This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, LawSikho.

Only those who have value can give away value. You need to know when to give value away for free, and when to refuse to do so.

Recently we created a very detailed Legal Handbook for HR Managers. A leading legal publisher contacted me to publish it in print. The condition was that I must take it down from LawSikho website where it’s available for free download.

I am not willing to do that. I want that handbook to reach as many HR Managers as possible. So far it has been downloaded by more than 3,000 HR managers. I know it will be read by tens of thousands of HR managers and will indirectly benefit lakhs of employees.

Good things can’t be sustained without revenue and resources. What about that? How are we going to take care of all the costs?

We have a course on Employment Law for HR managers. A small percentage of these HR managers who will read the free book and benefit from the same will buy the course to learn more. The revenue enables us to have a team that does further research, editing, updating of free books as well as development of courses. 

And that’s how the cycle works.

You need to think of self sustaining systems – without that, good intentions are just that. Good intentions.

But it all starts with giving away value to people. That starts a virtuous cycle of trust building. And then still having more value, to offer at a price, can build empires. This is the new age economy that is killing the old way of doing business. And this new economy starts with building trust, earning credibility and giving a taste of the value that you can generate.

However, most people can’t imagine giving away something that really consider valuable. They are scared to trust strangers, or to rely on a system where they give something valuable first and then eventually hope to capture some value out of it later.

Have you seen how ice cream sellers in malls give you a taste of different kinds of ice cream without any commitment on your part that you will buy a scoop? Of course there are some people who taste and leave without buying. That’s fine. Because the rest of them buy, because after tasting you feel like buying.

I pay my coach INR 20,000 for 4 calls a month. It is more than what I was willing to pay initially. But she has this offer where I can do a free call with her, called a breakthrough session. After I did that, and she generated tremendous value for me in 1 hour, I decided that it was worth paying that. And that decisions really paid off for me, and I have referred many friends to her. And those friends also get a free breakthrough session to decide if they want to work with her.

Notice how that cycle works. It is based on trust and proving what you can do, without any guarantee of return as first.

The entire freemium app model is based around this. Billion dollar software companies have been built around the freemium model. You must have seen apps like that – which are useful, you get to download them for free, and when you begin using them, you want some extra features for which you may want to pay. Or not. Most never pay.

The majority just uses the free version, even though the free version comes with limited functionality, but then there are a small percentage of premium users who pay for advanced features. And that can make billions every year!

Almost all Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies follow this business model. Think of Gmail. Or Google Suite. You get 5 GB of free space. But once you run out of that, after using gmail and Google suite for years, you are too tied up to shift. You start paying for it. That’s what happened to me. I know a lot of people who do that.

Free stuff, that leads to users eventually paying for premium privileges. 

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This is how DropBox became a giant. Their entire marketing is based on giving away free digital storage. They know that you will eventually run of free storage, and one day you will pay for its storage. 

Can lawyers do this too?

One great example I can think of is that of a mainstream law firm doing this. Tha is Nishith Desai and Associates. They give away tons of free research, content and information away on their website. They invest significant resources in creating such content. 

In this report, Nishith Desai, the managing partner, said as follows: “Sometimes revenues slow down because in the first part of the year we may have spent disproportionately more time on research, training or even social work on pro bono basis.”

Imagine that. This is a law firm that is ready to slow down revenues in order to invest more in research, training and pro bono work. This just goes to show how freemium can work for a law firm. Nisith Desai Associates is a powerhouse, and one of the prime law firms that are expected to break into tier 1 law firm circles. It has grown strength to strength in the last two decades!

I think I understood where this culture come from when I saw a Doordarshan interview by Nisith Desai. He tells the story of his early career in law in this interview. After doing LLB and LLM, he researched on international tax for 3 years. There was no taker for such niche skills back then. It was during the infamous emergency in India, and the government had made American companies like Coke and IBM leave the country. 

What does a lawyer do when he doesn’t have work to do? In Nishith Desai’s words, he starts writing articles and lecturing people. In 1991, when the economy started opening up, and companies were looking for expertise on subjects like international construction contacts and international tax, they looked around and didn’t find knowledgeable people in Indian legal industry who could help them with such matters.

