How to Run a Subscription-Based Legal Practice

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Too often, legal practices struggle to find great clients and generate consistent revenue. Many times, they work hard for the clients they do find, and don’t get paid for all the hours they’ve put in. According to Clio’s 2021 Legal Trends Report, 16% of billable hours don’t even get invoiced, and 11% of the hours that do get invoiced don’t get paid.

Early in her career, Kimberly Bennett, an Atlanta-based trademark and business strategy attorney, lost money from these kinds of pain points—and it made her rethink the whole process.

“Losing that money was the biggest push to say this doesn’t work,” Kim, founder of the subscription-based, virtual law firm, K Bennett Law, said back at the 2018 Clio Cloud Conference. “Clients weren’t happy, and I surely wasn’t happy, so I needed to figure out a better way to work with clients that didn’t sit on me saying that my value is based on the amount of time that I’m spending with you.”

Initially, Kim envisioned the kind of practice she wanted to design, but didn’t know what to call it: “I didn’t have a great name for it … I wasn’t there yet to understanding what I was doing would be called legal subscription services. I just was like, ‘Do it like this and see what happens.’ People started taking to it, and I thought, ‘Oh, this is great.’ So, I was building it out, and that led me here.”

What are monthly legal subscription services?

A subscription-based law firm offers clients legal services for a recurring, flat monthly fee. Clients “subscribe” to a legal services plan. Depending on the firm and plans available, clients benefit from services such as unlimited legal advice, document review, and business planning.

Legal subscription services build an ongoing relationship between the client and lawyer—without clients having to hire a full-time attorney. “It provides a better service for the client,” Kim explained. “The idea of the subscription is for people to be able to grow.”

Can monthly legal services really be accepted?

A hand holding a TV remote control pointed at a television with Netflix on it.

Nowadays, subscriptions are everywhere. From getting your daily dose of television with media streaming plans like Netflix to weekly meal-prep ingredients waiting at your doorstep—more and more businesses are using subscription models to give customers ongoing, reliable products.

​​But are legal subscription services possible as well?

According to the data, they are—though there is still a way to go until monthly legal services become the industry standard.

A path of innovative legal billing could lead to standardizing monthly legal services

Americans were already looking for traditional law firm alternatives in 2018, according to a Harris Poll survey on behalf of Your Lawyers Online. Almost 1 in 7 adults “say they would be willing to use online legal services if it would save them money,” reported the companies in a press release. They shared that people under 55, who are parents, with household incomes of less than $100,000 are the likeliest to agree with this statement.

In 2019, 96% of respondents to an Altman Weil survey said some percentage of their firm’s legal fees are generated through non-hourly pricing. However, hourly billing still drove most of the firms’ revenue. Only 13% said that 21% or more of their revenue is generated through non-hourly pricing.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic transformed how everyday people, businesses, and courts operate in the world. In addition, it led to financial difficulties for people who haven’t previously experienced them and worsened financial challenges for people who have.

By 2021, 79% of participants in Clio’s 2021 Legal Trends Report said the ability to work remotely with a lawyer positively influenced their legal hiring decisions. Simultaneously, lawyers continued innovating their practices. Approximately 60% of survey respondents told Canadian Lawyer that they now offer fee packages, bundles, or blended hourly rates.

Staying open to change, flexible client-centered services, and technological solutions have been critical to firms’ resilience and success, as revealed in Clio’s  2021 Legal Trends Report.

Types of monthly legal services that subscription-based law firms can offer

Below are multiple examples of monthly legal services companies can offer as they transition into subscription-based law firms.

  • Schedule unlimited or regular calls with an attorney. Some clients will benefit from weekly, monthly or quarterly reviews. Others need to know they can simply pick up the phone when they need you. The more premium your monthly legal services, the more access clients will likely expect.
  • Book a meeting with a lawyer faster. If a law firm is large enough, it can ensure there will always be a same-day response from an experienced attorney, although it might not be the same lawyer each time. To make this profitable, a law firm would either need to charge a higher price for its monthly legal services, or opt to increase the reach and scale of its low cost subscription plans.
  • Gain access to templates of legal documents that you can customize to your needs. This is especially helpful for subscription-based law firms that want to offer affordable monthly legal services. This way, they provide access to legal protection to more people, while still creating a profitable business model.
  • Get flat rates for repeat services, such as contract reviews. Instead of constantly guessing how long contract reviews will take, and therefore what the accumulated hourly bill will be, clients can sign up for contract reviews as their flat fee, monthly legal services.
  • Leverage a membership site, where you can network with other professionals in your industry, or create a support community with people who are going through the same challenging personal moment you are.
  • Receive discounts for additional services that aren’t included in the ongoing monthly legal services subscription.

