A friend recently gave me a copy of Blue Ocean Strategy, a business management book from 2005. The concept is very compelling, create new markets rather than struggle with increased competition for existing, shrinking markets. The authors call these new markets Blue Oceans. The competitive markets are Red Oceans, for all the blood in the water from cutthroat competition. Some of the examples they use are Cirque de Soleil and Yellow Tail Wines. These companies chose not to compete with the existing players using the established methods in their respective industries, and instead created new markets, by changing aspects of their businesses that kept customers away. Faced with a circus market focused on animal acts that were expensive and controversial, and on a standard circus model which wasn’t captivating audiences like it once had, and on market forces which were decreasing ticket prices in an attempt to compete with other regional circuses, Cirque de Soleil, ditched the conventional circus model all together. They dropped animal acts, they gave their performances themes, and artistic flourish, and they raised ticket prices to compete with theater, rather than with other circuses. Yellow Tail wines recognized that people were put off by standard wine terminology, and that most people weren’t willing to take the time to understand the complexity of wines, so they created simple, drinkable wines, removed all the fancy oenology gobbledy-gook from the label, and marketed their wine to beer and cocktail drinkers. The result in each case was phenomenal success in industries previously seen as completely saturated and shrinking. They created Blue Oceans by choosing to not compete directly with their competitors in the Red Oceans. This got me thinking about our ongoing Law Factory vs. Bet the Farm discussion. It seems to me, that whether we choose Law Factory or Bet The Farm, we’re still talking about a standard law firm competing for standard law firm customers in the same old way. We’re just segmenting the market and focusing on our chosen segment. But what if we imagined a Blue Ocean Law Firm. One that ditched the conventional wisdom, and set out on a new path building the law firm from scratch. Our Blue Ocean firm wouldn’t bill by the hour and it wouldn’t incentivize the attorneys by encouraging long hours. Instead it would bill based on the work completed, in a clear itemized manner. It would drop the Partner / non-Partner tracks and court attorneys who were interested in making a very good salary while practicing their profession for 40+ hours a week and having a life outside of the firm, rather than working young associates to death with the promise of potentially making ungodly amounts of money in the future. And most importantly, the Blue Ocean firm would actively write their legal documents in English rather than legalese, and would strive to minimize the length of those documents whenever possible. Rather than making attorneys unnecessary, this would make them more approachable. While we’re at it, let’s reconsider the staid, stale, law office. Let’s make it inviting and welcoming. Let’s drop the hard wood, and marble, and introduce couches and carpeting. We’ll cut the long list of Partner names in the firm name and go with a simple catchy name like Blue Ocean Legal. In short, let’s get rid of everything that makes people hate attorneys and start providing services which are simply defined, easy to understand, and affordable. That’s the firm I would go to if I needed to create a will, set up a trust, or create a contract. That’s the firm I would seek out to advise my small business. That’s the firm and the attorneys that I would want to build a long-term relationship with. But before you write this off as just another vision for a discount law factory, everything I’ve described would be welcome to big businesses as well. Simple billing for work completed and services rendered; pleasant, happy, well-rounded attorneys who are not motivated by profit at my expense; and legal documents written in a language that I, as a non-attorney, can understand without hiring another attorney to translate them. I’m not often called a naive optimist, though I suspect I may be after this post. Still, I would bet that a firm like I’ve described would be hugely profitable and would avoid the Red Ocean of the current legal services market. We’ll probably have to wait to find out until the law changes and I can own my own firm. In the meantime, maybe I’ll go get my JD.

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Photo of Ryan McClead Ryan McClead

Ryan is Principal and CEO at Sente Advisors, a legal technology consultancy helping law firms with innovation strategy, project planning and implementation, prototyping, and technology evaluation.  He has been an evangelist, advocate, consultant, and creative thinker in Legal Technology for nearly 2…

Ryan is Principal and CEO at Sente Advisors, a legal technology consultancy helping law firms with innovation strategy, project planning and implementation, prototyping, and technology evaluation.  He has been an evangelist, advocate, consultant, and creative thinker in Legal Technology for nearly 2 decades. In 2015, he was named a FastCase 50 recipient, and in 2018, he was elected a Fellow in the College of Law Practice Management. In past lives, Ryan was a Legal Tech Strategist, a BigLaw Innovation Architect, a Knowledge Manager, a Systems Analyst, a Help Desk answerer, a Presentation Technologist, a High Fashion Merchandiser, and a Theater Composer.