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Table of contents
Written by Scott Kelly
Scott is the president and co-founder of Afterpattern. He is a former ACLU attorney and current wannabe sci-fi writer.
If you run a law firm, you probably find yourself worrying about a certain 800-lb gorilla:
LegalZoom is, to put it delicately, a beast.
It’s one of the largest providers of legal services in the world. It has millions of visitors to its website, a valuation well north of a billion dollars, and shows up on the first page of Google for pretty much every major practice area under the sun:
But what is LegalZoom? And how has it been able to get so, well, beastly?
In a nutshell, it’s a legal products company. And one of the primary drivers of its success has been its ability to turn what have traditionally been services provided by law firms into do-it-yourself (“DIY”) products provided by a website—a process called “productization”.
What is productization?
Productization is the process of converting a service (work performed by people) into a standardized product (a tangible good). In the legal industry, productization often involves turning a legal service into an online form that a customer types responses into to generate information and legal documents automatically.
And while LegalZoom was one of the first legal product companies, it’s certainly not the last. Whether it’s trademarks, wills, immigration, or even equine law, where there is a legal service, increasingly there is a legal product that has been built to compete with it. The productization of law is part of a seismic shift happening across a broad range of professional service industries like accounting, engineering, and mental health.
The question for modern law firms is what to do about it. The answer?
Be more like the horseshoe crab:
The horseshoe crab may not seem particularly impressive or fearsome. But don’t let looks deceive you.
That little crab has the distinction of being the oldest living species of all time. It has survived millions of years and five major extinction events, not by being the biggest or fastest or strongest, but by being the most adaptable.
Modern law firms need to take a page out of the horseshoe crab’s book and adapt to the changing way potential clients and customers expect to get legal help.
Does this mean every law firm should become a legal products company? Absolutely not.
But it does mean that every law firm can grow its customer base and tap into new revenue streams by integrating legal products into their delivery model.
This guide to creating your own legal tech products will show you how to do exactly that: from coming up with the “right” product idea to building your product to bringing that product to market.
Idea: Avoiding no-good-very-bad legal product ideas
Coming up with good product ideas is an art but spotting bad product ideas is a science. Here’s an example of a bad legal product idea: “a website that does your taxes for you”.
A quick Google search tells us why this is such a bad idea:
Ah yes! The “website that does your taxes for you” already exists.
It not only exists but the leading product for “online taxes” is built and maintained by a giant corporation with a $100-billion market cap. Add to that the fact that several other companies are engaged in a gruesome battle royale to wrest the blood-spattered crown of “online taxes” from TurboTax’s hands, and what you have is a no-good-very-bad product idea.
This example of a bad idea may seem obvious but it illustrates an important point: good and bad ideas are not about substance. They are about advantage.
What is advantage?
There are two types of advantages: comparative and absolute. Comparative advantage is when a business can deliver a good or service at a lower cost than anyone else. Absolute advantage is when a business can deliver a good or service at a higher profit than anyone else.
After all, the substance of the “online taxes” idea is fantastic. Taxes are a recurring legal problem faced by billions of people across the globe. The solution is often as simple as filing a few forms with the government. And people are willing to pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars, to avoid the agony of completing these forms themselves.
The substance is literally a multi-billion dollar idea.
The problem is your law firm has absolutely no advantages. The space is hyper-competitive, the incumbents are extremely strong, and it would cost you millions just to get to a minimal viable product.
So how do you come up with a good product idea (or at least, rule out the bad ones)?
Feasibility vs Value: Decide if the legal problem is worth productizing
While substance alone is not enough for a good product idea, it’s a necessary ingredient. If you don’t pick a legal problem that’s “worth” automating, your product is doomed to failure.
One timeless framework for deciding whether something is worth automating is, believe it or not, this comic:
Put into words: when the time you save by automating the problem is greater than the time it takes to build the automation, it’s time to build.
This framework establishes the critical link between the feasibility of building a product and the value generated by that product. The more feasible your product is to build, the less value the product itself needs to create, and vice versa.
Keep in mind that with software you can serve unlimited numbers of people at once. That means you can multiply the time savings in the framework above by the number of people you reasonably think would use the product.
Of course, there are other ways to evaluate the potential benefits of the legal product you are considering. You can look at how much the product reduces costs, how delightful it is to use, but at the core of most great legal products is efficiency.
Advantage: The key to a good product idea is advantage
Once you’ve thought of a legal product that’s the right balance of feasible and valuable, it’s time to ask the hard questions:
What makes your law firm uniquely capable of tackling the problem? If a big company were to try to build this product, why would you still win?
