The Practice Platform is a phrase that we have started using here at Good2BSocial to describe a concept or an emerging trend that we see taking shape in the legal market today. It’s a way of describing how lawyers (and other professionals) can and need to start using technology as an integral part of their working lives in order to help develop and streamline their professional practice.
The idea of a platform or platform technology is not unique to the legal market. In fact, it’s an idea that has been introduced and developed in other business contexts to a much greater degree. As I wrote in a prior blog post, one of the first places the concept appeared was in the publishing industry where several years ago it became fashionable for publishers to encourage writers to develop their own publishing platform. Used in this sense, a platform does not so much refer to a specific technology as it does to an author doing whatever is necessary and effective in order to promote his or her work. An author’s platform typically includes multiple elements such as a blog, a twitter feed and a promotional speaking tour, all of which cobbled together help give the author visibility, provide a means for the author to interact with the public and at the same time reach a wider audience.
Although technology may serve as an important part of building an effective platform, the need for a platform is about more than the technology. It is about using technology intelligently to provide a new framework for working as a professional – a framework in which the individual lawyer relies less on a law firm and more on him or herself. In that sense, the lawyer’s Practice Platform is directly analogous to an author’s publishing platform, inasmuch as authors only came to see the need to develop their own platforms as publishing companies effectively retreated from their traditional role in providing a built-in platform to the authors on their list.
In that way, we see the Practice Platform is very much meant to address the needs of lawyers in the present moment. It is what can be described as a Post-Minksy Moment. Having survived a severe downturn in the years immediately following the 2008 financial collapse, the legal business today nonetheless remains unsure of its footing, stuck in a mode of transition and uncertainty. Watching the slow and fitful recovery, many of us have been struck by the sense that something has changed irrevocably – that 2008 represents a sharp break with the past and there’s no going back to the halcyon days of growth and prosperity that prevailed for more than 3 decades beforehand. Even now, as the deal economy is gradually sputtering back to life, it has brought prosperity back – even prosperity on a grand scale at least to the very top end of the market — and yet at the same time much of the broader market remains mired in overcapacity and most medium and large size law firms lack strong conviction about the future course of their business.
So it really doesn’t matter that partner profits are soaring at least for a handful of elite firms. The fact of the matter is that the dynamics of the legal market have changed. A substantial number of medium and big law firms have lost their mojo – they have lost their pricing power and their sense of control over their market. In a sense this is a change that parallels what has happened in other industries in recent years (including the publishing industry). Big law firms have lost their control of the market because the whole concept of legal services is in the midst of being redefined by technology and economics. As has been noted by a number of leading commentators, including our client and good friend Mark Cohen, instead of the big law firm being the exclusive provider of a bundle of unique services, with the power to dictate prices, the business has been transformed such that all sorts of tasks are capable of being unbundled and either outsourced or worse yet done better and cheaper by software. So big law firms are facing a whole new sort of competition, from new entrants and new business models unimagined only a few short years ago.
The Practice Platform, as we conceive it, should reflect and in many ways is a product of this shift in the marketplace. A fully developed Practice Platform should offer lawyers a way to practice that is less reliant on a big law firm as a vehicle for delivering high-end legal services. In a sense, the Platform should level the playing field by establishing a standard, affordable and incredibly robust work environment, which is available for lawyers and law firms of all sizes. It can be used to assemble a bespoke team of experts in order to handle a particular project. One of the fundamental principles of a Practice Platform is that it is open source and all its constituent parts are, to a very large extent, completely interchangeable. It is a Platform that lends itself ideally to bundling and unbundling in every conceivable combination until you assemble the resources that best address the clients’ needs.
That’s why the Practice Platform provides such a powerful solution for lawyers and law firms today. As the market power of big enterprises is waning, the power of the Practice Platform is only just beginning to emerge.