What I Learned About the Future of Law from Buying a Logo

Law FutureI’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:

Catapult 2013

Cute, right?

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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  1. I couldn’t agree with you more! This post was wonderful to read! I run a virtual law firm vujadelaw.com and the world is ready for experiences such as yours with 99designs (I also used them and they were wonderful!).

    Great post!

  2. Yes. To all of this. I think most learned professions are on the way out, with lawyers leading the way…down.

    Also, I’m all over 99designs now — thanks for the tip!

    • You know, I was reluctant, but I can’t say I’ll go back. And that’s actually the really scary part, I think. There’s a decent barrier to DIY entry, but — once you do it — it’s much harder to justify paying someone else the next time!

  3. This works if you can judge the quality of what you are getting (like a logo). Not so much, a contract. I’ve seen some incredibly crummy estate planning documents written by attorneys who don’t have a clue what they are doing, let alone non-lawyers. And of course, by the time you find out its screwed up you are out of luck and have to hire a lawyer at an hourly rate to swim upstream and fix it.

    However, I totally agree about communicating with clients and understanding that when people contact you they expect you to be able to help them with a reasonable turnaround.

    • It’s a fair point, but I don’t think it’s that simple. Here’s my logic:

      If we take as a premise that you can’t know whether the work is done correctly/competently at the beginning AND hiring a lawyer doesn’t necessarily ensure it’s done competently, why pay for a lawyer? Are you just supposed to take it on faith and hope that the one you hire is competent?

      In that scenario, I might actually feel more comfortable using docs that have been vetted by Nolo or someone like that, which at least ensure some minimum level of competence, even if they’re not customized for my particular scenario….

  4. My professor here at Indiana University, Bill Henderson, has been raising the alarm about this very phenomenon for years – especially the legal process outsourcers. He has been getting a lot of attention from the press, but not from the people within law schools who are best equipped to change the status quo. Glad to see you’re letting people know about how the ground is shifting beneath our feet; hopefully people take heed.

    I’ve been reading this website for a while; thanks for posting!

  5. First a foremost, I think your overall point is valid. The global market is changing the way we do business and it is important that we adapt accordingly.

    It is important to note, however, that we don’t know the true motivations behind the responses of your initial contacts for the logo design. I am a professional photographer and I am also competing with changing markets. I occasionally get calls from folks who are looking for a single image for a flyer, website or newsletter. If I am busy with bigger and better projects that pay well, I’m going to have to (regrettably) wait to get back to them. However, if I’m between jobs, I’m happy to crank out a quick cheap job to stay busy, I’ll be able to respond more promptly. Your project may simply not have been worth their time. I don’t think it is fair to conclude that they are missing out or somehow dropped the ball. It may be that “the global market” is all that is left for handling these smaller projects.

    I think it is important to make note of what we are really competing with when we’re talking about sites like 99 designs. I was recently working for a company doing design work exclusively in China. To a person, from the top down, everyone we were dealing with in China was using pirated software on computers with slave-labor-constructed components of stolen “generic” design. Be it the corporate heads, managers or the designers themselves, everything is being run on stolen product.

    I’m resigned to having to leave that kind of work behind because I’m not prepared to compete with thievery. I pay for my hardware and software, I pay my taxes, and those who work for me receive a fair wage. I would submit that receiving a cheaper product by going to the global market isn’t always something to celebrate.

    • That’s an interesting point about pirated software (although I wonder how many young US designers have a pirated copy of Photoshop…I’m guessing a non-trivial number). And I agree with you about avoiding a global race-to-the-bottom. That being said, there are lots of parts of the world where what’s a fairly trivial amount of money in San Francisco seems like pretty good compensation for a few hours (or less) of design work.

      Definitely a lot to think about, as globalization accelerates! Everyone hold on to your hats…

  6. I really love the design of your logo but I disagree with sites like 99Designs that require people to work on spec. I don’t care whether it’s considered new age or not; I consider it hypocritical to seek spec work when I won’t provide it myself. At sites like 99Designs, logo designers are essentially asked to complete a project for free on the chance that they may win a few hundred dollars. As a lawyer, I would never agree to write a detailed strategy for handling a case on the chance that I might be hired, or draft a memo to compete against several other firms for a job.
    For the other products, I agree with you completely. Particularly for new businesses, DIY is the best option; you can always upgrade later or not. But with bizfilings and legalzoom, you are at least paying for the service; you aren’t taking advantage of people by having them work for free.
    Believe me, I would love to use a service like 99design. My experience with most designers has been less than satisfactory and expensive besides. But if I’m not willing to work on spec, I just can’t, in good conscience ask others to do it.

    • It’s actually interesting how 99 Designs works (and I didn’t know this until I tried it out). When you post your contest, potential designers can “watch” it, suggesting they’re interested but don’t want to waste time if they have no shot at winning. We got a couple of watchers quickly, and I looked over their portfolios to see if they’d be a good fit. Only one really was, so I told him why we liked his work and asked if he wanted to participate. He did, and ended up being the winner. (Only one other person submitted anything, and we ended things early when it was clear our early favorite was going to do something suitable.) So, it’s not really the free-for-all that it might initially seem, or it doesn’t have to be.

      That being said, law firms work on spec all the time. When I did patent litigation, every RFP required a hugely time-consuming validity and infringement analysis, with no guarantee of getting the job. I’d sometimes spend days, literally, working on a pitch which went nowhere. It’s just a cost of doing business, for better or worse…

      • I still think an RFP is different because the analysis being provided is preparatory to the actual work that will be done. In fact, even when I cost a project for clients up front, I do the same kind of analysis that goes into an RFP on my own dime since for me, setting a budget is a legitimate cost of doing business. But in an RFP, you don’t have all of the project details; much of what you are providing is a road map of work you’ll eventually do. RFPs are also time consuming because of the administrivia that goes along with them. With 99designs, bidders are actually asking designers to provide the final product, not just samples of work or even broad concepts (which an ad agency might do for a potential client). Let me ask you this – if there was a website where clients could ask lawyers to write demand letters or draft contracts, and then pick a winner and pay the winner a fee, would you enter? I wouldn’t.

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