To answer those questions, think hard about your law firm’s unique advantages and work backward from those.
Advantage #1: Existing expertise
Existing expertise is far and away the biggest advantage for many law firms.
For a company to build a legal product to compete with your law firm, that company has to hire someone (often a costly someone like a lawyer) and pay them for their expertise. For you to build a legal product, you don’t have to hire anyone for their expertise. You already have it. You stay up on the latest case law, you go to the new CLEs, you read the practice manuals.
Heck, you may even write the practice manuals.
You do all of this not because you want to build a legal product but because you have an existing law practice to run and existing clients to serve. That means the additional cost to your law firm of developing the expertise it needs to build a legal product is zero. The additional cost to the competitor company is very much not zero. It’s the salaries of the one or two or ten lawyers it takes to cultivate and maintain that expertise.
That, my friends, is what you call an advantage.
In fact, there is a whole new category of software product opportunities that has only recently emerged for law firms because of this advantage.
I call these product opportunities “The Long Tail of Legal”:
Product opportunities that fall within the Long Tail of Legal have two characteristics:
High cost of legal expertise: Solving the problem requires significant legal expertise, usually because the issue is complex, fast-changing, and/or varies greatly by jurisdiction.
Medium / low revenue potential: Solving the problem is likely to generate low seven-figures in annual revenue or less.
For decades, the Long Tail of Legal has been largely ignored by law firms and software companies alike because the profit margins were too thin.
Luckily for law firms, the times they are a changing.
This can cut software development costs by a factor of 10 or more.
As discussed in more detail in the “Build” section below, law firms can even hire people to develop their products on “no code” platforms. This means your law firm doesn’t have to learn any new tools in order to take advantage of the cost savings associated with no-code platforms.
That’s what makes the Long Tail of Legal so appealing.
The cost of developing legal products has stayed more or less constant for software companies because they still need to hire legal experts. But the cost of developing these products has gotten dramatically cheaper for law firms.
In other words: LegalZoom literally can’t afford to compete with your law firm. The economics just don’t make sense.
How do you know if the product idea you are considering falls within the Long Tail of Legal?
One quick-and-dirty tactic is to do a little search-engine key word research. This research involves analyzing how often people are searching for particular phrases as well as how hard you would have to work to get your product to appear on the first page of Google for those phrases.
In an ideal world, your product would target a set of keywords that had high search volume and low competition. Put differently: you want a product that fills an unmet need.
To conduct research, start by picking a keyword research tool. I’ll use my favorite Ahrefs (in case you’re curious, it has a $7 trial) for this exercise but you can just as easily use free ones offered by Moz or Ubersuggest.
Next use the tool to look up a question or phrase you’d expect the target user of your product to search for. For this example, let’s say your law firm is based in New York City and provides formation and licensing services to small- and medium-sized businesses.
Your first idea for a legal product is a tool to help businesses across the United States form an LLC, so you search “LLC” in Ahrefs:
This result is a GIANT red flag.
For most keyword research tools, you’re going to see something like the three key metrics you see above: difficulty, volume, and cost-per-click (“CPC”).
First, the good news: The volume for this keyword is fantastic! An estimated 171,000 people search that phrase each month. And advertisers clearly think the phrase is valuable because they’re paying $8 for people to click on their ads.
Now the bad news: The keyword difficulty is “super hard”. This means it is very, very competitive, with lots of companies vying to rank for it. Ahrefs estimates it would take a whopping 273 websites linking to your online tool for it to show up on Google’s first page. Yikes!
You can confirm how hard it would be to launch a nationwide LLC formation tool by Googling your search phrase and checking out the competition:
Another giant red flag. The top ranking results for “llc” are the federal government, Nolo, and the 800-lb gorilla itself: LegalZoom. We need to run away from this product idea as fast as we can.
Ok so let’s try an idea further down the Long Tail of Legal, like an online form that automates the LLC formation process in New York. The keyword analysis for the phrase “llc new york” looks much less ominous:
But when we Google “llc new york”, we encounter that pesky gorilla again:
It appears LLC formation in New York is not sufficiently complex or local to keep LegalZoom from offering a product to solve the problem.
This means we need to get creative and travel even farther down the Long Tail of Legal in search of a legal issue that affects a good chunk of people but requires even more local- or issue-specific knowhow. For example, maybe one of the major categories of clients your law firm serves is restaurants and a common formation issue they face is applying for a liquor license.
