Can the legal profession fit into the subscription economy?

The Billable Hour v. Subscription Economy

Who ya got?

While we’re all debating whether the legal industry will experience or has experienced a “disruption”, there’s a parallel question that’s of much greater interest to me.

The definition of the billable hour, whether in law or massage therapy, is value delivered in measurable and monetizable quantities. One hour of my time is worth $X. One inherent limitation of the billable hour is it lacks scalability. You can charge more per hour, or bill more hours, but you can’t scale delivery beyond hiring more high priced associates.

Meanwhile, the massive growth of subscription based business services like SalesForce, EchoSign, Marketo and Xero beg the question–  can the legal profession get a piece of the action? Is there anything scalable about legal services?

Big bad billable hour

The short answer is no. We can’t fully automate the legal profession. But is there anything we can offer on an ongoing basis that would allow us to charge a subscription fee?

Accountants, for example, might offer payroll services for their clients to create a recurring revenue source. They typically don’t make millions, but it’s a nice stream of subscription-like revenue. I know a few lawyers who will pre-sell a few hours of their services every month for a flat fee, but I’ve not met one who has made a killing with that model.

So here’s my final question to you.

Is there room in the legal profession for lawyers to deliver a subscription service that runs parallel to legal services? Lawyers maintain newsletters and blogs to try to stay in front of prospects and former clients, but what if they could actually charge for a service that provided value year-round but didn’t eat up billable hours?

Please share your comments and feedback below.

Additional articles on the topic (h/t Carolyn Elefant)

Is a Virginia Small Firm’s $8.33/Month Self-Defense Retainer Plan a Hit Or Miss?

Legal Subscription Services, Revisited: Ethics Edition

About Preston Clark

Preston Clark has been writing about legal tech since 2010. He's currently the CRO for a leading legal tech SaaS company in the San Francisco Bay Area. Preston was formerly in-house counsel for the University of Miami and a Peace Corps Volunteer in Central America. In his free time, Preston enjoys building world-class sales teams, reading about SaaS, playing pick-up basketball and planning adventures with his son.