Christmas 2010: The Nintendo Law Firm?Did you know Nintendo first started in 1889 as a playing card manufacturer? Fast forward to Christmas, 2006 when Nintendo launches Wii and outsells rival competitors Microsoft and Sony 2:1, an epic upset. Rather than engage in the War-To-Build-The-Most-Powerful-Console, Nintendo took the world by surprise by changing how people played video games.

It begs the question: While we know that other industries are changing, how has the legal industry changed? Does it need to keep up with the pace of change that other service industries do? And, if yes, how can you stay ahead of that curve? Are companies such LegalZoom.com offering self-help services a prime example of the innovation needed or are they simply a ‘flash in the pan’?  If you really do need to change to meet the demands of your clients – where can you find the inspiration?

Let’s look at three quick components of a law firm: we have administration (the organizational structure that allows the practice of law to occur), communication (amongst firm members and clients) and services rendered (the actual practice of law). Off the top of your head, can you think ways that these components have changed in other industries? I’ll name an example of each:

  • Distributed Workforce / Administration:  This is controversial – whether or not we work more or less at home – but a lot of companies are realizing that if they have a resource that just enters data into the CRM, they might not need to spend the time and money to pay for a commute to the office.  Could that same resource be more productive working on a flexible schedule from home?  Would they be less expensive?  Would it be easier to find people to work this way?  Many industries say yes, but not the legal industry.  Why?
  • Real-Time / Paperless Communication: I don’t receive a single credit card statement by mail anymore. In fact, I only receive my public utility bills by mail – that’s it. That’s because at $0.44, plus paper, plus ink, plus your Office Manager’s salary to shove paper into envelopes: it’s too much money.  Do your clients run their business or home the same way?  Do they WANT a paper bill from you?  Would they prefer you spent that money on real-time web updates of their cases?  How come I can see when my son’s new Black Ops game has left the distribution facility in Hoboken, but I can’t find out the status of my business deal until my attorney gets back from the vacation?
  • Add-Ons: Let’s take Starbucks, for instance. They don’t just sell coffee, they sell a service. And it’s the service, not just the coffee, that keeps people coming back. Once upon a time, ‘Free Wi-Fi’ was a service that differentiated Starbucks from say, McDonald’s, as a morning coffee competitor – but not anymore. They had to evolve. So they began offering ‘Premium Online Content’, only available at Starbucks. Difficult? Not really. Innovative? Absolutely.

That leaves you with the million dollar question: If the changes occurring in the legal industry force you to make changes in your business model, what changes ought to be made? What changes would be effective? Better yet, should any changes be made at all? The legal industry has worked the same for hundreds of years – does it even need to evolve? Or are you selling playing cards to a market that wants Nintendo Wii?

What do you think? Leave a comment here.