So how about we develop a legal product that streamlines that process in New York City?
The keyword analysis for “liquor license nyc” looks pretty promising:
The difficulty is low and the volume is still pretty good. (If an estimated 450 people are searching for that exact phrase, you can assume 1,000s are searching for variations of it.)
And LegalZoom and companies like it are nowhere to be seen in the Google results:
The image above includes one more positive sign: law firms appear for the query. That indicates the problem we’re hoping to build a product for is solvable by legal expertise and that it’s revenue generating.
You can continue to refine the scope of the opportunity space by looking for an even higher search volume problem that still has low competition from traditional software companies. Maybe you expand your addressable market to include helping with liquor license applications throughout the state of New York or the Northeast? Or maybe you decide to build a product that helps restaurants in New York handle all of their small business needs, from liquor licensing to incorporation to supplier agreements?
If you want to pick an idea in the Long Tail of Legal, just remember to keep an eye out for the gorillas.
Advantage #2: Timely products
Another major advantage law firms have is speed.
If a new legal problem suddenly emerges in the world, it may take a big software company months before it can even think about launching a product. Meetings with important “internal stakeholders” must be had. Powerpoints must be gestured at with laser-pointers. Whitepapers must be drafted.
Big companies like big meetings.
Your firm doesn’t need to do any of this. You can see the problem, rely on your expertise to come up with the solution, and then just… build the product.
Speed is exactly the advantage one of our users, Greg Siskind, leverages when launching his legal products. Greg is an AILA board member and partner at Siskind Susser, one of the leading immigration law firms in the country. When there are late-breaking immigration law developments, Greg often uses Afterpattern to build an online tool like a smart form or document assembly automation to help the public navigate the changes.
By shipping his legal products within days—or in the case of the Trump administration’s travel ban, mere hours—of the law changing, Greg helps thousands of people right at the moment they need it most. And by doing that, Greg regularly generates dozens of new clients for his firm.
Think of “timely” legal products like writing for the news. Thousands of people may want to read an article recapping a baseball game played yesterday. But almost no one is going to read that same article even a week later.
The connection between the news and “timely” legal products is more than analogy though. Often the best place to look for your law firm’s next legal product is in the headlines. A legal startup called DoNotPay is a case study in how to apply this formula.
When Equifax exposed the sensitive financial information of millions of its users, DoNotPay launched a product to sue Equifax almost immediately:
And when the COVID lockdowns hit in the spring of 2020, leaving millions suddenly unemployed? DoNotPay shipped a tool to help those millions of people file for unemployment:
How about when the investment app Robinhood froze trading during the height of the GameStop and WallStreetBets craze?
You guessed it. DoNotPay was there again with a product for suing Robinhood.
And while timely legal products may themselves have expiration dates, they often generate enduring benefits like customer sign-ups, media relationships, and backlinks to your law firm’s website (learn more about the importance of backlinks in this legal marketing guide).
Advantage #3: The product-service hybrid
The final big advantage that law firms have over software companies is regulatory. Law firms can give legal advice; other companies can’t.
For certain categories of legal problems, this regulatory advantage has huge implications. It means your law firm product is always able to outcompete a software company’s product because you have the profit upside of additional services revenue, and they don’t.
Let’s take an extreme example: contested divorce. Contested divorces are famous (infamous?) for generating a lot of revenue, yet the only divorce product LegalZoom offers is notably for uncontested divorce.
Why? Because the vast majority of the revenue generated by contested divorces is from legal advice and advocacy in court. And only law firms can provide those services.
Now you probably need to think hard before developing a hybrid product-service for contested divorce because very little of the process seems productizeable.
But there are a wide range of legal problems where a hybrid product-service is a great fit because part but not all of the solution is automatable. Interestingly, software companies like LegalZoom have recognized this and are expanding aggressively into offering flat-fee products coupled with “attorney review” and “legal protection” services:
But because LegalZoom is not a law firm and is only sending leads to independent law firms, it can only take a certain chunk of the value of the resulting cases. In contrast, if your law firm develops a legal product that offers additional services like attorney reviews or consultations, you can capture 100% of the value of those additional services.
This means you can forget about trying to rank organically on the first page of Google for hotly-contested legal search terms. Instead, you can simply jump to the top of the page by paying more per click than your competitors. This is a great strategy if your ability to profitably convert those clicks is reliably better than your competitors.
It can even be a good strategy to give away your product completely for free:
What is a loss leader?
