Author: Gloria Qiao, Founder & CEO of Trusli
Last week, I spent a few days in New York City talking to law school classmates and previous lawyer colleagues about how they do their work. It’s interesting that in Silicon Valley, we have entirely transformed how we work and interact in the past 10 years. However, law firms are still playing catch up, even the biggest ones.
So if your firm works with startup clients, how do you find them, work well with them and make them happy? Here are a few tips.
1. Optimize your marketing, especially SEO
When we first started Trusli, many friends and former colleagues didn’t understand where we were coming from. “Why do you need a website to bring in clients?” They asked. “Don’t clients just show up or come through referrals?”
However, in today's world, where we even shop for our groceries online, having a presence on a website, an app, and even on social media is of key importance. Maybe big law is still riding the referral wave, but at some point, this will change. And it will happen fast. Do you want to be a handyman that still advertises on yellow pages or rely on your current customer’s word-of-mouth referral? Or would you rather be on Thumbtack?
For your marketing, definitely invest in a solid website. Brand matters. Design matters. The kind of fonts you use matter. Your logo and tagline matter. If you are a consumer of Instagram or Youtube videos, you should know all of this by now; maybe just intuitively, but now you know. It’s a war to get clients and traffic, why should a law firm be different?
More importantly, ensure that you produce high-quality contents that can draw your target customers. SEO is no longer something you can dedicate part-time personnel to. It’s an art and science by itself. Even for us, despite the fact that we are already in the high-tech arena and quite tech-savvy, we have to rely on experts who are teaching us how to optimize our SEO.
Better even, if you don’t feel like you have the time, energy, or headspace to do all this on your own, just join our Trusli marketplace. Let us handle all the marketing for you. We have a dedicated team of SEO experts, google keyword search, and product marketing to do this professionally. We also have a dedicated budget so that you don’t break the bank by trying to do this yourself.
We constantly find founders who interact with us online through our marketing and SEO content. They are the new generation whose first instincts are to find their startup lawyers online. They are delighted to see that we are here to bring a community of high-quality lawyers to them. They are also surprised that many law firms can’t be found as efficiently online as they found us. This is confirmation that the new generation of clients is looking for their lawyers differently, at a different place.
2. Change how you work, use software, and systems, and get rid of paper
When I first joined my last company, I was shocked to find that one of the in-house counsel lawyers refused to use Google Docs or Jira.
Who does THAT in tech?
But the more I talk to lawyers, the more I realize that she is not alone. Law firms are still very skeptical about collaborative document editing. Some lawyers don’t know what Slack is. Many lawyers don’t have project management software at all, not to mention a CLM, billing software, etc.
To better serve startup clients, law firms must modernize how they work.
Share documents using collaboration software, be it Google Docs, a CLM that has this function, or something else. This enables your team to collaborate on a document internally when necessary. But more importantly, it allows you and your client to work on the same document in real-time, without flipping documents back and forth. No more checking who sent whom which version and adding manual labor to “incorporate the latest changes.” Just do it.
Establish a modern way of communicating, such as using Slack. In Silicon Valley, constant communication is key because we move so fast. Also, we don’t like to call. So we either send Slack messages or text. We don’t like emails either; it’s too formal and too slow. The point is, get Slack and make sure you are using it with your startup clients.
c. Project Management
Have a system to track your work and interact with your clients with it. I get that law firms don’t know what Jira is, and it’s a bit difficult to implement. However, tons of project management software out there are lightweight and easy to deploy. For example, Asana, Monday.com, or even Airtable can be excellent project management tools when appropriately implemented. This way, you can tag your clients on projects, ask them for feedback and keep them in the loop regarding where you are. Nothing beats keeping startup clients in the loop regarding the status and progress.
d. Avoid paper at all cost
When I say paper, I don’t mean not sending them envelopes with documents (don’t do it). But also don’t send PDFs that they need to print out and “wet sign.” No one does that anymore. Use DocuSign, DocSend, or whichever signature software you can find. When people send me things for me to print, that just makes me angry.
3. Work faster and be more responsive
In the startup world, our goal is to “fail fast.” This means we try lots of things with lightning speed, and then they don’t work out, and we move on to the next thing.
What this means for lawyers is that you’ve got to move fast. I once worked for a self-driving car company where legal has a 20-day plus backlog. That’s maddening and should not be tolerated. No one’s got 20 days to wait for legal in the startup world. How about turning around my documents in a few hours?
Even if that’s not feasible, at least respond to them and acknowledge that you’ve received their request. Give clients an ETA regarding when you expect to respond and finish their work. We work on a packed calendar where every hour of the day is planned out and accounted for. Having that timeline and ETA is fundamental to our happiness and sense of control.
4. Work more efficiently and charge less
In Chinese, we have a phrase: We want the horses to run faster, but we also want the horses not to eat grass （又要马儿跑， 又要马儿不吃草). Meaning—we want it all.
Law firms will find that startups tend to be cost conscientious. Because they need to be lean and agile and focus on bringing their product to market as fast and as efficiently as possible, they rarely want to break the bank with legal bills.
So how do law firms compete for their business? I get that you get what you pay for. But law firms also need to change the way they work to become more efficient and pass on the savings to clients.
The old law firm's way of hiring a large team of legal secretaries and paralegals needs to change. If cars drive themselves, law firms need to find more ways to automate their work, increase efficiency, and reduce tedious manual work. If a process is repeatable, it can be and should be automated. We have written a lot about legal tech and AI. To access where you are in your technology stack, check out our article here.
If this sounds daunting to you, here at Trusli, we are working hard to help. Our system is designed to be simple, easy to deploy, and easy to use. You also don’t have to be all in with all your workflows. Try out a few of our modules. If you like them, use them more.
5. Change how you think
Ultimately, all of this comes down to a mindset, mentality, curiosity, open-mindedness, and willingness to change.
Law firms are not historically on the front line for innovation. Lawyers are known to be conservative, risk-averse, and “stuck in their ways.” But the new generation is coming, and they are coming fast. If law firms don’t change how they think and work, they will be left behind.
Instead of resisting the change, law firms should embrace it. Some forward-thinking firms like Orrick and Dentons have hired full-time innovation officers and are serious in their pursuit of being at the cutting edge of technological innovation.
Don’t pretend to think innovation is a choice. If you think so, think again if you look at failed companies like Motorola and Yahoo, for that matter. Innovation is necessary, and law firms must brace it to stay competitive and relevant in the future.