A Law Firm Lesson from Apple

Apple_gray_logoOkay. I’ll admit to a fangirl moment (or three) as I watched the much-anticipated Apple announcement. Apple had lots of good news for device junkies: bigger and better phones and a gorgeous new watch.

Wedged between the announcements about new devices, however, was an interesting introduction to an innovative service: Apple Pay. In brief, Apple deploys near-field communication technology to allow us to use phones and watches to make contactless payments. Apple’s vision is to replace the wallet altogether, beginning with payments.

According to Apple CEO, Tim Cook, credit and debit payments are a huge business in themselves — 200 million transactions each day totalling $12 billion per day and $4 trillion each year, just in the United States. However, this business is built on a precarious foundation: thin pieces of plastic that use magnetic strip technology that is five-decades old and security codes that are not terribly secure.

None of this is news. In fact, we’ve known for some time that this business was ripe for disruption, yet that disruption never materialized — despite the evident dangers of the current system.

Enter Apple and Apple Pay. Granted, Apple has the technology, reach and audacity to reform a business so different from its core business. (After all, we’ve seen Apple make this move before in the music industry and the telecoms industry.) Yet, what made it possible for Apple to take on the financial services industry when others have tried and failed? Here’s the answer in Tim Cook’s words:

It’s no wonder that people have dreamed of replacing [credit cards] for years. But they’ve all failed. … Why is this? It’s because…most people that have worked on this have started by focusing on creating a business model that was centered around their self-interest instead of focusing on the user experience.

We love this kind of problem. This is exactly what Apple does best. So we’ve created an entirely new payment process and we call it Apple Pay.

In case you missed it, here are the critical words: “most people that have worked on this have started by focusing on creating a business model that was centered around their self-interest instead of focusing on the user experience.” When I heard these words, I sat up and took notice. I couldn’t help but wonder: was he talking about law firms? How many firms are built on a business model that privileges the self-interest of partners instead of focusing on the client experience?

While every law firm claims to put its clients first, does it really? Does your firm?

If you’re wondering what the client-first approach would look like in practice, consider Riverview Law. This firm claims to have built its business model “from the client up” as opposed to “from the partner down.” According to Karl Chapman, Riverview’s CEO, putting the client first has a direct impact on the type of people they recruit, the systems they use, and the way they reward and compensate people. Above all, it means developing a firm culture that is markedly different from that of most firms you know.

Apple is considered the most valuable company in the world. Riverview Law is tiny compared to Apple, but it shares Apple’s focus on the client experience. And, like Apple, it has created an entirely new process to serve that client focus. How does your law firm stack up?

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia.org]

4 thoughts on “A Law Firm Lesson from Apple

  1. Mary,

    Terrific observation. Not being a fanboy but nevertheless curious I did watch portions of the Apple event. I had the same reaction you did when I heard Tim speak this statement. While I am sure no law firm leader listening to the event took notice as you and I did – it was validating to hear that business model design is a key to innovation – and something that is accessible to anyone. This is not crazy new tech that Apple Pay is using – rather it is a repackage of existing tech but wrapped in a “service designed” for the user. Simple.


    1. Josh,

      Thanks for your kind words. You’re right — Apple’s genius doesn’t lie in an ability to create entirely new technology. Rather, it lies in an ability to, as you put it, “repackage…existing tech but wrapped in a `service designed’ for the user.” This ability to design for the user has made Apple wealthy beyond belief. One would think that fact would be incentive enough to cause more law firm leaders to at least consider the possibility of applying Apple’s approach to the delivery of legal services. Apple provides a great precedent for them to follow.

      – Mary

  2. Mary,
    I think there are many attorneys and firms who put their clients’ needs first but few have the business savvy to deliver what the clients want/need in an efficient fashion. If they could only admit that being experts in law does not make them good business mangers and allow their administrators to run the business side of their firms, the clients would benefit, the firms would be profitable and the attorneys could go back to doing what they do best, practice law.

  3. Mary,

    I agree with you (and Josh) that many missed Tim Cook’s comment – start with the customer’s view and work from there. This type of design thinking is just not built into the DNA of most firms today, though there are nooks and crannies where it is changing. As I spent 20 of the last 21 years in-house, I was drilled in the “customer first” viewpoint and have advocated for that upon moving to my current role. Of course, part of the challenge is getting lawyers to think about designing solutions rather than being reactive firefighters.


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