Embrace Mediocrity

Why are lawyers stuck when it comes to thinking about expanding the legal marketplace? It’s not as if there’s no opportunity here; it’s widely accepted that most people don’t avail themselves of legal help, and that there is a massive “access to justice” problem.  So what gives? I can think of two obstacles:

  1. Lawyers have a tendency toward “perfection thinking.” There are few issues that we can’t offer gold-plated solutions for, even in cases where a more modest solution would be equally (or nearly) as good.
  2. Our practices lead to a form of survivorship bias. We have a tendency to think only in terms of customized legal services because the only people who end up buying these services are customers who have a) complex legal needs, and b) money.

The result? Most lawyers are only thinking in terms of customized, gold-plated legal solutions for consumers with complicated legal problems. What they aren’t thinking about is the vast market of people who aren’t buying legal services: people who either a) have relatively straightforward legal problems, or b) have more complex problems but who are willing to trade price for quality.

Lawyers who want to unlock this untapped market need to be comfortable embracing mediocrity.

This sounds lame. Who wants to be mediocre?

But lots of great companies are “mediocre” when compared to their fully-custom competitors. McDonald’s is mediocre. Target is mediocre. Hell, even most of the clothes at Nordstrom are mediocre, when compared to custom tailoring.  But this doesn’t mean these companies don’t offer a valuable product to their users. People need to eat and be clothed, and everyone understands the tradeoffs involved when choosing between the prix fixe meal at Le Cordon Bleu and the drive-thru window at Mickey Dee’s.

Lawyers willing to embrace this level of mediocrity would offer off-the-rack solutions for people who either don’t need or can’t afford bespoke services. And they wouldn’t do so as a poor alternative or pressured upsell for custom services. Instead, they would take a page from companies that offer products to consumers at scale and emphasize things like price, speed, and predictability.

For example: imagine a law firm that offered same-day turn around on basic services. That guaranteed its clients would always have someone to talk to about where things stood. That offered an online portal continuously updated with documents and status changes. That sent out automatic email or text notices whenever developments occurred. That offered warm handoffs to other attorneys when more advanced services were needed.

There are countless possibilities, but they all exist in the space that exists when you move beyond “attorney competence” and focus on “client service.”

What kind of legal services lend themselves to this “embrace of mediocrity?” I would challenge every attorney to think of something within their practice area that could be packaged into a clear and price-transparent bundle for new clients with simple legal needs. Something that could be handled, most of the way, by non-lawyer staff members.

  • Family law – how about a prenup or uncontested divorce?
  • Estate planning – who doesn’t need a basic will and living will?
  • Business – what about a compliance check-up, or business formation?
  • Litigation – wouldn’t pro se coaching sessions be popular?

You get the idea. The trick is to not instantly devolve into lawyerly “issue spotting mode” – where you gravitate to the “well, what if the person has x, y, and z legal issues?” way of thinking – and consider the kind of help you could give the vast numbers of people who don’t, in fact, actually have all of those legal problems you’re agonizing over. People who just need a little assistance and reassurance that they are on the right track.  With the right process, and clear descriptions of what’s in (and not in) each service package, lawyers can offer useful legal services that work for a much wider audience than traditional full-scope representation.