Once a year, Momentum likes to set aside our usual “don’t brag about ourselves” rule and, well, brag a little. It has been a great year for Momentum Business Law, including the pivotal fact that we found a new name for ourselves. More importantly, after 3 years of visualization, development, and trial and error, we are entering 2016 with a sense of pride that Momentum really is setting a new standard for the delivery of business law services.
2015 saw us redefine our client services by reviewing every interaction that we have with our clients through an outside-in development lens. We know, “lens” is about 4 years of out of date, but in this case it actually applies to what we did and how we did it. We started by identifying our stakeholders and asking ourselves how they experience our services. From first contact, through project completion, to billing, we examined every aspect of our processes and reflected on what they look like from the other side of the table.
Although the “bill” is often understood as the end product, it drives much more of the lawyer-client relationship than it should. We started by confirming that for most clients, legal bills are one of the most corrosive aspects of their relationship with their lawyers – not just the size of the bill, but the lack of transparency, the unpredictability and the inability to understand the value for cost. We decided to erase this entire pain point by delivering the vast majority of our legal services on a fixed-fee basis, such fees being agreed upon in advance in consultation with the client. No more running around the office, waving the invoice around and screaming “who called the lawyer this month?!?” No more wondering how that message the lawyer left you translated into a 0.5 hour billing at $800/hour. No more questioning the value of the work completed, as we negotiate that up front. By putting the value of any particular service at the beginning of the project, all team members (lawyers and clients alike), can focus on delivering the project expertly, efficiently and productively.
We know that we are better able to assist our clients when they reach out to us to discuss business issues in real time, as they arise. Our best opening line has, amazingly, turned out to be: “never pay for a phone call again”. At Momentum, we encourage our clients to communicate with us on a regular basis and to keep us in the loop about their business’ highs and lows. Our one-on-one communication with clients is where we add value – it helps us better understand what our clients need in the context of their businesses. By taking away “phone call billing”, we have opened up the channels of communication. In fact, this novel approach to client communication has become one of the hallmarks of our business partner model: we don’t see clients as a series of time billings, but as an ongoing relationship.
At Momentum, we value the work we do with clients on a “per project” basis with a view to the value that we deliver on the project. While every valuation we propose considers the time that we expect to spend on a given project, we do not docket, because time spent is not our sole consideration. Different team members will contribute their expertise to a project and that combined expertise will be considered in determining its value. When we, as a team, sink time into developing a new area of expertise or breaking down the solutions to a new issue, we assume that the investment of our time will grow our overall expertise and value to clients generally. Those specific time expenditures are not passed on to any given client per se.
By virtue of our outside-in lens approach, we also know that our clients come to us for our expertise. Our understanding of both our client’s business context and the legal options we can present them with is where we add value. Turning law into a commodity – purchasable over the internet in a one-size-fits-all package – may solve some simple legal issues, but it cannot account for the unique needs and wants of each client. Our clients want us to be a true business partner for them. This means keeping apprised of both legal and business developments, and presenting practical solutions. We do not ever want to undervalue our expertise or deprioritize its continued growth.
That being said, a number of the legal services required to resolve more complex business issues should be deliverable in a more efficient, cost-effective way (without sacrificing reliable legal expertise). A good example is incorporating a company. Online services provide this process at cut-rate prices, ranging from free (federal incorporations can be done directly with the federal government for no more than their $200 incorporation filing fee) to fees for third party services ranging from $100-$200 (plus filing fees). In many cases, a lawyer adds a lot of value to this process. As soon as there is more than one shareholder, the complexities in determining the share structure and share rights are well worth a lawyer consultation. The preparation of the corporation’s organizational documents and Minute Book (the “Corporate Organization”) is an additional step that many online services do not offer. Too often we are approached by business owners who have incorporated online without completing their Corporate Organization. Such business owners have unknowingly been transacting business out of an “empty shell” company illegitimately. However, Corporate Organization is a service that needs be accessible at a low cost, even if the time investment in advising business owners is significant. Setting up the most basic building block of a business properly is critical to that business’ long-term success. Fortunately, we believe that we have found a way to provide this expertise in a cost-effective way for clients – by focusing on the delivery of expertise, rather than on the rote generation of documents.
This leads me into my next point about Momentum’s growth strategy: focus on finding efficiency in both technology and processes. We know that, second only to billing, clients’ biggest complaint with lawyers is the length of time it takes to complete projects. We know that clients often contact their legal team when a project is ready to go on. We avoid being the legal team that delays projects by implementing better processes for efficiency.
We embraced technology as a solution, but also assumed it would always be evolving. SAAS has opened up the door to experimenting with different services, and experiment we have! Gone are the days where you had to purchase high-priced products that you were stuck with for years. At each turn, we have asked not only how the new product or process is working for us, but how the client is experiencing it on the other end. Importantly, we have assumed that the tech we are using this year will not necessarily be the tech we are using next year. How much tech improves a process and how the client experiences our process are the evaluation metrics we use.
For everything from incorporations to shareholders’ agreements, and financings to acquisitions, we have created processes and adopted new technology tools. And, as alluded to previously, our job isn’t over. We will continue to seek out new tech to streamline our processes and provide our clients with the information they need. Our mission is to complete our clients’ legal projects at their pace of business.
As pleased as we are with our progress in 2015, we are even more excited about our plans for 2016. We will continue to refine our processes, and make technology work better for both us and our clients. Our goal is to provide an ever-increasing range of choices for our clients, so we will provide more client-guided service options online. We will work with our clients to embrace new business opportunities and be leaders in cutting-edge legal practice areas, such as equity crowdfunding. We will continue to work on the client experience in all aspects of our business, always cognizant that our processes and services must provide the highest level of legal and business expertise, in a format which is as client-centered as possible.
We declare 2015 a successful year of outside-in process development and look forward to what 2016 has in store!