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Delivery of Legal Services v. Delivery of Pizza: Tech Challenges Are the Same

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Mom and pop pizza shops in Washington D.C. are having a tough time keeping their slice of the pie against larger, techno-powered chains in the age of conveyor-belt pizzas and delivery apps which cater to customers’ cravings for convenience, reports Washington City Paper. So why don’t smaller pizza owners fight back with tech of their own?  Although you might assume that these small shop owners are Luddites who resist technology, the answer is far more complicated.

Some of the owners would not use conveyor belts to speed up production because they felt that they compromised quality.   Meanwhile, although most of the mom and pops looked forward to the arrival of delivery apps to expand their markets, they soon realized that the costs – sometimes as much as 30 percent of the order value – were prohibitive. At least one owner also found third-party delivery unreliable:  a driver might pick up multiple orders and ultimately, arrive at a customer house with a cold pizza which would leave a bad impression.

If the pizza shops’ plight sounds familiar it should. Their efforts to compete with low-quality but cheap solutions mirror the struggle of many solos and smalls to compete with Legal Zoom and online, flat fee providers. Moreover, as with pizza owners, many solo and small firm lawyers struggle not because they reject technology because they’re Luddites, but because the tech isn’t always cheap or cost-effective, nor does it always yield the same quality results.

Meanwhile, some of the pizza shop owners have been experimenting with new approaches to retain existing customers and win new ones. One of the owners has taken the money saved from ditching a delivery app and invested it in premium produce and quality, homemade sauce.  The premium produce also allows this owner to use a conveyer built because the quality of the ingredients helps to compensate for a lesser cooking methodology. Another store owner retained an analytics company to review the data to determine whether it’s worthwhile to continue with delivery. The store owners also try to establish themselves as a presence in the community by offering free pizza at local events. One owner built relationships with nearby niche markets such as police officers and the late night LGBTQ crowd at dance clubs.

Many of the same solutions that are working for the mom and pop pizzas work equally well for solos and smalls. To summarize, solos and smalls should:

  • Build personal connections with their clients and ties to local communities to push back on more generic and impersonal services;
  • Explore whether improving some areas of service can compensate for lesser quality in other aspects. For example, a solo might incorporate document automation for estate planning (potentially more mass produced quality) but use the savings to hire an experienced associate to personalize each plan.
  • Just as delivery apps take an enormous cut of pizza shops’ sales, are the technology platforms that you’re using to market or run your practice costing more than the value that they provide.  If that’s your hunch, then undertake a data-driven analysis to determine whether your tech is bringing the savings or generating the gains that you expected.

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