How to Run a Subscription-Based Legal Practice

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Nowadays, subscriptions are everywhere. From getting your daily pop culture fix with media streaming plans like Netflix, to monthly Barkboxes of squeaky toys for your pup, to weekly meal-prep ingredients from Blue Apron waiting at your doorstep—more and more businesses are using subscription models to give customers ongoing, reliable service.

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But, while most of us subscribe to a few favorites in our personal lives, are subscription-based services possible when it comes to the law?

Kimberly Bennett, an Atlanta-based trademark and business strategy attorney and speaker at the 2018 Clio Cloud Conference, is making it work—for both herself and her clients—with her subscription-based, virtual law firm, K Bennett Law.

What is a subscription legal practice?

A subscription-based law firm offers clients legal services for a 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.

In this way, subscription legal 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.”

From pain points to new solutions

While subscription-based legal services may be a modern concept, Kim’s adoption of the model arose from age-old frustrations with common challenges that many lawyers face: Inconsistent revenue, finding great clients, and not getting paid. Early in her career, Kim 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 said. “The client wasn’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… but I wasn’t there yet to understanding what I was doing would be called a subscription. I just was like, ‘Do it like this. And see what happens.’ And so people started taking to it and I thought, ‘Oh, this is great.’ So, I was building it out, and that led me here.”

A client-centric approach

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

Early on, the idea focused on clients. “Legal is just one system that’s impacting [clients], and so if we think about what’s happening across their journey, we won’t just think only 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-centric nature 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.”

Benefits of legal subscription services

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

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“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.”

According to Kim, subscription legal services can offer unique benefits, including:

  • Consistent revenue and budgeting. With a regular flat fee, clients know what to budget and lawyers know what they’ll earn each month. This allows lawyers to be more creative in their business, and set aside time for research and development.
  • 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.
  • Mutual growth. By developing an ongoing relationship, a subscription-based law firm gets to know a client better, learning their businesses needs and becoming a part of their team. Kim wanted her clients to be able to grow with her firm.

Challenges for subscription-based lawyers

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

With the idea of subscription legal 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.

However, there are also a few other hurdles for subscriptions law firms, including:

Finding the ideal model

Developing the right model for you and 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.”

Client hesitations

Taking the leap with a new, unfamiliar process 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 and that’s it, 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. “So when you hear subscription you think, ‘Well how does that apply? How does that really work with my clients? My clients don’t know that, they will never want that.’ And that’s not because we know that, it’s just our mindset.”

2 tips for lawyers considering this model

Kim offers advice for lawyers considering subscription legal services.

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  1. Talk it out

A shift in mindset starts with discussion. Kim suggests lawyers begin by talking about the new 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.”

  1. Ask for help

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. So for me, 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 business. Maybe that’s not your strength, and that’s okay. But bring on someone to help you.”

Conclusion

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 subscription, 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 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 now to join us in San Diego for the 2019 Clio Cloud Conference in October!

 

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