A loss leader is a pricing tactic where you sell a product below its cost or even give it away for free in order to generate demand for other value-add products or services. Movie tickets are a classic example of a loss leader. Once you're inside a movie theater, your only food-and-drink options are the movie theater’s (often quite pricey) concessions.
The simplicity of a message like “Free tool to solve X legal problem” is always a great way to generate interest in your product. Law firms like Cooley and Goodwin Procter have done exactly this with their products for startups, CooleyGo and Founders Workbench. Both legal products are free online tools that companies can use to prepare some of the complex documents they need to get started:
These law firms can afford to give away their products because it builds a brand relationship and raises the odds that startups will have Cooley and Goodwin Procter top of mind when deciding who to hire for pricey legal services related to fundraising and mergers.
You can make the connection between your free product and your paid services even more explicit by offering attorney-review upgrades directly in your product. This is the power of the hybrid product-service approach: you get the marketing benefits of free and the financial upside of paid.
Build: The questions to ask when building your law firm product
Now that you’ve picked your product idea, it’s time to get down to the business of actually building it. A tried-and-true way to give structure to the building process is to answer the 5 W’s and 1 H of product development: who, what, where, when, why, and how.
Why: Your product’s value proposition
Let’s start with an easy one: why are you building this product?
This is the legal problem that your product is designed to solve, and if you read the “Idea” section above, you should already have an answer (or at least, a hypothesis to test).
How: Code vs no code
Building certain kinds of legal products may require going beyond no-code platforms and using custom code. Three common areas where this applies are:
Cutting-edge technology: Do you want to build a cryptocurrency for bail bonds? An augmented reality experience for navigating a courtroom? A drone for autonomously delivering service? For emerging technology like this, your only option is going to be custom code.
Novel uses of existing technology: If your product idea is taking existing technology and applying it in new or non-standard ways (for example, using natural language processing to parse contracts and turn that into data visualizations), you’ll probably need to hire a software developer.
Complicated integrations: Finally, custom code may be a better option if your product needs to integrate in complex ways with niche software like a specific public record API or a company’s ERP system.
Hiring software developers
If you’re looking to hire a team of software designers and developers, consider freelance marketplaces like Upwork and Fiverr, as well as legal-tech-focused software development agencies like A2J Tech and Theory & Principle.
For the vast majority of products your law firm might consider building, however, no-code software development platforms like Afterpattern and Zapier are going to more than meet your needs, while also providing you with big savings in cost and development time.
These savings also unlock two of the three competitive edges discussed earlier in the “Idea” section: legal products based on existing expertise and legal products where timeliness is everything.
For the rest of this section, we’ll focus on law firm products built on no-code platforms since that’s the more common path.
Where: Web App vs Mobile App
Where should your law firm build its app: on mobile or the web?
Five years ago, this question would have sparked a lot of debate. Back then it seemed like every business, regardless of size, wanted to build its own mobile app for customers to download.
Fast forward to today and we know better.
Turns out the vast majority of people don’t download more than two to three mobile apps a month, and usually those are for games or social media. Compare that to the number of new websites people visit in a month and... the answer to the web app vs mobile app debate is pretty much settled:
When in doubt, build a web app.
Web apps look and function almost exactly the same as mobile apps—with the added advantages that they don’t need to be downloaded and they work on desktop computers as well as mobile devices. Only consider building a mobile app if your solution involves functionality that’s tightly coupled to mobile phone features like camera, airplane mode, or GPS.
What: Document automation, online form, database, client portal?
When designing your legal product using no-code tools, it’s helpful to think of your product like it’s made up of Legos: a series of pre-built blocks that you fit together to form a cohesive whole. Your job is not to shape something out of nothing but rather to identify the blocks you want to use and connect them. In the legal industry, products usually consists of the following building blocks:
Building block #1: Online form
Online forms (also called “questionnaires”) are simple, purpose-built web apps that present user’s with questions, collect responses, and then use branching-logic to present new questions or information to the user. LegalZoom, for example, relies heavily on the “online form” building block in its legal products.
If your product involves an online form, one crucial consideration is how “logic heavy” your form is. If the form is designed to ask a basic set of questions in a linear fashion, you can probably get away with using a lightweight online form builder like Google Forms.
If, as is often the case with the law, your form requires more complicated logic like calculations or loops, or if it needs to collect payment via platforms like Stripe or LawPay, then you should consider using more powerful platforms.
