Big Law and the Lean Startup Model

Given the methodic progress of large Canadian (law) firms (“LCFs”) in adapting to ever increasing client demands, it is clear a new approach is necessary in order to fulfill clients’ legal needs at a sustainable price point.

One potential solution is the adoption of the lean startup model, a process coined in 2008 and followed primarily by fast-moving technology startups.

The lean startup model is centered around the three-step feedback loop: 1) build a minimum viable product (“MVP”); 2) measure the results of the product; and 3) learn from the obtained results. The speed at which a company repeatedly drives through the feedback loop often helps address product faults while developing a marketable product.

MVPs are typically crude, likely performing only a fraction of the final product’s functions. An MVP is a great testing ground for gaining information, getting the product into customers’ hands, reducing wasted production hours and creating a base for future products. The idea is to keep developing and modifying the product through constant testing and implementation of user feedback. In other words, have the user tell you what to create, not the other way around.

LCFs pride themselves on being “partners” with their clients, able to provide outstanding legal service derived from a true understanding of clients’ business needs. But the connection between long term clients and LCFs is eroding; clients will go to whoever can offer them practical legal service at an affordable price. The partnership needs to be strengthened.

One answer is for LCFs to leverage the partnerships with clients to develop something mutually beneficial. When LCFs try and develop efficiency systems (new technologies or processes for the delivery of legal services) the process is time consuming and tedious. Products, once developed, tested, and rolled out to clients, are near final. Aside from the cost of development, newly introduced efficiency systems may not address the specific needs of the client because clients are rarely involved in the development process. Clients may not like, want or need an LCF efficiency system. Why not include clients in every stage of development, as they are the ultimate beneficiaries?

This is where the lean startup model and LCFs can mesh. Clients should be brought in to brainstorm and repeatedly test the new efficiency systems from the MVP to the final product. Feedback should be provided to the firm in real time, and modifications to the efficiency system should be implemented based on the client’s feedback. Partnership requires parties to work together to create something of mutual benefit.

The benefits from such a collaborative system are threefold. First, the speed at which LCFs introduce new efficiency systems is increased. Second, LCFs may discover quickly during the feedback loop cycle that what was initially thought to be the solution may actually not be, and the efficiency system can and should be modified, thereby reducing risk and minimizing the chance of failure. Finally, it strengthens the partnership between the client and the firm, not the client and individual lawyers.