How can a lawyer become more successful?
There are two ways. One is volume. The other is moving up the value chain.
Imagine that you are doing X type of legal work. One option is to do so at a large scale, for a lot of clients, at an affordable price point. This is what a Vakilsearch or Indiafilings would do. They are targeting to get the maximum volume possible, and therefore they must keep their margins quite low.
This strategy requires many low skilled lawyers. The expertise is not of legal work, but building a sales and marketing engine, ensuring a steady volume of work coming in, and investing in a service delivery engine, which is highly optimized to ensure that costs remain low and productivity per lawyer is really high.
This is what LPOs also have to do.
This strategy is quite good in some low skill high volume markets, such as compliance, trademark registration, garden variety contract drafting and negotiation, company incorporation so on. This strategy has opened up new markets.
However, you will not find too many lawyers or law firms succeed beyond a point with this strategy.
That is mostly because it is hard to scale complex legal work in this way. It is one thing to scale trademark registration with hundreds of lawyers and thousands of paralegals helping them with paperwork, but quite another thing to pull off the same when it comes to high-value trademark litigation.
On the other hand, there is a strategy that is exactly opposite to volume: and that is to keep increasing your fees over time, as your experience and expertise grow.
Notice that here there is a clear incentive to become better at your work. However, if you can appear in a maximum of 3-5 matters in a day, and you are getting 15 clients asking you to take their matter, the only sane thing you can do is to increase your fees because you cannot accept all 15 briefs.
Surely, you will optimize and try to increase the number of matters you can accept, and for that, you will need to increase the strength of lawyers working for you and build an underlying support organization.
However, once you begin to invest in building an organization like that, you would also be looking for maximum return on your investment!
And that only happens when you move up the value chain.
At the beginning of your practice, you might even write a legal notice for a startup or individual for just INR 2000 or perhaps less.
However, as you keep getting strength in your wings, you will want to charge at least 10-15,000 for that notice. Of course, the clientele can’t be the same! You need to, by now, have access to a different set of clients.
There are clients who would even pay 50k for a similar legal notice. However, they are a very different set of clients. It would take you some time to figure out and work out how you are going to get them if that is the intention.
Moving up the value chain is a critical aspect of growing a law practice for a vast majority of lawyers.
However, what do we have to do in order to move up the value chain? How do we get high-value clients to trust us and give us work?
The way I see it, there are two parts to it.
One is that you must grow your competence and expertise. How is that done? You need to develop deeper expertise across different areas of law and various industries. As you keep doing more cutting edge work and spend some time learning new skills and subject matters, you build up your competence, expertise, as well as a reputation as someone who is extraordinarily competent.
And that means people with bigger problems want to hire you, and do not mind cutting your bigger cheques.
To a great extent, your ability to command a higher premium also depends on the scarcity of the skills that you possess. There was a time when only a few lawyers were good at M&A or investment law, transfer pricing or international tax. These were rare skills and therefore clients paid a premium to the handful of lawyers who had expertise in these areas.
Over time, more and more lawyers and law firms are able to do this work, and therefore fees have crashed over time. Smaller law firms doing this work are not able to charge the premium they once did and big law firms are forced to forego the matters that they could take up earlier due to pricing issues.
However, there are still other areas of law that have scarcity – and many of them are relatively new. Technology law, policy advocacy or media litigation, for instance, do not have too many players at the moment.
One way to become a part of an exclusive club of lawyers is to have expertise across multiple domains, and therefore be scarce.
There may be a lot of M&A lawyers out there today, but how many with the expertise of doing M&A involving a PSU? Not too many. How many M&A lawyers specialize in media companies? Hardly any. How many M&A lawyers are also great at tax structuring? Barely any.
And that kind of cross-functional knowledge also helps you to move up the value chain, thanks to the scarcity of the skill that you bring on the table.
The other way to move up the value chain is to build a brand. You can do wonders by working on putting your brand out there, by building the right relationships and educating those who need your expertise, as that would help you to get noticed by your target market.
Let me tell you how we have moved up the value chain over the years.
When we started, we created courses that catered to law students. We did well in that market.
However, I was clear that we had to move up the value chain and work with lawyers.
After all, it is hard for law students to either appreciate the value that our courses add to their careers or to even get an immediate RoI from the money and effort they invest in our courses. Only thing that makes a difference to them is getting a job, which they can achieve even by doing a single course from us. We can’t expect then to spend over 1 lakh for buying supplementary courses.
However, we can expect a lawyer who earns handsomely from his knowledge and skills to invest in furthering their knowledge and skills.
For lawyers, the benefit of doing a course is a lot more immediate and obvious, and they do not shy away from paying a premium price because they can recover the same soon enough. It is rare that a lawyer would do only one course from us. If they finish one course, they often enroll for another! Many of them pay us over 1 lakh rupees to enroll in our Master Access program because they want all our courses, at once! Or they enroll in programs like Litigation Library and Corporate Law Library.
When we launched our diploma courses in 2017, the initial price for an 1 year diploma course was either INR 15,000 or INR 20,000. Currently, we charge INR 30,000 and the number of students has steadily increased.
This is because we have continuously improved the value offered through our courses. And we have not shied away from increasing the price, which the market embraced happily, because it is now getting way much more bang on the buck! We do not need to worry about our competitors selling courses for 5,000, because we are not even catering to the same audience! People who buy our courses for a premium know why they need to buy ours, and why they are paying a premium.
We increased the price of Master Access from INR 1 lakh to INR 1,20,000. This has not reduced the number of inquiries we are getting for it! People are joining the waiting list here as we are not taking new enrollments in Master Access right now.
We increased the price of Corporate Law Library from INR 70,000 to INR 90,000 a couple of months back.
And we are going to raise the price of the Litigation Library next, from 25th December.
We are also considering an increase in the price of all our courses from January 2020, as we usher in the new year. If we do not do it in January, we will definitely do so from April, i.e. the new financial year.
When you provide more value than the price you are asking for and solve real problems for your clients, it is no problem if you increase your fees. You can do so because you are moving up the value chain.
Now we not only work for lawyers but even for large companies with legal training needs. In-house legal teams are buying multiple user access to Master Access.
We have begun to explore how we can help law firms with fast-tracking their training for newbie lawyers, which saves them a lot of money and grief. That is our next focus area. We are also looking to work with law colleges and universities.
And we get to charge a portion of the value we create. You can do the same.
How do you plan to move up the value chain? What is your strategy?
Here are some courses you can enroll into:
EXECUTIVE CERTIFICATE COURSES
Students of Lawsikho courses regularly produce writing assignments and work on practical exercises as a part of their coursework and develop themselves in real-life practical skill.