Building block #2: Document assembly / automation
Legal technology products often pair an online form with functionality to automatically generate one or more documents. If your planned product involves document automation software, there are a number of important questions to ask when picking what platform to build on:
Do you need a document creation tool for Microsoft Word documents, PDFs, or both? Does the tool need to allow conditional insertion of data and complicated formatting, or is simple mail-merge functionality enough? Where does the final document go after it’s assembled (for example: is it downloaded directly by the customer, saved in a database for document management, or emailed as an attachment)? Do your document templates need e-signature fields and, if so, do those e-signatures need an audit trail?
You get the idea: document automation software is a category that includes a multitude of different options, each with their own strengths and limitations. There are legacy players like HotDocs and new entrants practically every day. It’s important to understand exactly what the platform you’re planning on using offers and if that functionality matches the specific needs of your product.
Guide to Document Automation
For a deep dive into document automation solutions, check out this guide.
Building block #3: Database
A database is a foundational building block for most legal tech products. If customer information ever needs to be stored, edited, or reused, you need a database.
For example, if your product involves a workflow where the user fills out an online form, your team edits the submission, and that data then populates a document template, you need a database. If you have a product where customers input their data once and can use it again and again to populate different sets of document templates, you need a database.
I’ll keep things simple and just say that, whatever product you build... you’re probably going to need a database.
One big factor to consider when evaluating a database platform to build your product on is whether the database lets you store more than “just text”. A good database goes beyond mere text and stores things like files, dates, and numbers, as well as the relationships between information in your database.
Building block #4: Customer / client portal
The final common building block you see in legal products is a customer portal (also called a “client portal”). A customer portal is a website where your customers can login and securely access their data.
A custom portal differs from a database in two important ways:
Access: Portals have restrictions on exactly what data the customer can see and whether the customer can edit that data, whereas databases usually give unrestricted access to both view and edit data.
Actions: Portals let your customers do more than just see or edit their data. Customers can often perform actions like make payments, send communications, and (especially with legal tech products) generate documents.
In considering whether a portal is a good fit for your product, the big question to ask is whether the product solves a one-time or recurring need.
For example, if your product is to help a business generate incorporation documents, the need is one-time and a portal is probably overkill. Better to keep things simple and not force the customer to set up an account they’re never going to use again.
On the other hand, if your product helps a business manage all of its contracts and intellectual property on an ongoing basis, the need is recurring and a portal is a great fit.
Putting the building blocks together
Once you’ve identified what building blocks to use for your law firm product, the next step is to look for a no-code platform (or platforms) to build it all on. The order of these steps is crucial because if you pick your platform BEFORE you’ve selected your building blocks, you’ll waste money and time building one of these.
Rube Goldberg Machine’s make for fantastic music videos but terrible legal products. For example, you may have heard about how great Airtable is for building databases (it is great!) but you may want to avoid it if your product also requires a logic-heavy online form or document automation or sending emails, much less if it requires all three of those features.
Sure, you could set up integrations between Airtable and a form builder like SurveyMonkey… and a document automation tool like Webmerge... and an email service like Mailchimp. And maybe you could sprinkle Integromat or Zapier on top to glue it all together.
But what you’d end up with is an extremely brittle solution that is both costly and time-consuming to maintain.
And then you’d be back to square one.
After all, the whole reason to implement your product using “no-code” tools is to avoid costly and time-consuming product development. That’s why it’s important to look for a solution that offers most (if not all) of the blocks you need and build with that.
Speaking of which… it’s time for the one-and-only shameless plug in this guide. All of those building blocks I wrote about above—online form, document automation, database, and customer portal?
Afterpattern lets you incorporate them into one seamless product, without the need for custom code or Rube Goldberg integrations.
If you have a legal tech product in mind, just book a call with us. We’d love to chat about your idea… even if you decide to build it somewhere else. Seriously: we’re geeks like that. Or you can just sign up for an account, watch a few tutorials, and start building completely for free right now.
Who: You or someone else? Whatever works.
When people discuss whether to build a product with a no-code platform like Afterpattern or with custom code, often what they’re really talking about is “who” should do the building: you or someone else?
The implication is that “no code” means “do it yourself,” and “code” means “hire someone to do it for you.” This couldn’t be more wrong. Today any no-code platform worth its salt is supported by a strong community of “citizen developers,” many of whom offer their services for hire.
What’s a citizen developer?
Citizen developers are people who may not know how to code but can develop software products efficiently and affordably using no-code platforms.
