Recently, one of my colleagues shared with me the success of a monthly subscription service that he’d recently launched for his clients, who are businesses in a relatively specialized industry.  He was surprised by the positive results because another one of our colleagues had tried a similar program a decade earlier with no takers.

There are certainly plenty of variables for why one subscription program worked while another didn’t get off the ground ranging from the prospects targeted to the look of the marketing materials. But I think that today’s business clients are also more budget conscious and a subscription service offered by a lawyer whom they know and trust (as opposed to a LegalZoom kind of arrangement) provides affordable access to legal advice. Plus, with client portals and Skype, lawyers can cost effectively deliver a wider range of subscription services now than ten years ago, when they’d have largely been limited to phone calls and email.

There are lots of other practice ideas that are implemented before their time. I experimented with client portals five years ago, but found that few clients would use them – partly because the technology was clunky and partly because they weren’t using that technology for other applications.  Likewise, I’ve written about how lawyers who’ve experimented with online scheduling  for clients haven’t yet seen much traction. Heck, I can remember a time when the cloud was called SaaS (“software as a service”) or ASP (application service provider) and no one would touch it.

Sometimes, for whatever reason, ideas are simply ahead of their time.  Malcolm Gladwell (of course!) has commented about this phenomenon, observing that it’s usually the “tweakers” – the second comers – who ultimately find long term success. Think Alta Vista versus Google; MySpace versus Facebook.  Second comers have the benefit of seeing flaws in the original model and then tweaking them to improve them.

When you experiment with new ideas in a law practice – whether it’s a client portal or online advertising or in-person seminars and they fail, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should forever check them off your list.  As your target clients change and as times change, you want to go back and revisit some of those models that didn’t take off. Because sometimes, first is worst; it’s the second or third time that’s the charm. And sometimes, you simply may be an oxymoron:  a lawyer ahead of your time.