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We Built an Affordable Subscription-Based Law Firm for Creatives

By Jon Tobin

When Jon Tobin discusses Creative Counsel’s subscription-based law firm program, lawyers are understandably skeptical. But, yes, it works.

Even in law school, I wanted a new way to practice law. I never felt drawn to joining a large firm like most of my classmates. Instead of going to on-campus interviews, I went to Croatia to figure it all out.

Somewhere during my first year — I believe during contracts class — I had a revelation that what I had been learning in my law school courses would have been immensely valuable in my previous career in technology, where I worked as a web developer.

That revelation led to a question that I kept coming back to: How can I get this information into the hands of people doing the type of creative work I had been doing before my shift to a legal career?

I knew that my answer to this question would involve combining law practice with technology. And that’s what our team does today.

An Answer to the Question of Legal Innovation

Ever since earning my license to practice law in California, I’ve tried different ways to address the problem that came to me during that first-year contracts class. I tried in-person seminars, easily scheduled consultations, and a variety of other permutations. All of them produced results that were “fine,” but none of these answers captured what I had been seeking.

Until we landed on something that gained traction. Our firm created one of the first legal subscription plans for businesses — the Creators’ Legal Program.

Developing an affordable legal subscription model was a possible answer to the question of how to get legal advice and information into the hands of creative people — at a price that they can afford.

Why Our Subscription-Based Law Firm Program Works for Our Clients and Our Team

Whenever we discuss our legal subscription program, other lawyers express understandable skepticism. And I get it — the whole concept seems counterintuitive. Lawyers ask: “Does it work? How do you make money charging only $95 per month? What if someone keeps calling you?”

The answers to those questions, in order, are:

  • Yes. I don’t have time for business pursuits that don’t generate profits.
  • That’s classified but see below.
  • They don’t keep calling us — most people have better things to do.

But let’s get into a little detail to explain.

A Commitment to Automation and Efficiency

From day one, we committed to the brutal automation of administrative tasks, such as scheduling phone calls, setting up matters or collecting payment. To get the subscription program up and running, we spent a solid two months designing and coding a system to handle all background tasks. This system continually evolves, but without it, there would be no way to manage the number of subscribers that we have while maintaining everyone’s sanity.

The commitment to automation and efficiency allows our team to focus on the only thing that matters: creating value for our subscribers. In this context, “value” means many things. Sometimes it involves one-on-one legal consultations, and other times it means doing a point-by-point review of a contract. In all matters, our goal has been to make these interactions easy and consistent, because that’s what our clients want.

Defining the Legal Subscription Program Offering: The $95 Challenge

We started the program by setting the price, deciding that our plan would cost $95 per month. That price reflects our commitment to making legal access affordable. We knew we could probably offer a subscription that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per month, but that would not achieve the goals we set.

Further, we didn’t see how offering subscription programs for hundreds or thousands of dollars a month differed from traditional law firm retainers. So we took a stand on the price and challenged ourselves to see what we could do within that constraint.

After defining the price, we set what customers would get for that price. That offering has changed over time — sometimes we add things (like live Q&A or free trademark searches), and sometimes we take things away — but in all cases, the key is for us to be clear about the boundaries of the offering.

In addition, we have worked to tailor our offering and messaging to our ideal customers: writers, artists, app developers, clothing companies, architects, and anyone else involved in a creative industry. We distinguish ourselves from a generic subscription offering by having deep experience with these types of clients.

A Healthy Obsession With Metrics

A subscription program functions as a feedback loop. Sometimes subscribers like what we include, other times it makes no difference, and a few times it has proved to be the wrong direction entirely.

We measure the success of our efforts obsessively by tracking metrics such as lifetime customer value, Net Promoter Score, churn rate and others. Getting this type of feedback proves essential in creating a thriving and profitable legal subscription program.

By tracking metrics, we always look for the sweet spot where we provide maximum value for our subscribers while not overextending our internal resources.

Our attention to metrics becomes more crucial as we move to grow our offering from hundreds of members to tens of thousands. We will use the lessons we learned over the past four and a half years to help us to scale reliably and profitably in the coming years.

Opportunities for Legal Subscription Programs

Since we started the subscription program in 2015, we have seen the subscription model get more attention from the legal technology community. Others are joining the conversation.

We like this because it means that more lawyers are trying out subscription models. Some try different price points. Others put together different offerings or target different practice areas.

Ideally, we will move to a world where more and more lawyers build subscription programs and learn what works and what doesn’t. While our firm found one model and niche that works, other models and niches can also thrive.

This type of experimentation serves clients and provides a healthy alternative to the standard billing models lawyers have used for decades, but which no longer serve the needs of clients. It will also help lawyers serve clients better and break legal technology enthusiasts out of the Manichean thinking that technology and lawyers somehow find themselves at odds.

Most importantly, I love practicing law this way. It has allowed me to build long-term relationships with my clients. My clients enjoy the experience of being able to get legal help using a subscription-based law firm model without jumping through financial or logistical hoops.

Additionally, I find this type of innovation to be satisfying because it allows me to use my skills in technology to show that lawyers can practice in ways that don’t center around the billable hour.

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Jon Tobin Jon Tobin

Jon Tobin is Founder and Partner of Counsel for Creators in Los Angeles, a law firm that empowers creative businesses with easy access to legal help. Prior to becoming an attorney, he worked as a web developer for a number of startups and established companies. He frequently writes, speaks, and comments on issues surrounding law and legal technology. You can find him at Counsel for Creators and on Twitter at @jontobinesq.

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