wrapping up the 8th chapter and I plan to publish it to the LeanPub version of the book next week. Right now you can buy the book on LeanPub for as little as a dollar, and if you do so you’ll be entitled to Continue reading

Kanban For Lawyers: Getting Started

Recently the ABA’s Law Practice Today Magazine published my article The Dawn of the Agile Attorney. In it, I profile several lawyers, some practicing attorneys and others who have gone on to legal tech careers, who have adopted Agile methods in their work and lives.

Reception to the article has been great, and several people have asked me for resources on learning more about Agile. One the one hand, there’s no shortage of information online about Agile and its subsets like Scrum, Kanban, and Lean Startup. On the other, much of the available info is specific to the needs of software teams and developers.

I’m working on a backlog of article ideas for Agile techniques that I (and others) have specifically adapted for use by lawyers, but I want to get started by discussing the Agile methodology that I think is often the best and easiest-to-implement entry point for attorneys (and other professionals) who are new to Agile: Kanban. Continue reading

Happy Blogaversary to Me

Wow, blogaversary is a terrible word, but a good time for reflection nonetheless.

I started the Legal Value Theory blog a year ago as a place to capture my thoughts around the nature of legal value and occasionally express my frustrations around the perceived lack of value in our industry. At the time I had a dual role working for a mid-sized consulting firm, spending most of my time as a business consultant on client projects but also acting as in-house counsel for the firm.

Wearing two hats gave me an interesting perspective on the nature of legal work and operations. Continue reading

Market Your Law Practice Like a Startup

The other day I responded to a question on /r/lawfirm (for the uninitiated, that’s a Reddit group) and it was pretty well received, so I thought I’d clean it up a little and post it here.

Before I do, I should point out that the ideas I present are from the Lean Startup philosophy. The term “Lean Startup” is taken from Eric Ries’s book of the same name, and it has become something of a bible in the world of technology entrepreneurs. So much so that it would be difficult for tech startups to attract investment if they were not following Lean Startup principles.Continue reading

Making a move…

A quick heads up: I’m about to try to move this blog to a new home. I’m keeping the Legal Value Theory moniker but moving the blog itself to my new website at agileattorney.com. The new site is also powered by WordPress and their transfer tools are pretty good, but there’s always a chance of something getting lost in the shuffle.

If you have any trouble accessing the blog or any permalinks, please let me know.

I’ll also be adding a bunch of new content soon (I’ve been focused on getting the new site up and running and have neglected the blog itself), so stay tuned!

The Two Keys to Lawyer Profit (Spoiler Alert: Cost Control is Not One of Them)

Quality and Value

It seems like far too long since I’ve revisited the Grand Unified Theory of Legal Value™ that inspired me to start this blog in the first place. I got a nice reminder, however, from an Inc. Magazine article this month titled The Two Keys to Profit. (unfortunately it appears to be print-only).

The article is a quick one-pager, but it is loaded with important truths that Lawyers should embrace, starting with,

Companies that want consistent high profit should do two things: Emphasize better products or services over lower prices, and focus on growing the top line rather than obsess about cost cutting.

This squares nicely with my assertion that Cost Control is Not the Final Answer. But how can it be true when lawyers continue to feel price pressure from clients who have more choices, more information, and therefore more purchasing power than ever before?Continue reading