Need someone to create your web app from scratch, complete with online form, database, and document automation functionality? Yep, there are citizen developers you can hire for that, too.
The beauty of citizen developers is your law firm can get the cost- and time-savings of no-code platforms, without having to learn how to use them.
That said, your law firm may have very good reasons for wanting to build a legal product without any outside help. For example, you may want to develop institutional capacity and know-how so that you can launch additional software products in the future. Building out your own product may be something you genuinely enjoy and want to make a core part of your legal practice.
One oft-cited but oft-wrong reason to build on your own is to save money. Strange as it may sound, hiring someone for $100/hr may sometimes be the most cost-effective way to get from product idea to product launch.
It’s all about opportunity cost.
If you spend twenty hours building your product with a no-code tool, you could have used those twenty hours to do something else. And if those twenty hours could’ve been spent billing out your time at $200 per hour, then your opportunity cost is $2,000, the difference between the money you didn’t earn ($4,000) minus the money you saved by not hiring someone ($2,000).
If you do decide to build on your own, it’s important to look into whether the platform you’re building on has the right resources to support you. At a minimum, that means the platform should have a comprehensive user manual as well as tutorials for you to follow along with. A thriving user forum (often hosted on Facebook, Slack, or Teams) and tutoring services are also pluses.
When developing digital products on their own, however, software programmers don’t rely only on user manuals, tutorials, and user forums. They actually build off the work of each other:
Software developers share, discover, and duplicate code using tools like GitHub.
They do this by duplicating (called “forking”) the code shared by other developers and modifying it for their own purposes.
Citizen developers should expect no less from their no-code platform. For example, with Afterpattern, you can browse a library of workflows and templates that other users have shared and reuse those apps for your own product.
When: You will launch too late
Reid Hoffman, the founder of Linkedin, famously said if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you launched too late.
Well, I have bad news for you. You will launch too late.
Because you’re a human being. And as a human being, you’re not going to want to launch a product to the public that you find substandard or embarrassing. That’s just not how most people are wired. That’s doubly true for law firms because you have to worry about the impact an embarrassing product launch could have on your existing business and clients.
So I’m not going to sit here and tell you to launch something embarrassing. But now that you know your product will be launched too late, be sure to have a bias toward launching earlier than feels comfortable. Don’t try to build everything at once or make your product perfect.
Start small, launch early, and listen to your users. That’s when the real fun (and embarrassment) begins.
Go-to-Market: If you build it, they will not come
Now that we have our idea and we know how to build it, this guide on launching legal products is over right?
Actually... we’re just getting to the hard part.
There’s a popular saying that goes: first-time founders only care about product. Second-time founders only care about distribution.
But the saying misses the point entirely. Your product and your go-to-market strategy are the same thing, or they should be. If a go-to-market strategy is something you graft onto your product after it’s been built, you’re working at a major disadvantage.
After all, what’s a product without a market?
Let’s leave answering that to the philosophers. In the meantime, let’s focus on how to avoid this mistake by considering the two types of go-to-market tactics you need to incorporate into your product: internal and external.
Internal Tactics: What’s on the page
Internal go-to-market tactics are all about what’s “on the page.” In other words, what the experience of using your product is actually like.
It may seem counterintuitive but one of the best ways to acquire customers and market your product is to forget about marketing altogether and just focus on your product’s on-page experience.
This is possible because search engines are one of the most important—if not THE most important—channels for acquiring new users. And your web app is much more likely to rank well on search engines if your on-page experience is performant and relevant.
1. Performance: The need for speed
The speed of the web product your law firm builds has never been more important.
Not only does the time it takes for a webpage to load massively impact how likely people are to stay on a webpage, speed also affects whether your product shows up in organic search results. You could build the most helpful legal product ever—but if people get tired of waiting for it to load or they can’t even find the tool in the first place, you’re doomed.
Google made the “need for speed” official when it announced last year that page performance (what it calls “core web vitals”) were slated to become a ranking factor for search results.
In the world of search engine optimization, what Google says goes. So do yourself a favor and test whatever website or web app you build by plugging your product’s URL into this PageSpeed Insights tester.
Ignore the overall score and instead scroll down to the “Lab Data” to look at the metrics with blue bookmarks next to them: “Largest Contentful Paint” and “Cumulative Layout Shift”. LCP and CLS are the two core web vitals that Google now considers ranking factors:
If these are green, you’re all set! For example, the web app built on Afterpattern in the screenshot above passes with flying colors.
