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Law firms that experiment on clients, a move much worse than cross-selling

A chapter in a recent book about law firm management discusses how firms develop new practices. In Laura Empson, ed., Managing The Modern Law Firm: New Challenges New Perspectives (Oxford Univ. Press 2007) at 77 (Heidi Gardner, Timothy Morris and Narasimhan Anand), the authors discuss building a practice after an initial period of experimentation. They note that “generally only partners who are already fairly powerful have access to clients for the purposes of experimentation.” Later, as casually they write about “leaning on trusting clients to try out novel ideas or methods” to incubate a practice group.

Do those clients know they are guinea pigs? That their fees are paying to teach firm lawyers about a new area or technique? What is the gain to the legal department from the expertise quarried by the firm? Should the law firm that experiments on a client offer the client discounted billing rates as it learns on the job and builds its fledgling capability? What if the experiment fails?

At least cross-selling proffers experience (See my post of April 2, 2009: pros and cons of cross selling.). The notion of self-serving “experimentation” disturbs me, unless as in medicine the patient gives informed consent.