I wonder how many times and in how many different contexts, I have spoken about the access to justice gap. About how justice is not accessible to all, how most people and businesses are excluded from legal help and their statutory rights are not realized. About how access to justice is a significant, fundamental basis for a well-functioning society and how poorly it is currently implemented. And how little it is talked about in public. I rant on the subject to anyone who is willing to listen. Sorry (not sorry).
However, there is another perspective to this issue. The perspective of untapped opportunities and huge market potential. As with business in general, one’s problem is another’s chance to solve that problem and make a business out of it.
So if you look at the problem of access to justice from your perspective as a lawyer, it means almost limitless business opportunities for you.
In any other industry, the same statistics of an access gap would be looked at very closely in business development and strategy meetings, but in law, these statistics are mostly noticed by enthusiasts, not business developers. Access to justice is considered to be a marginal issue, which is mentioned in the keynote speeches, but when it comes to solving the problem, it is mainly non-profit organizations who have been active. I argue that it is not just charity and pro bono work that will finally solve the situation, but it is the new, creative and open-minded entrepreneurs like you who have a big role to play.
Here is your chance. Find a huge market that no one is serving yet. Create your own brand that reaches your ideal customers. Design the customer-centric services that your customers need. And make profitable business on your own terms.
Justice gap is a big deal
So this is the situation. Law touches each of us every day, but most people and businesses solve their legal problems without lawyers and courts. Many are asking for help from a friend or a relative, or try to solve the dispute directly with the other party. And people always have Google and internet forums. Very often, however, the legal problems go completely unresolved because people cannot represent themselves properly and give up.
From the whole society’s point of view, this is a really big thing. Without accessible legal services, economic growth is not inclusive and taking everyone into account. OECD considers the inability to solve legal problems to be one of the factors perpetuating poverty and slowing down sustainable development. Access to justice gap has also been acknowledged in the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Member States are required to ensure access to justice for all. We are still far away from this goal everywhere.
In other words, on a global scale, this is a huge deal.
Market potential in numbers
Let’s look at a few numbers. The global World Justice Project has taken on the challenge of obtaining comparable data on access to justice around the world. The project has been publishing the results now for a few years in its reports Global Insights on Access to Justice. The survey has been conducted in more than 100 countries in 2019 and provides information on how ordinary people around the world solve their everyday legal problems. The results show that legal problems are very common (49% of respondents had experienced a legal problem in the last two years), have a negative impact on people’s lives and the majority (71% of respondents) do not turn to lawyers to solve problems.
Now if this is not untapped market potential I don’t know what is! Just think if you could turn even a small fraction of this non-served demand into paying customers!
This is very much possible. Just hear me out for three opportunities that are up for grabs.
Find your blue ocean
Finding your blue ocean is your first opportunity.
Currently, lawyers are prisoners of their own business model and inefficiency and they compete for the same clients. In the language of strategy, lawyers and legal services are swimming in the red ocean, which is saturated with service providers who are difficult to distinguish from each other and who share the same little cake over and over again. Maybe you recognize this around you?
For me, one of the biggest fears of entrepreneurship has been the fear of competition. Fear that there is already so much supply in the industry that there are not enough customers for me. The fear that the competitors are so much better / more credible / finer than me / you-name-it that I have nothing against them.
This fear is completely useless. There are enough opportunities in the world for everyone, including you. And it is precisely you and your skills that are needed. Your customers need you.
So, rather than competing in the red ocean, it is much more impactful and actually easier to make competition irrelevant by finding your own blue ocean, your own customers, and your own way of serving them. Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim write about this in their classic book Blue Ocean Strategy. Following this strategy, you find or create a completely new market and serve customers who nobody is serving at the moment. So many times the competition is thought of as a zero-sum game where one win is the other’s loss. The blue ocean strategy helps you to redefine competition and encourages you to create new business outside of existing competition.
The blue ocean strategy enables, or rather requires, you to build your business on your own strengths and focus on the things that interest you and create the business model that best serves you and your customers. You don’t have to copy existing (bad) models and just settle for following competitors.
Pretty tempting, right?
Change your lawyer branding
Creating an appealing and personal brand is your second opportunity.
You can easily think that the problem with access to justice is related to money, that legal services are too expensive and most people just cannot afford to pay for them. While money is a big problem for many, money is not however the only reason people can’t find their way to a lawyer.
While the cost issue is important, accessibility needs to be looked at more holistically. The phenomenon cannot be reduced to the question of access to public legal aid or legal expenses insurance alone. Access gap is not just a problem for low-income people but it affects everyone.
As a lawyer, you have an enormous branding problem: people do not want to buy your services. People don’t know how and they don’t want to buy them, even if they have money. Where there’s a lawyer, there’s a problem. This is what many people think.
Let’s do a little thought test. If you now had a legal problem in your own life, where would you find a lawyer to help you? What would you do first? If I guess right, you would probably call someone you know, and unless this someone is an expert herself, you would ask for a recommendation. I get a lot of such queries from acquaintances. They first ask if I could help and then if I know anyone good I could recommend.
But what about those who don’t know any lawyers to ask. What are they doing? Do they set out to browse gray company directories, go through long lists of similar-sounding law firms, and pick up just some random name to call with perhaps the most important issues of their lives (if they can even find a direct contact)? Hardly.
Digitalization and social media make it possible to reach and address a huge number of customers, no matter how small business you are and even if you’re just starting out. Dare to seek inspiration from outside the industry from other businesses that are already speaking to your ideal customer. Find out what channels your customers use and take your message to those channels in a language your customers understand. Dare to interact directly with customers, listen and respond, and produce content that directly benefits your customers.
Here’s another great opportunity for you. Finding your own personal brand and being present in the channels your customers are will take you light years away from other service providers and help you find the right customers for you.
Find your edge by designing services that do not yet exist
Finally, I can’t help but add legal design to the list. Innovation of new services through human-centered design is your third opportunity.
The service that your customer needs from you can be something completely different than what you can even imagine at the moment. It can come in all shapes and colors. There is huge potential in the fact that the best of services does not yet exist. Human-centered design is a journey of exploration that helps you find out what your customers need and what you could offer to meet those needs. A fun fact that many lawyers miss is that the first service innovation can actually be very small, something very doable right now to begin with.
Developing services by design takes a big burden off your shoulders, as you don’t have to have answers ready and you will be more successful when you embark on a journey with an open mind. It also lowers the risk of investing heavily first and then finding out that it was not the right move.
There is no intrinsic value for you as a lawyer and in the legal services you provide, but value is based on your ability to serve customers and meet their needs. The value is in the impact you have on people’s lives. Therefore, changing the perspective from your own work to the customer’s perspective is the first step in reaching new customer potential, and human-centered design provides the means for this change.
So here’s the third chance for you. A big problem doesn’t require one big solution, but a myriad of small solutions. Your solution can be one of those small ones that ultimately moves the needle.