When I transitioned 12 years ago from business development in public accounting to the legal sector, I began advocating the development of legal products.  I had witnessed, as long ago as 15 to 20 years, the development of tax consulting products, first at Price Waterhouse and then at Grant Thornton.  There, I watched (and even helped) tax accountants develop a discrete solution for first one client, and then – via replication – for additional clients with similar fact patterns.  For example, clever accountants would, perhaps through a series of IRS private letter rulings, find a way to restructure a multinational company so as to significantly reduce the global tax obligation.   Arriving at the solution for the first client required an extraordinary investment of time, but even so the reward was high – often a material percentage of the overall tax reduction over the course of a few years.  But that was only the beginning.  True profit leverage was achieved when the accounting firms located additional clients with similar facts and circumstances and repeated the exercise at a fraction of the time of the original solution.

Being able to package and promote a service like this was a business developer’s dream.  For openers, as a proprietary solution, it automatically was differentiated in the marketplace.  We easily could describe the replicable process, define the tax savings that would be generated, accurately price the offering, and identify very specifically (through public information) the target audience.

When I arrived on the legal services scene, I assumed that we could start right away packaging legal services products related to new court verdicts, unique business structures, tax rulings and so forth.  But lawyers have more difficulty than other professionals in coming to grips with the concept that each engagement, each matter, is not bespoke.  Needless to say, this attitude totally chokes the legal services products.

But the tide may be changing.  At a Lex Mundi Annual/Leadership Meeting in Amsterdam last week, I had the opportunity to speak with two presenters, both of whom – to my delight – covered the concept of legal products.  Simon Thompson, former COO of Linkaters and currently president of Change Harbour Ltd. referred three times in his remarks to the potential for law firms to replicate, package and sell legal processes.

The next speaker was Richard Susskind, whose new book Tomorrow’s Lawyers takes the concept of the productization beyond replicable services delivered by human beings and into the realm of delivery over the internet.

“‘Packaging’ of legal services,” he writes in Tomorrow’s Lawyers says, “occurs when lawyers pre-package and make their experience available to clients on an online basis.  It offers an entirely new way of tapping into lawyers’ expertise, under a form of licensing arrangement.  For the client, this can mean dramatically lower costs of service, while for the law firm it offers the opportunity for them to make money while they sleep….because the lawyers’ expertise is used without any direct consumption of time.”

It is said that law firms lag 15 to 20 years behind the accounting and consulting firms in business processes such as sales and marketing.  If that is true, then the time may be right for the emergence of product development within law firms.  At least the discussion has made it to the big time!