If you’ve been practicing law for fifteen years or more, you probably remember when a relatively boilerplate website, sans SEO or copywriting cost $3000 or more – which is why many solo and small firm lawyers lacked an online presence. And truth be told, it didn’t matter much anyway because many consumers didn’t rely on the Internet the way they do now. By contrast, today’s new solos can choose from dozens of contractors on gig sites like Fiverr.com to pull together a reasonably professional template site for a few hundred bucks or they can even build one themselves for free with tools like Wix, Squarespace or Carrd.
We’ve reached a similar inflection point with legal products. Seven years ago, lawyers were already venturing into the field of selling downloadable information products like Rachel Rodgers’ highly successful Small Business Bodyguard kits. But back then, setting up a website capable of selling automated, fillable and customizable DIY forms like those offered by Legal Zoom that a user could complete online, download and pay for in a single transaction remained an expensive endeavor since document automation wasn’t quite ready for prime time (and in fact, many people don’t realize that back at that time, even Legal Zoom relied on paralegals to complete documents rather than automation).
That’s no longer the case. Just as the cost of web design has declined and become more accessible, in the past five years, robust document automation that put the power in users’ hands to create documents have flooded the market: Documate, Lawyaw, Woodpecker , Afterpattern and FiduLegal (the newest entrant and winner of Clio’s LaunchCode Competition) to name a few in the legal space. Even more interesting are the acquisitions of the past six months — Clio bought Lawyaw, MyCase bought Woodpecker, and Netdocs bought Afterpattern which means that these companies now have the capital to rapidly expand and improve the functionality of their products.
With these technology trends as a backdrop combined with the pandemic’s normalization of virtual lawyering, Suffolk University Law School Professor Gabriel Teninbaum couldn’t have picked a better time to release Productizing Legal Work: Providing Legal Expertise at Scale. Although Professor Teninbaum is an academic, his book isn’t a bunch of theoretical mumbo-jumbo but instead, an intensely practical, step-by-step guide for lawyers who seek to productize – or in other words, convert services traditionally performed on a one-to-one basis into a scalable service, customizable through technology that can be delivered one-to-many.
There are many reasons that lawyers should buy Professor Teninbaum’s book. For starters, the book is exceptionally well-written and logically organized, relying on actionable steps for productizing legal services along with real, real-world examples for inspiration.
Second, Teninbaum doesn’t limit his focus to biglaw products which have attracted headlines for a while (since biglaw has the big dollars to build sophisticated products for clients). Instead, he shares examples of small firm pioneers like Richard Granat who’s been running a forms-based, virtual family law firm in Maryland since 2002, Julie Wimmer, founder of MyPadilla.com which provides expertise to criminal defense attorneys on the collateral impact of guilty pleas on immigration status, and Chris Brown’s VentureLegalKC.com which helps entrepreneurs with contracts and other legal needs.
Teninbaum also makes the business case for solos and smalls to develop legal products, such as diversifying revenue, improving cash flow, creating a platform to upsell higher end services and expanding access to justice. Importantly, Teninbaum emphasizes that even with Legal Zoom (or what I’d refer to as the Walmart of legal products) there’s still ample room in the market for independent legal products that target local or niche needs, and notes that many products can be created with no-code solutions. Teninbaum writes:
For a law firm that already understands the solution to a legal need in their community based on knowledge they already cultivate for their own practice, the cost of launching a product is lower…and unlike Legal Zoom, most law firms wouldn’t sniff at a new six-figure revenue stream [generated by the product]
Having made a business case for productization, Teninbaum walks lawyers through each step of the process – beginning with different types of product offerings (ebooks, forms, online courses) to testing the idea to bringing it through to launch and marketing. In my view, the chapters on prototyping and gathering feedback are hands down most valuable chapter; many lawyers (mea culpa!) are inclined to invest time and energy in developing a legal product that doesn’t sell because consumers simply don’t want it, or don’t understand the value (which means investing time in customer-education). Teninbaum also makes clear that lawyers do not have to know how to code to develop products.
As strong as Professor Teninbaum’s book is, I felt that the chapters on marketing and product maintenance were a bit light. As I wrote a decade ago here in a lively debate with many virtual law firm pioneers, marketing an online service or legal product requires the same level of commitment as marketing a law firm. Often, lawyers look at legal products as easy money or passive income without realizing that like everything else online, they don’t sell themselves. I also would have liked Professor Teninbaum to provide more information on ongoing maintenance of online products, how to keep them current with changing laws and the consequences for failing to do so. Finally, Professor Teninbaum’s book could have been even more useful if he had provided links to different tools for implementing each of the steps to productizing (such as no-code document automation solutions, platforms for online education courses, etc…) – though I understand how difficult this can be with products changing and emerging all the time.
Having been criticized for the $45 cost of my own book Solo by Choice (new edition coming soon), I know that many will balk at the cover price of Professor Teninbaum’s book which is $108 for Kindle and $135 for a hard copy. To those critics, I politely say please shut up since I’m guessing it would cost you at least $10,000 to hire Professor Teninbaum as a private legal product consultant or $3000 to take a class with him. At under $150, Professor Teninbaum’s product – his book – is a bargain just as are the legal products which you can begin to create using it.
We’ve had a lot of questions about productizing legal services for our upcoming Make 2022 The Year You Start Your Law Firm. If you’d like to attend, register here.