My Shingle

Uber Lessons for Law Practice

by Carolyn Elefant on January 31, 2014 · 5 comments

in Client Relations, Marketing & Making Money, New Ideas

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A few night ago, I left the office late after completing a day-long telephonic hearing in a different time zone. Because of the late hour and the freezing weather, I decided to treat myself to a cab ride home instead of waiting for the metro at my stop and then again, at the connection. At 11 p.m., I could have easily hailed a taxi on the street.  But having read so much about Uber  – a modern-day car service (or online matchmaker for drivers and passengers, depending upon the audience being pitched), I decided to give it a try.

My Uber experience worked seamlessly.  Once I set up my account and downloaded an app for my phone, I requested a cab, which I was told would arrive in five minutes and that Pedro (with a 4.8 star ranking) would be my driver. As the car drew within range, I could see it on my app so I was able to wait inside until I received a call that the car had arrived.  The car – a black Suburban SUV – was clean and warm.  Pedro was courteous, opening the door for me as I entered and exited the vehicle and not rolling his eyes when I told him I wanted to go to Bethesda, which is outside of D.C. He also made polite but non-intrusive conversation throughout the trip. When we arrived at my house, I didn’t have to fumble with cash or credit cards –  I simply clicked the app and remitted payment.  Then, Pedro told me that he was giving me a five-star passenger rating (a weird touch) so I gave him a five-star rating as well.

For my trip, Uber was slightly more costly – perhaps ten percent more – than what I would have paid a cab. But Uber’s pricing depends on a variety of factors – another recent D.C. passenger wrote that his shorter Uber trip cost about twenty percent less than a taxi, but there have also been reports of rates as high as $23/mile due to Uber’s surge pricing model, which increases fares to encourage more drivers to come out during periods of high demand.

Now, I realize that legal services aren’t the same as a taxi ride. But Uber enjoys success because it took everything that people hated about taxis – lack of availability, dirty interiors and surly drivers – and fixed them. As a result, customers are willing to pay slightly more for something that works better.

What can you do to make things more convenient and comfortable for your clients? For examples, if you’re meeting a client at the courthouse, provide instructions on exactly where to find you, how to dress and the court’s policies on cell phones to spare them confusion and make their life easier. If clients will be spending a long day in your office, have refreshments or a wifi password for them to use. If you’re not going to deliver a document when the client expects it, then let the client know to avoid inconvenience. And don’t forget general niceties – asking about the client’s family or how they’re holding up.

Did Uber “reinvent” taxi service? I don’t know about that – but it has certainly “disrupted” the taxi market by introducing competition to a once fully regulated market dominated by incumbent providers. This article is a bigger picture view of how disruption takes hold in regulated markets – and there are lessons for lawyers here. But this post isn’t about disruption; it’s about the more modest and practical task of identifying problems that our clients have and fixing them to make their lives easier so they don’t have to look elsewhere. (Indeed, bar associations might heed this advice also)

For a list of other real life marketing lessons, see these previous posts. What’s your best “real life marketing lesson?”

Here are some additional “real life marketing lessons”

Real Life Marketing Lessons from the No More Pettifoggers Campaign – TO Thine Own Self Be True

Are You Charging Clients Like American Airlines?

Marketing a Practice Through Collaboration

Client Service and Jet Blue

Real Life Marketing Lessons from the Fashion Industry

Marketing Lessons from London

Marketing Dos and Don’ts From Las Vegas

Marketing Lessons from the $25 NY-DC Bus

  • shg

    Are you sure that one anecdote of a clean, on-time cab, really extends very far, even to the point of lawyers “reinventing” the practice of law to be more Uber-ish? Or maybe Pedro is just a good driver who keeps his car clean, just like there have always been good lawyers who manage their practices appropriately?Perhaps you should wait for your second cab ride before urging the legal profession to follow suit?

  • Byron Warnken

    It’s not about one cab ride. It’s about a new kind of car service that has effectively upended a 100 year old industry. Ask any cab company owner what their biggest concern is: it will be Uber every time. And no one saw it coming, though it now seems so obvious. Will something like this happen in law? Who knows. Maybe it already has in some certain, specialized practice areas. Maybe it’s just around the corner in others. But when you become the cab driver, losing fares to Uber, you’ll know it.

  • myshingle

    I am just saying that it doesn’t take much to fix things that are small Uber wouldn’t have happened if people were happy with taxi service. Lots of lawyer alternatives purport to fix what’s wrong with lawyers Some things aren’t wrong but others lawyers can fix themselves And some lawyers don’t need fixing – just as some cab drivers didn’t either. THis post is not about Uber disruption of the industry which is an obvious analogy for “disruption of law” but many distinctions too and requires more thought before a post
    Carolyn

  • Paul Spitz

    It’s not really anything new. Taxis have been around forever, and so have car services that aren’t quite taxis, but are still cars for hire. The only innovation provided by Uber is that they decided they weren’t going to submit to the regulations that taxis and car services are covered by, even though it’s pretty much the same thing.

    The analog for lawyers is if Nolo and LegalZoom went beyond just providing forms and documents, and started advising customers on legal issues, all the while saying “we don’t think we need to get law degrees or pass the bar, because we do this on an app.”

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