Benefits of monthly legal subscription services

Legal subscription services may not be the norm, but for Kim, there are benefits for her and her clients.

“You have to take time to think through it and strategize, and then develop and test it out,” she explained. “It’s designing a healthier, happier, modernized law practice that clients want and attorneys want.”

Legal subscription services can offer unique benefits, including:

  • Generating consistent revenue. Kim pointed out that lawyers will know what they’ll earn each month because monthly legal services come with a regular flat fee. As a result, law firms can be more creative in their businesses, and set aside time for research and development.
  • Creating mutual growth. By developing an ongoing relationship, a subscription-based law firm gets to know a client better, learning their business needs and becoming a part of their team, according to Kim. This enables law firms to develop more accurate solutions for clients, improve their experiences, and increase retention and advocacy.
  • Driving scalability. As Allen Rodriquez, CEO of One400, wrote for the California Lawyers Association, monthly legal services that cost $29 a month, and get 50 new subscribers a month, can generate $15,000 a month “even when you consider attrition/churn rates … Our own data shows that utilization rates tend to hover around 25 to 30%, and most of our plans include software-provided services, such as a content library or document downloads.”
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Challenges for subscription-based lawyers

Adopting a new model in an established field like law can be difficult, and legal subscription services are no exception.

Finding the ideal legal subscription service model

With the idea of legal subscription services being so new, Kim notes that many people may worry about financial issues—“They think it’s maybe not profitable, afraid of under-pricing themselves”—or they don’t understand how the process works.

Indeed, developing the right business model for your subscription-based law firm and for potential clients is a complex process. It depends on numerous factors such as location, ethics rules, your practice area, and your clients’ needs. As Kim said, “It takes time to think through the model, what that ideal subscription plan looks like, and how you implement the technology.”

Overcoming client hesitations

Taking the leap with a new, unfamiliar process, such as subscription-based, monthly legal service, can be scary. While most clients don’t love billable hours, it’s what they know. “I think most people were surprised that this [model] even existed,” Kim explained, “They’re like, ‘I don’t understand: How do I work with an attorney like that? I’m just used to either paying by the hour or just this large fee, or some type of payment plan.’”

Shifting to a modern mindset

Coming from a traditional, risk-averse world, “some of the biggest impediments or roadblocks are mindset,” Kim noted. “When you hear ‘legal subscription services,’ you think, ‘How does that apply? How does that really work with my clients? My clients don’t know that, they will never want that.’ That’s not because we know that, it’s just our mindset.”

Focus on providing a client-centered experience to make monthly legal services work

Kim, who has a background in psychology, decided to build a practice that fit the life she wanted, and could give clients a better experience. “I thought, ‘There has to be a better way to work with clients, to design a firm I like, and to have more consistency.’ That’s when this model started.”

Here’s how law firms can follow in her footsteps.

Verify monthly legal subscription services are right for your firm

The business model of subscription-based, monthly legal services worked for Kim and her clients partly because it was a good fit for her firm. This enabled her to truly be there for her clients.

The American Bar Association (ABA) recommended you ask yourself and your team a few questions to verify whether offering monthly legal services is the right choice for you and your clients, too:

  • “Has your net income substantially remained the same despite years of struggling to attract new clients?”
  • “Are your clients always contacting you in crisis mode?”
  • “Are you finding yourself strangled by the billable hour?”

As ABA explains, offering legal subscription services gives you space to think more strategically about business development. It also allows you to step up the customer experience and quality of work you offer, because you’re not constantly chasing the clock and overworking yourself to increase your income. Moreover, when you provide monthly legal services, you work with clients on a regular basis. Therefore, you’re able to discover challenges before they escalate, simplify cost-effective resolutions for clients, and reduce emergencies that take you from loved ones, self care, and business development.

