I have subscriptions to several different types of products – news (The New York Times), entertainment (Audible), education (Harvard Business Journal), food (Oats Overnight) – you get the drift.

But when the Director of my team, Medical & Scientific Solutions, at our transatlantic law firm told me we were going to offer a trial subscription plan for some of our services, I was a bit baffled. Our team has PhDs, an MD, a vet, and numerous nurses, scientists and paralegal types; we work with lawyers, have hourly rates and bill our time. How would/could we have anything to do with a subscription for anything to anybody?

After her “Patience, grasshopper…” moment had passed, I was enlightened. Several of the services we provide use technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to create quality work products that can be developed with high efficiency. The amount of work and time to perform them was largely predictable, and through metrics, we already had an idea of the average total it took. So…  

A New Way to Bill

The concept was to offer a service as a subscription, or a flat fee, for which a subscriber (the traditional client or another law firm) could get the service performed up to X number of times per month. As an example – we have a team of researchers who do initial vetting of potential expert witnesses. If a client is looking for a life care planner in the Georgia area, our team can find names and do the initial groundwork – ensure potential candidates are still alive and working, have the correct certification and licensing, and that contact information is correct, they are interested in consulting, etc. Then the team provides the client with the list of names. Instead of billing hourly for our time, we could provide the service up to X number of times per month for a monthly “subscription fee.” Obviously, efficiency would be key for us and results would be key for the client in this model.

Efficiency would be key for us and results would be key for the client in this model.

As Rachel Barnett, General Counsel and Secretary for Brooks Brothers, noted in her article, Down with the Billable Hour, the billable hour is not only “archaic” but creates “the wrong incentives, drives inefficiencies and no one likes it, no one.”  As technology and AI increasingly become a part of the legal landscape, law firms are going to have to jump on board.  “With the power of data storage and artificial intelligence, tools are being developed to streamline legal processes and create efficiencies,” said Barnett, which makes the billable hour seem like the dark ages.

Thinking Creatively

For our purposes, we still have several concepts to figure out for our trial – primarily, what would our clients be willing to pay for?  One option would be a monthly access fee, where their information was there and they could access it when they needed it.  Or there could be a lower monthly access fee, plus a specific number of new requests per month for a certain fee. Possibly a client could “buy hours” and monitor their usage each month – if they got close to going over one month, they could wait until the new month to start over. Or if the hours for one month weren’t used, they rolled over to the next month. Whatever we do, it will have to be a collaborative process, with give and take, as well as creative thinking, on both sides.

As Barnett states, we should create “a dynamic where the motivation lies with achieving deliverables and fostering a positive attorney-client collaborative experience” from which everyone will benefit in the long run.  

I can subscribe to that – could you?