A summer ago, I wrote a piece titled “What Lawyers Can Learn from Uber.” The article got some nice play, but like so much of what happens online today, the Internet and I quickly forgot about it.
Then, early this past May I spoke at a New York State Bar event on the changing landscape of the legal profession at which I was asked, and embarrassingly a bit unprepared to answer, a question about that piece. I fumbled through, but I’ve been thinking about the piece and some of my newer realizations ever since.
I realized that my understanding of Uber is and what an Uber for legal services might look like has evolved significantly. That led me to some new insights.
Uber + DIY
Earlier, I talked about a nearly ill-fated trip across Houston in which a taxi driver attempted to drop me and a colleague off at the wrong location. I used Google Maps to direct the driver to the right place. I stated that ride-sharing companies have developed an end-to-end experience that addresses everything from the route from point A to point B, connecting with the hailed driver, payment, transparency about the reputation of both rider and driver, receipts, various payment methods, and a bunch of other things that avoid the major issues of that bad taxi ride in Houston. I then riffed on the lack of an end-to-end experience in law. That’s still lacking in law, but there’s more for lawyers to learn from ridesharing.
Sure, many cab rides fail because cab drivers still don’t use simple technologies such as Google Maps (whereas Uber drivers do), but the story is also a great metaphor for how lawyers need to adapt to the “do-it-yourself” (or DIY) legal consumer. Many legal consumers, having self-educated online, come to a legal issue with a general sense of how to solve the problem. Many others have legal problems which — in whole or part — the consumers themselves can handle online, such as filling out simple forms or even filing documents. Smart lawyers will deliver services that capitalize on both the tools that consumers already have at their disposal or consumers’ willingness to actively participate in solving their legal problem. More than that, however, lawyers need to know what the client wants and how to get them there before the process starts. Just like a driver who doesn’t know exactly where he’s taking his riders, a lawyer who isn’t totally sure what a client wants — let alone how to get them there efficiently and effectively — is likely to end up with a client who is disgruntled if not with the outcome then certainly with the process.
Transparency. No, Really.
My piece also suggested that Uber brings new transparency in billing to the end user by providing the rider a fare estimate before even summoning the car. But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Drivers and riders both have review scores that keep riders from getting in the car with creepy drivers but also penalize riders for their bad behavior. This system has had very public and very real challenges but when considering the seven-year-old company is closing in on half a billion rides it’s got a pretty amazing record. See, “Uber Says It’s Doing 1 Million Rides Per Day, 140 Million In Last Year,” Forbes. For these reasons and others it may not be Uber specifically that wins the day (remember when MySpace was the social network?), but ridesharing is here and ridesharing’s transparency is central to the revolution it’s brought to transportation.
Historically, the legal sector has strongly resisted efforts to bring greater transparency to consumers. Rightly or wrongly, lawyers have deemed information such as win rates or case completion times too complicated or nuanced to share with clients or potential consumers. Today, however, the walls that the profession has erected to keep this information from the public are starting to crumble. Look at Lex Machina, Ravel, or some other companies that are starting to mine local court data whose respective technologies predict the outcomes of IP disputes, provide compelling analytics on which arguments work best in front of which judges, and, yes, even provide insight into lawyers’ win rates and case completion times. The lawyers that will thrive in tomorrow’s legal landscape must effectively explain their value proposition to consumers and embrace the good and the bad that comes with a level of transparency that their lawyer forbearers did not face.
Ease and Control
Finally, Uber offers riders unprecedented control and ease in buying a trip from A to B. Want to know the approximate cost for the Uber ride you’re about to take? It’s right there before you even hail the car. Need a car in the middle of the night in some remote location? Not a problem. Want to know, within a window of just a few minutes, when your hailed ride will arrive? Uber’s giving you real time updates. In my first piece, I mentioned different tools and technologies that could provide this kind of information to a legal services client on an ongoing basis. But what Uber stands for is even more significant. Uber is just one example of the kind of mobile, on-demand, seamless experiences to which today’s consumers are being conditioned. Want a book? Amazon will deliver it same day, and soon via drone. Ordering out but the restaurant doesn’t deliver? Call Eat24 or GrubHub. Need someone to run an errand? Postmates has you covered.
Convenient discrete services exist in legal too. Every state in the country has enacted some kind of rule facilitating the delivery of unbundled legal services. And I know of firms that have taken advantage of these rules (or simple principles of consumer-centric marketing and product design) to develop compelling consumer-facing legal products. There is a family law firm in Texas that offers a divorce-counseling session in which, for a fee, the attorney coaches would-be do-it-yourselfers on how to do a DIY divorce the right way. Another example is an artist-centric legal plan a lawyer offers in California. For a reasonable monthly subscription fee, artists get access to forms, an unlimited number of phone calls and document reviews, and a discount on other legal services. What these firms have done isn’t anything that others couldn’t. It’s about creating customer-centric products and services and delivering an experience to match.
The term “Uber for X” or “Uberization of Y” has become a tired phrase in startup and tech circles. But, well beyond Uber, and even transportation, the hallmarks of ridesharing, including meeting clients where they are, transparency, ease, and control can help lawyers improve their legal practices too.
Dan Lear is the Director of Industry Relations for Avvo. He is a lawyer, blogger and legal industry gadfly, and currently sits on this newsletter’s Board of Editors. As a technology-focused business lawyer, Lear advised companies from startups to the Fortune 100 and helped develop agreements and terms for early cloud services offerings. More information on his published writing and upcoming events can be found by visiting http://rightbrainlaw.co/.
The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of their clients or other attorneys in their firm.