Who is the über for law? The Airbnb of accounting? You can’t move for platforms these days, but the professional platforms are not among them.

Earlier this year a friend of mine bought me the book, Platform Revolution, as a birthday present, and what an excellent gift it was (thanks Chris).

The book mentions only two successful platform businesses in the sector, neither of which are household names.

In reality, there are many platform businesses providing legal education and precedents, some of extremely high quality used by law firms to help advise their clients. The point is, the good ones service the professional firms, not so much the clients. That’s where the money is.

Three types of professional platforms

The authors define a platform business as one:

“based on enabling value-creating interactions between external producers and consumers. The platform provides an open, participative infrastructure for these interactions and sets governance conditions for them. The platform’s overarching purpose: to consummate matches among users and facilitate the exchange of goods, services, or social currency, thereby enabling value creation for all participants.”

These sorts of outward facing platforms connecting consumers and businesses to their professional advisers are a tough nut to crack.

Some platforms are listings sites, which allow lawyers to list themselves in the hope that a passing client might contact them and send some work their way. This is the wallflower approach to law – advisers hanging around the edge of the dance floor on the off chance someone looks their way.

Some are bidding sites, which allow clients to list work and lawyers to contact the clients with the lowest bid. The sleazy nightclub approach to law.

A third approach is more akin to well-mannered bouncers providing a concierge service of introductions, project management and technology to suit the client. This is much more palatable, much more familiar and useful to general counsels and law firms alike. But it doesn’t scale easily.

None of these portend a platform revolution in professional services.

The flawed revolution

The authors of Platform Revolution make the point that highly regulated industries and professions may be one of the last bastions of pipeline businesses to fall the platform revolutionaries outside the gate.

I’d suggest there are several reasons for this.

  • There is so much choice and so little differentiation. If every professional firm claims to be unique, does that mean none of them are?
  • Clients’ needs are, however, unique. And they may not know how to express them. This makes it hard to match adviser with client and limits the role of algorithms (so far).
  • There is a big knowledge gap (see my previous post about clients and unknown unknowns) so that often a big name or a big price is used as a proxy for quality, which is almost guaranteed to leave clients dissatisfied with the service they receive.
  • Partly for that reason, customer feedback on professional firms is ropey at best and slanderous at worst. If I am spending £10,000, I don’t want to instruct a lawyer on the recommendation of Joey from Essex, or Jennifer from Ambridge, unless I know and trust them.

Traditional platforms solve none of these problems.

The conundrum for platform operators is how to blend the bespoke curated experience that clients need with the automated scalability of a platform?

Curated professional platforms

There are various tech enabled approaches, which are doing very interesting things in professional services, and have the potential to be revolutionary.

Adviserly, I hope, fits into this space.

But it is emphatically not is the “über for law”.

It is an exclusive global network of small law and accounting firms, selected strictly on their ability to service small business clients and using technology to leverage their small size.

The firms on the network are not wallflowers, they are innovators.

Rather than bidding for work, they respond to bespoke client requests. No sleazy nightclubs here.

And clients can see what they are getting without having to go through a bouncer, however polite I may be. Adviserly will provide advice and assistance to get you to the right advisers, combining technology with humanity.

Platforms are not all the same, and what successful platforms have in common is that they are all different, depending on the sector they are in.


Robert Flint

Robert Flint is the founder of Adviserly and former corporate parter at a UK law firm.

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