Guess what did they find though? Nishith Desai’s articles. This was pre-internet era, and international journals were the vehicle of this knowledge dissemination. And that is how Nishith Desai found his footing in the legal industry.

No wonder today NDA has one of the best presence on the internet in terms of publishing research papers and videos on cutting edge legal issues, which are consumed and followed by the entire legal industry.

Writing articles that potential clients will read, followed by engagement through newsletters and other types of subscriptions is the primary way lawyers market their services in more developed legal markets like the USA or the UK. 

Educating clients on their legal issues is one of the most powerful ways for lawyers to build trust and credibility in a market. So is talking in industry events and giving away valuable knowledge. Or even organizing events to educate other lawyers and potential clients! 

If other lawyers have learnt something from you, that puts you in a position of authority. It is not something you should be afraid to do.

Are you worried to give away too much free advice to potential clients or random people who may never become your clients? Don’t be. I know lawyers who do it all the time, and they are trusted and loved enough, and gets amazing referrals. You can’t expect quick results, but that is a powerful way to build a brand. 

Many lawyers who have a thriving practice in the Supreme Court today started by doing lots of pro bono matters. Let’s say you go to a jail, find out who are the people who have been stuck in jail despite bailable charges just because they can’t furnish a bail. Or some other small technicalities. Help them to get bailed out, free of cost. Do you know what will happen when they are about to walk free? They will tell all the other inmates about what an amazing lawyer and absolute angel you are. An entire network of jailers, inmates, lawyers, judges and other people will hear about your good deeds, and appreciate you for it.

And that builds brand. That ensures you begin to get more matters. That ensures other lawyers and judges have respect for you. That ensures that people do not think that you are a cheap lawyer just out to make a little more money.

Do you have any idea what can that do to your practice?

Here is the thing, I have been doing this for more than 10 years now. For any product my team has created, we create a lot of free give-away content. We want people to benefit from that free content. We want them to see what we are like, what our work is all about, what values we stand by and what kind of learning we can offer.

This is also our answer to all the cheap competitors. What they offer in a course, we can give away better content for free. When some potential learners come and complain about how some others courses are 90% cheaper than ours, I just tell them – sir, please follow our iPleaders blog and LawSikho youtube channel, and also buy the cheaper course. And then please evaluate if the money was well spent.

And if we can give this away for free, just imagine what we can do when you pay us our price. That’s the promise. If you do not like it, you can even take your money back after a month of learning from our courses. Here is our standing refund policy! It’s our challenge to the world of cheap online course. Can they match it?

What is it that you do not compromise on?

You do not compromise on your fair price. Never charge below what you deserve. Never give in to competition and price wars. If your only value is that you are cheaper than the next lawyer, or professional, then you have already lost the plot.

You better work on becoming so valuable, that clients will not hesitate to pay a premium to you.

I have a litigation going on in a High Court. It was an important matter. I needed the best lawyer I could find. The best lawyer, however, charges 10 times more than the next best! Can you imagine that? His clerkage is as much as what other senior counsels charge.

I could not afford him. But if I could, I would have gone for him. No question.

I would like you to aim to become a lawyer like that. What does it take to be like that? It’s a long way to go, I know. Can you start taking some steps towards it? Can you shoot for the moon? What would you be doing if you were shooting for the moon? What does that striving look like? 

Join us in the journey, because we are committed to that kind of excellence. Is it worth your time and money?

Here is our Legal Practice Development and Management course. This is relevant if you want to create a top notch solo practice or a law firm with the right foundation and grow it with certainty and velocity.

Also, check out these upcoming LawSikho courses in which enrollment is going on:

Diploma 

Diploma in Companies Act, Corporate Governance and SEBI Regulations 

Executive Certificate Courses

Certificate Course in Real Estate Laws 

Certificate Course in Arbitration: Strategy, Procedure and Drafting 

Certificate Course in Legal Practice Development and Management 

Test Preparation

Judgment Writing and Drafting Course for Judicial Services

 

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