Define your audience and what’s included in your monthly legal services

When Jon Tobin founded Counsel for Creatives, his purpose was to “get legal advice and information into the hands of creative peopleat a price they can afford,” he explained in his article for Attorney at Work. “We knew we could probably offer a subscription that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per month, but that would not achieve the goals we set,” he wrote.

Therefore, Jon and his team decided to offer monthly legal services to writers, architects, fashion designers, app developers, and other creative entrepreneurs, at $95/month.

That led them to determine what to offer, such as Q&As, members-only content, and even unlimited phone calls and contract reviews. It also led them to determine boundaries, and the types of services they won’t offer.

For example, your law firm might decide that emergency or complex situations, that require more than a few meetings, aren’t included in your monthly legal services. Instead, they might require an additional payment.

Develop a holistic approach to your clients’ challenges

Early on, Kim focused her monthly legal services on clients’ needs, and not just the legal ones. “Legal is just one system that’s impacting [clients], and so if we think about what’s happening across their journey, we won’t only think about the legal issues—we’ll think about their experience, we’ll think about all the things that are happening in their lives that might impact their ability to work with us very well.”

From there, Kim found that the client-centredness of a subscription model made it easier to offer more well-rounded legal advice to clients.

“They’re coming to you to help them solve problems. But sometimes, as an industry, we’re not really great at explaining to clients when they have a problem or how legal might even impact their ability to think through issues that are popping up.”

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How to educate clients on the benefits of monthly legal subscription services

Since monthly legal services aren’t the standard yet, Kim suggested lawyers begin by talking about this new business model—whether in the local community, at meetups, or on social media like Twitter. “Start engaging in discussions in communities that are thinking about innovation in legal, because a lot of that is going to be mindset shifts.”

When you engage in discussions, highlight what clients stand to gain:

  • Plan your budget with better predictability, and save money. The flat fee of monthly legal services means clients know how to budget for their legal needs. Sometimes, clients avoid contacting a lawyer in fear of costs. Sometimes things do work out on their own, and the expense is spared. Other times, they escalate, and so do attorney fees, since the issue is now more complex. But, even when the situation is approached early, and it seems easy, unpredictable complications can easily double attorney fees. Subscription-based, monthly legal services give clients the peace of mind that this won’t happen.
  • Get proactive legal services. Rather than waiting until they’re in a bind, clients can be proactive in understanding their legal options. “It’s before you’re actually in the middle of an issue or deal, hiring, whatever that is,” Kim said.
  • Enjoy a better customer experience, and leverage it for growth. As Kim explained, monthly legal services help build long term relationships between the law firm and the client. It helps the law firm understand the client’s needs on a much deeper level. As a result, it’s able to develop better experiences and better services, which ultimately help clients grow, too. This was one of the goals that Kim set for her monthly legal subscription servicesthat clients grow with her firm.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help in building a profitable business model

Don’t be afraid to ask for help with the unfamiliar. As Kim—who also offers a course for female attorneys building a subscription-based law practice—explained, “attorneys are terrible about asking for help.”

“In my practice, it’s been great to have coaching happening. Business coaching has been awesome, and I think more attorneys [should] embrace those types of masterminds, and other ways to support their businesses. Maybe that’s not your strength, and that’s okay. But bring on someone to help you.”

Drive innovation with legal subscription services

While subscription-based law may be challenging—for Kim, it’s rewarding. But there’s no cookie-cutter way to do it.

“I don’t believe there’s one type of a  legal subscription service, and that’s something that I really try to tell people. You should build [your practice] based off of what you want to do, how you want to [live], the clients you’re working with … and then engaging the technology to scale it up.”

By putting relationships, values, and community at the forefront of your mindset, a subscription-based practice may be worth considering. Kim’s advice?

“If you’re thinking about being innovative and creative, just do it. It’s just taking one small step towards that, and there’s a large community out there that’s supportive.”

As an innovative attorney, Kim Bennett spoke at the 2018 Clio Cloud Conference. Register for the 2022 Clio Cloud Conference and join thousands of legal professionals from around the globe, in person, or at select conference sessions virtually, to discover new ways you can make an impact on the legal industry.

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