If your LCP or CLS metrics are orange or red, well… a bad result isn’t the end of the world. After all, a lot of successful gorillas… I mean, “websites” aren’t yet passing Google’s speed tests:
But you should strongly consider improving your product’s vitals. It’s a surefire way to make search engines and customers alike happy.
2. Relevance: Indexable content is king
If you’re trying to get your product to appear in search results, another important factor to consider is what content appears publicly about your legal product. Now you may be thinking to yourself:
“My law firm is building a software product, not writing a book or article. Why does content even matter?”
Trust me: it matters.
First and foremost, the information you provide about your product is how you get a lot of customers in the door in the first place. They want to understand what value the product provides, how much it costs, and how long it takes. The content you write should answer those questions clearly and concisely.
Second, your content is how search engines know what your product even is and which search queries to display your product for. Search engines like Google and Bing don’t actually click through your product and evaluate its functionality. Instead, they rely on what your product says about itself and use those keywords to match your product with relevant queries. That’s why it’s so important that your law firm’s product website not only includes detailed information about the product but that this information is public. To be technical, the content about your product needs to be both crawlable and indexable.
If that’s the case, don’t panic! You don’t have to rebuild your product. You just need to build a simple website to advertise it. This website is what is called a “splash page” or “landing page”—a static website that provides information and FAQs about a product and offers a straight-forward call-to-action (e.g. “Form your business now”). You can build a website like this using off-the-shelf site builders like Wordpress and Webflow. If your law firm is offering the product directly, you can even add this splash page to your law firm’s website or blog.
Once you know the content about your product can be crawled, you want to make sure it is indexed correctly, meaning it shows up for the right results. Of course, Google is very, very good at figuring out where to index a particular web app and what search results to display it for. But you can help search engines like Google out by making sure your content includes the words and phrases that people are likely to search for.
Getting your Afterpattern app indexed
If you’re using Afterpattern to build your legal product and want your web app to be crawlable and indexed, we’ve made it easy. Just select the “Public” discoverability option when activating your app and you’re all set.
External Tactics: Channel surfing
When it comes to “off-page” or external go-to-market tactics, it’s all about marketing channels. Marketing channels are the ways you reach your customers and get them to start using your product.
Covering all of the channels you should consider when launching your product would be an article of its own—and as luck has it, our marketing guide is just that. It’s geared toward marketing law firm services but many of its core concepts can be applied to law firm products.
While I recommend you read the whole guide when you get a chance, here’s a summary of the top marketing channels and when to use (and not use) them for your product:
1. SEO / Content marketing
The Quote: “Let me put this scary law firm SEO topic in the simplest terms possible: write for humans, in a way that makes it easy for robots to tell what you are talking about, while citing your sources to back it up. Do that, and you will be 80% of the way there.”
When to Use: If your product is meant to be used or discovered by members of the public, you need to think about SEO.
2. SEM / Pay-per-click advertising
The Quote: “With that $6 million a year, I generate about $10 million a year in revenue, almost entirely off of lead generation. To get there, we had to test dozens of different digital marketing strategies, multiple ad networks, and multiple lead partners, and have the patience to lose money for years before ever turning a profit. But now, we generate over 200 leads per day, like clockwork, at a 30% profit margin.”
When to Use: Whether pay-per-click search ads are a good fit for your legal product is all about economics. If the economics are on your side and you can profitably convert clicks into users and users into customers, then you can double and triple down on paid-ads and watch your business grow. As discussed in the “Advantage” section, consider this approach if your offering is a hybrid legal product-service with healthy margins.
3. Social media
The Quote: “[F]or nearly every lawyer, competing (on search sites) for the people who are ready to hire a lawyer is a better idea than blasting through someone’s monkey videos (on social networks) with passive advertisements that may lead to them thinking about possibly hiring you someday in the future. If you have maxed out your paid search advertising budget, or just simply can’t afford to play in that arena, maybe social media is worth a go, but be prepared to struggle with measuring a return on your investment.”
When to Use: You probably shouldn’t. While social media ads may seem like a good marketing channel, it’s not a great fit for most legal products and services. Consider search ads instead.
The Quote: “Once you have captured their email address, this is where the drip campaign starts. The user will receive an email immediately confirming that they have subscribed to your list and providing them with the lure that they were promised. A few days later, they get another email giving them a couple hundred words of education about their legal issue. A couple days after that, maybe they get a link to an article or another downloadable guide. And once they’re warmed up, you might sprinkle in an email that offers a discount if they sign up today...”
