For lawyers, the process of evaluating and launching a new business or initiative within your existing law firm can be extremely challenging. Fortunately, today, the traditional laborious business plan has been supplanted by new, innovative tools in business planning and creation.
One of these tools is the Business Model Canvas, a creation of Alexander Osterwalder. During his Ph.D. studies at the University of Lausanne, he imagined the notion of a lean startup template for developing new or documenting existing business models. The Business Model Canvas he created is a means of mapping customer segments and values to a business’ resources and activities. Using this canvas, you can create and weigh a business or project plan before implementing it. Further changes created the modern Lean Canvas that can greatly benefit the “New Law” vertical.
Lawyers are smart and certainly can be creative, but they are not always capable of “hanging in the question”.
The Lean Canvas is a means of testing hypotheses—and feedback on the starting propositions may lead to you having to let go completely and start from scratch. The purpose of the canvas is testing and validating whether you have a problem worth solving—from there, you can build out the minimum solution to address a set of problems – hence – the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). This is a very different approach than most lawyers utilize, who typically like to solve problems on behalf of clients. Lawyers want an approach based on deep research and experience and from a place of as much certainty (and knowledge) as possible. Lawyers are trained to consider ALL of the potential outcomes and traditionally prefer to provide memoranda which could border on treatise when giving advice. And getting a lawyer to commit to a final recommendation? Substantive strategic decisions are left to clients, with both lawyers’ training and ethics regulation requiring obtaining “informed consent” in many scenarios.
Because of this, often lawyers can be uncomfortable having to tell someone to pick A over B. There’s just so much…uncertainty.
What’s your Minimum Viable Product?
The minimum viable product (MVP) is defined as the product with the highest return on investment versus risk. So how do you establish what your MVP is? Using the Lean Canvas, and your knowledge of the market you serve, you can easily evaluate business propositions or practice areas, and then release, iterate, and optimize them.
Lawyers have a tendency to fear the ‘wrong decision’. However, if you are building a business–the only measure of a bad decision is if you are causing harm to others or not making profit. In professional practice, you may have the objective of building a great real estate practice. But, if you keep getting referrals for commercial work & end up bringing in way more revenue, would you consider that ‘failure?’
Entrepreneurial lawyers should become comfortable with the concept of “obliquity,” which is achieving goals indirectly rather than directly. This concept is outlined beautifully in a book by John Kay who among many adroit quotes mentions that, “The way to the ocean was found by conquistadores who sought silver and gold, not oceans.”
True leadership, entrepreneurship and captaining just about any other type of ship requires one to make decisions not so much by the a superior vessel of knowledge, but by being honest about the extent to which that knowledge is limited. That is not how lawyers are used to sailing – but the winds are indeed shifting.
The Lean Canvas works as an approach because it allows for obliquity. It is minimally sufficient in precision and adaptable as more information, inputs, metrics and milestones become known. In short, you don’t have to see the whole staircase before taking the first step.
Learn how you can use the Lean Canvas to evaluate business propositions for your law firm in our extensive free guide from authors Jason Moyse and Aron Solomon.