I’ll just go ahead and warn you — some of you aren’t going to like this post. But I think you should read it, and think about it.
Here’s the story:
Act One: I Try the Old-Fashioned Route
A few weeks ago, I needed a logo designed. As with most such things, I wanted it quickly, and I didn’t want to spend a fortune on it.
So, how did I start?
Exactly the way most people assume you’d start trying to find a lawyer….I asked for referrals.
I emailed a few friends for suggestions and I posted the query on Facebook and Twitter. (Yep, social media. It’s my default source for such requests, since it eliminates the step where I have to sit and think about who might have a useful connection.)
I got a few suggestions from Facebook friends, and I did a bit of research. Luckily they all had websites (thank goodness!), so I had some idea whether each person’s style would work. One was a no-go, but I got in touch with three options via email. I sent them all the same email, explaining how I got their name and that I needed a simple logo done ASAP.
Act Two: Things Go Nowhere Fast
Of the three, one responded the next morning (woohoo!) and wanted to set up a call that day to discuss the job. Another responded within a day (okay…) to say that she was too busy to talk about it for another few days. The third responded eventually, saying he’d been on his way back from Bali for the last several days. (He was instantly out of the running, suffice it to say.)
I was feeling pretty optimistic when I talked with the first candidate. Until, that is I asked about turn around time.
“How soon do you need this?” she asked me.
“ASAP, you know, tomorrow, if possible,” I answered, laughing.
Obviously I didn’t expect a full design by the next day, but her answered floored me: “Well, I have a lot of personal stuff going on right now, so I can get you a first draft in about three weeks. Is that okay?”
Um, no. It’s not.
But then my jaw really hit the floor, when she told me her price. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say there was an extra zero.
Act Three: I Desperately Look for Other Options
At this point, I was getting a little frantic. One of my options wasn’t responding (being on a long-haul flight), one wouldn’t talk to me for several days, and one wanted three weeks and an order of magnitude more than I was willing to pay.
F**k, what to do? My entire project was being held captive by this logo!
I remembered another suggestion from a Facebook friend: 99 Designs, an option I’d rejected as “not good enough.” But, given that I had no other options, I figured it was worth a shot.
Expecting a disaster, I posted the job, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best.
(Shortly thereafter, I got a new email from candidate one, saying maybe she could get the first draft done in a week if I paid a 50% rush fee. Guess where that email went?)
Act Four: All My Problems Are Solved
I went to sleep expecting the worst. So I was pleasantly surprised when I woke up to find several very usable designs.
I offered some feedback, waited a few more hours, and — presto — revisions appeared! It was almost like magic. Hordes of anonymous designers around the world, hanging on my every word and eager to please. What a lovely change of pace!
Within another day or so, I’d selected a tentative winner and we were sorting out the final details.
Total time from start to finish? Four days. Total cost? Well, not very much.
And the logo? It’s fantastic! People love it, and the designer — free of charge — gave me a second version I didn’t even ask for.
Check it out:
What Does This Have to do with the Law?
At this point, maybe you’re wondering what this story has to do with the future of law. Fair enough.
The experience caused me to reflect on the nature of creative work (which, at its best law is) and how easily it can be done other places these days.
Fine, you might argue, a designer is a designer. But I’m a specially trained lawyer! I can’t be replaced.
Are you so sure? The guy who designed my logo barely knew English, and I have no idea where he lives (somewhere halfway around the world, judging from the time lag). But he was a totally competent designer, and I have no doubt he was pleased to get the relatively small sum I was happy to pay.
- I never talked to him.
- I never gave him any specific direction.
- I have no idea what training he had.
But he still did the job faster, cheaper, and — frankly — better than anyone I was referred to personally.
How much legal work is like this? A lot, I’m thinking.
What did I do when I needed to create an LLC? I asked around for lawyers to do it, nearly had a heart attack when they told me how much it would cost and how long it would take, and ended up going to BizFilings.com. Not only was it cheap, it was also fast. MUCH faster than any living, breathing attorney would have been. (Or at least any that I talked with.) Their entire business model is set up to file basic documents as quickly and efficiently as possible, so they’re really, really good at it.
Same with tax filings. Having left things to the last minute (as usual) with my 1099 filings, I was in a panic until someone told me about FileTaxes.com. For less than $15, they did everything I needed to do (and more), and they did it instantly. Out of curiosity, I asked a CPA what he would have charged: $100 minimum with a several week lead time.
Here’s the scary part if you’re a traditional lawyer: These internet services aren’t just cheaper, many of them are faster and more convenient. Arguably, they’re better.
Would I have felt a bit more secure having a lawyer file my LLC docs, or a CPA file my 1099 forms? Yes. Was I willing to pay ten times as much for the privilege? No.
If you’re just starting out in your legal career (or even if you’re not), think critically about how you’re really adding value. And ask yourself if you’d pay what you cost?
In a lot of cases, the answer — if you’re honest — is “No.” And if you wouldn’t hire yourself (or wouldn’t be able to hire yourself), who will? Who can?
It’s a brave new world out there, and change is afoot.
Law’s a cartel, but the barbarians are at the gates. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next…
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