Solo/Small

Tech for Expertise

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If you aim to build a law firm on expertise – if you’re the kind of solo lawyer who wants to actually lawyer – you probably cringe at most of the technology advice you hear.

Another tool. Another interface. Another integration. (What the heck is an “API” anyway?!) It’s easy to get your head spinning.

Here’s the problem: much of that tech advice doesn’t apply to your business model. You’ll need to filter through it with your own firm in mind.

It’s time to use “it depends” in evaluating your tech.

Your Unique Business Model

At the Maximum Lawyer Conference in St Louis, I talked about business models. I shared the history of how one lawyer’s relationship with Thomas Edison changed the way law has been practiced for 100 years. And I explained why we need to break out of that antique model.

There’s a lot more to that story, but at minimum I think we can agree that not all legal businesses use the same business model, nor should they. For now, let’s start with two: the expert and the solopreneur.

In my estimation, most of the tech advice aimed at solo attorneys is meant for the solopreneur. You see a heavy focus on marketing, building audiences, selling, and hiring and managing teams. All important ideas, but maybe not meant for you.

You need to optimize for the unique outcome you want or the tech will just take you off track. To use a Druckerism, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” If you take advice meant for a different business, you’ll fall into the trap Drucker warns about.

Business Case First

Relevant to this discussion, the team at Casetext recently issued a report on evaluating and implementing tech tools in law firms. They targeted the report to big firms, but you’ll find some eternal principles in there.

Here’s the applicable gold:

Start with the business case, then look for the technology. Not the other way around. Click To Tweet

Or, as Sidley Austin’s Rich Robbins puts it,

We are not interested in solutions searching for a problem, or perhaps it would be better to say we are not interested in solutions searching for a problem we don’t have.

Robbins’ comment reflects an understanding that the business model comes first. If you go to a “60 Apps in 60 Minutes” presentation and find yourself bug-eyed at the many options, you’ll easily latch on to the shiniest objects. Instead, let your business model guide your choices.

What Experts Should Optimize For

In my upcoming book Lawyer Forward, I list the three levers an expert lawyer can pull to deliver business results:

  1. Spend more time selling expertise.
  2. Increase expertise and the value of your time.
  3. Sell captured expertise.

The technology that facilitates those three goals are not the same as tech that facilitates scale. As one expert lawyer buddy told me in a Facebook group,

Todd doesn’t use the same language I do, but he knows where his levers are. If he adds technology that makes him more efficient, he can spend more time developing, selling, and capturing his expertise. Todd is the product in his firm; his best tech solutions multiply his personal efforts.

Are You a Lawyer Who Wants to Lawyer?

We’ll explore the business of expertise on this blog and our other platforms (like YouTube and LinkedIn). I hope you’ll join in on the conversation. We have lots to cover.

For now, ask yourself if you’re the kind of lawyer who wants to actually lawyer. Do you want to be the product? Are you willing to do the work to improve your craft and become a known expert in your niche?

If so, you’ll need to make decisions differently than the lawyers who want to scale solutions and spend their days managing teams. There’s no shame in either direction, but not knowing what you’re building will lead you to all the wrong conclusions. In short order you’ll use tech to efficiently do the wrong thing. As Peter Drucker said, there’s nothing so useless.

Business case first, then tech. That’s the mantra. I hope it helps.

Mike Whelan, Jr. is Managing Editor at Casetext. He spends most of his day advocating for and training solo and small firm attorneys in topics as varied as writing, marketing, design, and collaboration. He was a solo attorney himself for several years after graduating from the University of Texas School of Law. He lives in the Kansas City area with his lovely wife and four rambunctious children.