March 2014 was one heck of a month for me. On March 1, my friend and colleague, Inna Koldorf, and I launched our new law firm, Koldorf Stam LLP.
After 10 years of practice, nearly 7 years at Baker & McKenzie, one of the planet’s largest law firms, I knew I needed to jump in to the new way of practicing law. We really are at a cross-road in how we deliver legal services – but more importantly, how we consume legal services. The internet has changed everything. You can look up statutes on CanLii, note up cases online, read blog posts full of legal ‘information’, or go to the Ministry of Labour website for labour standards – all for free. So where do lawyers fit in with all of this?
As thinkers like Richard Susskind and Mitch Kowalski have set out in their books on the new world of legal services, it’s all about value. Not just cheaper legal fees or better discounts. It’s about rethinking how to bring value to the table, rethink the entire infrastructure of law, and stop billing by the lawyer’s unilateral guess on how many hours something should take.
What is the client’s actual legal need? Rarely does a client need a 20 page legal treatise on remote and unlikely legal exposure. My experience so far, in a world outside of big law, is that clients just want a business solution that is legally compliant – they are willing to take risks, they do not need a bullet-proof shield for the weirdest possibilities, and there simply isn’t the appetite for huge, unpredictable fees no matter how successful the client is. It’s not about whether they can afford old-school legal budgets – it’s about whether they want to afford it. I’m now a business owner and get this first hand.
So what are we doing differently? We’ve eliminated the single biggest expense of the fancy bricks and mortar. In my years at Baker, I can count on one hand the number of client meetings I had in the office. Clients prefer a phone call or for me to come to their office.
Inna and I are now all decked out with technology, fully networked to each other with everything in the cloud, and fully mobile. We can get out of the ivory towers, go to the client and work on practical business solutions that we better understand because we go to the client’s place of business. We do have office space that we can use for meeting new clients both downtown Toronto and up in Vaughan, and as a member of Verity, I also use their business rooms for client meetings, but neither are big spaces for which we pay a lot of monthly rent.
We want to stay agile, move with the market, and scale our legal services up or down depending on the size and needs of the client. I have already collaborated with lawyers in other practice areas to provide full services to our clients, so our size lets us move faster and to customize the legal services to the client.
Again, the internet has changed everything and has flattened the business world. I love being able to fully jump into this new online world, to meet people where they are already conducting business, and to relentlessly question how we are providing actual value to clients in today’s modern workplace.
If you are also running a new, agile law firm, please reach out – I’d love to share ideas on how to keep integrating technology and innovation into our practice and infrastructure.