Many legal firms have a very traditional company culture. Since legal consulting is a profession with long lasting traditions, having a culture that is shaped by a sense for responsibility is good. However, traditional thinking can become an issue when it hinders new solutions from breaking through.
There is a theory called path dependency. In the centre of the theory lies the assumption that decision makers stick to existing solutions because they have proven to be successful in the past. The reasons for why promising alternatives to current practices are ignored are manifold. Independent from the reasons for why decision makers stick to their known paths, they might miss out on new ways to grow and develop their business. The more they disregard alternative solutions that could complement the current ones, the more path dependent they can become (Pfeffer/Salancik (2003): The External Control of Organizations: A Resource Dependence Perspective).
As a legal firm with more than 30 years of operations, H&P Rechtsanwälte, noticed that clients are turning to online research to find a solution for their legal question. In many cases, the solutions that clients have presented to H&P lawyers have proven to be false. Legal questions are very often highly individual issues, and, in many cases, standard online answers do not address the issue correctly. So, what to do?
H&P then decided to provide those clients who are willing to find an answer to their legal question online with a trustworthy solution by transferring the trust component between lawyer and client from offline to online. How? With immediate video consulting and full price transparency on an online platform (www.schnell-zum-anwalt.de).
Luckily, there is a range of legal tech solutions evolving in the German market. The legal consulting industry must provide suitable solutions and open itself up to legal tech approaches and partnerships. There are online portals that are focused on informing clients about legal facts. Other websites provide helpful documents. Some portals provide a link between clients and lawyers and thereby enable online client acquisition for law firms. By requesting a first evaluation for their legal questions, clients then either receive a free consultation or a quote on how much a first evaluation would cost. The problem is that in many cases, clients do not know how much the consultation will be. The price range can go up to 190 EUR plus tax for private clients for a first opinion. Plus, the free consultation is often shaped by the disclaimer that the actual consultation can only be performed after accepting the consultation fee. The consequence: Lacking price transparency for clients.
Legal insurance companies usually provide phone hotlines for their clients. This service is often covered by the insurance fee and clients have full price transparency thanks to the insurance contract. The issue with hotlines is that legal questions are very often personal questions. Describing a personal matter to an anonymous hotline does not necessarily create a trust atmosphere. This is the reason why H&P Rechtsanwälte puts the solution focus on immediate legal consulting per video. By seeing the lawyer on the screen, the client can verify that an “actual” lawyer in a “real” law firm performs the consultation. Plus, by interacting face to face, the lawyer can check the facial expressions of the client to make sure that the matter has been understood correctly. These video consultations all have the same price: 59 EUR. Why? Because from our point of view, experienced lawyers can answer most questions that clients research online within approximately 15 minutes. Why should a client pay more time than what is needed to get an answer?
The challenge that legal tech solutions have is that they must walk the line between innovation and “easy to implement” for law firms. All law firms that perform consultations on the H&P platform www.schnell-zum-anwalt.de are handpicked by us. The ongoing acquisition of partner law firms for the platform often shows how fixated many law firms are in their traditional views. In way too many cases, the feedback involves statements like “We do not need” online business. “This is not what we do”. Fair point. If the law firm is doing well in the traditional field, why involve the scarce resource of experienced personnel in online consultations? This is where the Walk-the-Line challenge kicks in. The H&P platform is designed in a way that lawyers integrate the online consultations in their daily routines. By simply going “online”, they become available for the matching algorithm (the H&P video legal consulting system is protected at the Deutsche Patent und Markenamt, DPMA). This way, their daily routines are not hindered by additional tasks. They are complemented by a paid online acquisition tool. However, way too many law firms show patterns of the above-described path dependency. The reason for why they stick to their paths is not necessarily intentional. A lack of resources often hinders the implementation of new solutions which might lead to a certain level of solution exclusion.
The key learning that we at H&P are winning from talking to dozens of law firms, is that – as it is known in the research about small and midsized companies – small firms are not just small, large firms. They require solutions that match their ways of doing business and making decisions. This is why the legal tech field is such an incredibly interesting and challenging field. It is about bringing a very traditional profession together with innovative and slightly disruptive solutions. There is a lot to do. The good news is: Both the law firms and the legal tech innovators are highly passionate about what they do.
About the author: Dr. Henny Lena Holzhauser is Managing Director at H&P Solutions. Her work focuses on making customer related processes with legal aspects easier.