Second Wave legal practices and law firms are all about establishings parameters for client retention and client management. Whether a large firm or small firm, consumer or business firm, those representing plaintiffs or defendants, most, when you think about it, are factory-type organizations that set up parameters for clients to notice them, contact them, visit with them, retain them, and process their cases. Further, the client has no idea of the quality, type, texture or flavor of their legal services or opinions before hand. A phone call is answered a certain way, an initial consult is scheduled a certain way, a file is opened in a certain way, and the case is processed in a certain way. It can be layed off as proper case management or on malpractice considerations, but in this day and age it is not. Certainly a solo practitioner can drop the ball on a case, but most malpractice cases happen when the case falls of the conveyor belt in a large law firm. The attorney at the desk becomes the cog in the middle of the law firm machine that recieves information, stamps it and moves it on to the next party in line at the firm. These organizations are based upon standardization, centralization, concentration, synchonization, and bureaucracy. In short, they are about establishing barriers to becoming a client.
This is not the way Third Wave lawyers and practices operate. It is not that they follow form, but it is not a form process. In a Third Wave practice mass production is replaced by mass customization. Management levels are flattened or eliminated. The infrastructure that encapsulates the attorney is removed. The palace guards are banished for greater client contact and for the ease of contact. The removal of each of these layers reduces the time that has to be attributed to the matter saving time and money.
It never fails to amaze me that when I contact a Third Wave attorney that he or she answers the call. If I leave a voice mail message it is immediately returned. There is an immediate response to my email. A good many you can catch online and IM. At a Second Wave firm this is not necessarily so. Why? The communication has to be processed. A note has to be made of it, it has to be directed, and the response has to be thought out. Money is spent, and overhead is multiplied, for no better reason than multiple people have to touch and deal with the communication, document, pleading, or calender before it lands, and after it leaves, the desk of the person who has to make the command decision in the first place.
It all reminds me of the final scene in Bridge Over River Qui in which the surviving British soldier is just repeating the word "madness" in disbelief on what has been allowed to happen.
Factory-style law offices are obsolete. Big Law, as we know it, is dead except for Big Business that recognizes a kindred spirit.
I cannot outline here each of the ways in which the Third Wave excels at lowering client barriers. You can probably think of more ways than I. But, one way that I can think of off the bat is sampling.
Sampling might not sound very law firm oriented, but it is. I go into my favorite supermarket, I go to the Boars Head deli or meat department, and I first sample the hard salami. I might sample the rare roast beef or the beef pastrami. I might experiment with the thickness of the slice. Just a few slices, that is all. (One look at me and you can tell I do this often). It costs me nothing except a little of my time. I take it in, I savor it, I cogitate on my choices, and then I buy (or not buy). My decision is informed, however. I have a good feeling of what I want and can expect.
When I was a boy growing up in Texarkana we went to the butcher. It was a dark warehouse looking building. Mainly it was a combination smoke house and walk in freezer. Some meat would hang from hooks suspended from the ceiling. Most of it was back in the freezer. My mother would ask the butcher, with his blood stained apron, for a particular cut of meat. He would go back into the freezer, make the cut, bring it out, lift it up to show it to my mother and ask if this was okay. If so, he wrapped it in white paper, taped it and we left.
Then the Piggly Wiggly came to town. It actually put a piece of glass in the walk-in freezer so you could see the butcher cut the meat, but that was as far as you got.
Safeway then came to town and put the deli meats under glass, but that was far as it went.
These three latter examples represent barriers to being a client so to speak.
The lawyernistas of the Second Wave law firms will not let you hold the meat, feel the meat, smell the meat, eat the meat, or tell you what the meat costs before deciding to enter the factory to be processed. The choice is simply to buy the meat or not buy the meat, metaphorically speaking, based upon nothing but the pictures of the factory with its mahogany walls and marble floors (a nice factory but for what benefit).
To the degree that the Second Wave law firms have established a websites this is not enough because webstites have their limitations. It represents in our analogy the glass between the meat and the customer at the grocery store. You can see the packaged meat, but not much else.
This glass or this barrier represents the phone system, the phone trees, the receptionist, the secretaries or calendar clerks, the paralegals, the distance to the law firm, the paid parking, and all of the rest that get in front of the potential client's knowledge, understanding and sense of the law firm and the product. Barriers all to becoming a client.
A Third Wave law firm understands a website has a limited purpose. A Third Wave lawyer blogs, blogs often and blogs well. Back to the meat department analogy, over time the Third Waver explains the type of meat, the cut, the aging process, what fillers it has, how it should be sliced, saved, savored and used. Blogging, unlike websites, staffing and barriers, allows the process of sampling.
Second Wave firms cannot blog well because that would require an factory-like response to a need. The firms would have to conceptualize the blog, get outside input, form a committee to study how it might impact the firm, what it should cover, and what should and should not be posted. More important the firm would have to retain some IT person to do it for them or at least organize it. It is like having the local surgeon come over to manage the meat and deli departments. It is unrealistic, it is not what is needed and it gets in the way.
That is why Second Wave law firms have become comfortable enough with websites. The process of establishing websites is complicated and these law firms have to go through this whole process of design and layout, but once it is planned, organized, synchronized and completed, it is static. It is the glass in front of the meat selections. The Lawyernistas can pretend it is sampling, but in reality it is only eye candy.
Blogging (sampling) brings down barriers and leads to a more informed clients. And, what are better informed clients or potential clients? They are clients that do not need all of the other resources that surround Second Wave law firms. After potential clients sample the product, decide to buy, pick up the phone, they will likely reach none other than the attorneys that wish to represent them. And, the barriers come falling down.