When to Use: Email marketing is a great tactic to pair with “loss leader” or free products. You can use the free product to provide a valuable service in exchange for the user’s email. And once you have that, you can communicate directly with the potential customer about why they should upgrade to your paid tier or hire your firm.
The Quote: There’s no quote for this marketing channel because it was too obvious for our law firm marketing guide: of course the existing clients of your law firm are a good bet to hire you for even more services. But existing clients can also be a great marketing channel for law firm products. You have a direct relationship with your clients and you understand their needs. It’s just a matter of building the right product to meet those needs.
When to Use: When considering marketing your products to your own clients, think carefully about whether the product your offering is a complement or a substitute for your legal services. A complement creates new value on top of your legal services, whereas a substitute may lead to less revenue as clients opt for the (presumably lower-priced) product instead of your services. Just because your product is a substitute for your legal services, however, doesn’t mean you should rule it out. Blockbuster would be a lot better off today (it would still exist!) if it had decided to offer a movie streaming service instead of worrying about eating into its existing business. The lesson: if you don’t build the legal product, your competition just might.
The Internal-External Tactic: Viral loops
Viral loops don’t fall neatly into either category of go-to-market tactic. They are part internal product design, part external marketing channel, and get their very own section in this guide because they’re that important.
Viral loops should not be confused with viral marketing. Viral marketing is a funny meme or gimmick that gets shared again and again until everyone, their mother, and their mother’s cat has seen it.
You probably remember this guy.
Billions of views later this guy is the best thing to happen to the Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice brand in its history.
And while you can’t reliably bottle the magic of a meme like that, you can intentionally build product mechanics that lead to growth that’s just as explosive. That’s what a viral loop is.
The classic example of a product with a viral loop is Dropbox:
See that? You get free storage by referring Dropbox to a few friends. And those friends get free storage by referring Dropbox to a few of their friends. Compound that a couple dozen times, and suddenly everyone is using Dropbox. This simple incentive helped launch Dropbox into the stratosphere with 3,900% year-over-year growth.
Now here’s the reality: your product probably doesn’t have a viral loop that can be built into it. Most products don’t. But it’s important to analyze if, with a few design tweaks, your product could have viral loops because the upside is exponential.
The hallmarks of virality to look for in your product are:
1. One leads to more than one
This is the basic math of virality. For a product to be viral and grow exponentially, the use of the product by one user must lead to the use of the product by more than one user (for example, 1.1 or 1.5 or 5 users). If the use of your product by one user leads to less than that, your product is not viral and its growth will need to be fueled by customers acquired via other marketing efforts like SEO and PPC ads.
2. Multi-user functionality
It’s hard to build a viral loop if your product doesn’t involve people interacting in some way with other people. A product that helps a business incorporate isn’t likely to be viral because its use is limited to that company.
Luckily, the law is primarily designed to govern how people interact with each other, so there are lots of legal issues that can only be solved with “multi-user” functionality. For example, contracts are definitionally about relationships between parties, and present a host of opportunities for virality (look no further than the explosive growth of Docusign and Ironclad).
3. Single user type
Viral loops are easiest to create when the people using the product are all of the same user type. For example, when your co-worker shares their Calendly link and tells you to use it to book a call on their calendar, you may think to yourself “I wish I had a scheduling link too,” and then suddenly you’re signing up for Calendly.
This is only possible because your co-worker and you have the same problem: letting others easily schedule meetings with you without creating conflicts on your calendar. Wherever you see a viral loop, you will probably see a single user type (or at least overlapping user types).
4. Unique to your product
After the success Dropbox had with its “refer a friend” program, a million startups tried the same thing and suddenly it stopped working so well. Why? Because people were getting bombarded with the same prompt from every software tool they used and became desensitized to it.
That’s why the best viral loops are the ones that only your product or a small group of other products can use. Look closely at what your product does and try to identify the unique moment or feature that could unlock your product’s virality.
For Docusign, that moment is right after someone finishes e-signing a document for the first time: the new user is asked if they want to save the document by creating an account. For SurveyMonkey, it’s when a user completes an online survey and is asked if they’d like to build their own survey.
What does that moment look like for your product?
Conclusion: Where do you go from here?
We’ve talked about how to come up with a legal product idea (and avoid bad ones).
We’ve discussed what to consider when developing that product, from the building blocks you’ll need to the people you should hire (or not hire) to build it.
And we’ve covered the tactics to use when bringing your product to market. Now it’s up to you to take action. Don’t know where to go from here?