Why Your Firm Should Fear Legal StartUps & How To Compete

Millennials, the group of tech-toting, flip-flop wearing adults born after 1980, have been the subject of eye-rolling. They’ve been stereotyped as expecting rewards just for participating and believing that spending long hours at the office is overrated.

Yet, legal professionals say that depiction as applied to their younger colleagues is wrong. In fact, they may work differently, taking full advantage of technology, but they’re smart and productive.

In fact, that may be why many of these young graduates interested in law are not going into law firms, at all. Millennials are forming legal start-ups that compete with both small and large, established firms in different ways.

In terms of small-firm competition, small start-up legal services companies can’t rely on a longstanding, loyal client base. Usually they must drive business, and small firms and start-ups will thus be competing among the same pool of potential customers.

Solo practitioners be wary, as well. New ideas, better comprehension of modern technology and a young mindset are assets to these start-up firms looking to represent similar start-ups in the business environment.

Take a look at your millennial competition:

1. Willing

“Founded by Eliam Medina and Rob Dyson, and backed by some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley like Y Combinator, 500 Startups and Ashton Kutcher, Willing is looking not only to change trust and estates, but the entire death care industry. Willing lets your write a will for free in five minutes, plan your funeral and after life and then connects you with the right vendors,” reports Above The Law.

“Is Willing even a legal tech company, or are they simply using a free, automated legal service — will writing — as a way to get customers?”

Well, it’s not the first time that free services have been used to bait and hook customers on related paid services. It’s a tried and true business model, so firms beware.

2. UpCounsel

How does it work? Clients answer a few questions about their legal needs, get connected to relevant attorneys who make a proposal and budget, and then interact online to complete your case.

“Matt Faustman at UpCounsel is convinced that the law firm model is going to change and he just raised a cool $10M from Menlo Ventures to prove it,” wrote Above The Law.

There’s a lot to be said for a system that makes it easier and—ah hem—pleasant to work with a lawyer.

The two examples above (get more here) explain why small or solo-practice law firms might fear the new legal kids on the block, but what do large law firms have to lose?

Properly incentivizing and compensating this new generation of lawyers is essential for your firm’s profitability, retention and key to attracting like-minded clients. When you’re losing key talent to start-ups due to hourly flexibility, superior work-life balance, or other compensation, it’s time to pay attention.

With all this venture capital and private equity money being thrown around to legal services start-ups, don’t be surprised if millennials follow the (dollar) bill.

What can you do? Consider:

  • Specific non-monetary rewards that are certain to improve job satisfaction (flexible leave or work-at-home policies, for example)
  • Tiered compensation for new associates
  • Alternative compensation models (i.e., anything except the traditional partnership model, such as including first-year associates in the profit-sharing)
  • Reward achievements, not simply hours for attorneys at every level

Need more specific ideas? Take the Center for Competitive Management’s webinar “Compensating Millennial Associates: Customizing Compensation and Rewards for Increased Productivity and Firm Profitability,” on Thursday, October 8, 2015 from 2:00 PM to 3:15 PM Eastern.

This information-packed webinar explores real-life methods for embracing the goals, expectations and ambitions of today’s millennial associates, and how to ‘meet in the middle’ when it comes to compensating this new generation.

Plus, in just 75 minutes, you will learn:

  • Surprising attitudes millennial lawyers have about total compensation
  • Who millennial lawyers are, and how they differ from other generations in terms of pay
  • Common misconceptions and truths about millennials lawyers
  • Mentoring, evaluations, and feedback tips that emphasize professionalism and increase associate self-sufficiency
  • And more!

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