In the IT industry, we have been grappling with this issue for a number of years… lots and lots of free information and advice on the Web, free open source software, and many, many free websites. Observations from the IT industry are that traditional paid-for software providers are still doing very well. The radical change that we thought open source software would bring hasn’t been as radical as we originally thought, and there are still plenty of well-paid jobs for IT consultants. Free open-source alternatives now with co-exist paid-for products and to varying degrees are embraced by the likes of IBM, Sun and even Microsoft.
Lessons for the legal sector (and indeed any professional service firms)
- Get close to your clients. Understand their business and become their trusted partner. Show you provide real value. Good consulting fees will remain for people who can do this well
- Look at low value-add services that you provide. These could easily become cannibalised and commoditized by free alternatives. Consider acting first and making them free before your competitors do (the Sun Open Office approach). Alternatively look at what else you can add to make your offering unique and worth paying for (the Microsoft Office approach)
- Look how you can use free products and build on top of them to lower your product/service costs
- Think about how it is possible to create packaged product offerings that can effectively compete with free, rather than simply an hourly service
- Think how you can create and distribute free offerings yourselves to introduce people to your brand (And perhaps if a free product is one step to far right now, you could consider starting by using free tools to help in your marketing)
- Consider getting involved and contributing to free information forums in order to build your brand recognition and reputation. The idea is essentially to build credibility, trust and brand recognition so that when people do need to purchase legal services, they will think to come to you