Designing Lower Legal Fees

So we all know that at the heart of creativity lie constraints. And one constraint I love is money.

I thought of this today as I read about a friend’s company who spent “tens of thousands of dollars” on legal fees just for their domain name. Maybe that was money well spent, but from personal experience I know legal fees are one of those line items that is almost always expensive, difficult to predict, and difficult to control once set in motion. For a start-up, this problem can be turned around into a creativity driver to say, “Here’s how much similar companies say they wished they had spent on legal fees. We’re going to stick to that. Let’s figure out how.

Note that this is different than merely setting a limit on how much to spend. A simple cap could still allow for business-as-usual behavior that doesn’t generate any new solutions: “we did what we usually do until we ran out of money.

A real design approach would involve experimentation.

With prototypes for solving legal problems.

Working with lawyers.

Measuring the costs of iteration and the opportunity costs.

I haven’t heard about anyone doing this yet; it’s one of those ripe areas for true business design innovation.


  1. Isn’t the US legal system itself a prototype-based model? Take the recent update to the Safe Haven law in Nebraska. The original version only said that “a child” could be dropped off at any hospital by a parent unable to care for them. But then, they discovered that there was a design flaw in the law, after parents started dropping off older kids, even teens, that they had deemed they could no longer care for.

    So, to fix the design problem, an update to the law was just “released” (Download it today!), in which “child” was changed to something like “infant no older than 30 days.”

    While they may work in messy and mysterious ways, perhaps unbeknownst to themselves, members of the state and federal judiciary are in fact legal prototypers.

  2. An interesting design problem. Maybe the approach from lawyer and client is to collaboratively consider different relationships. For both designers as professional service providers and for lawyers, this could mean:
    – milestone billing as work is completed based on outcomes
    – revenue stream billing based on the client impact of the work completed
    – pre-paid retainer so that there is an incentive to have a long-term mentor type relationship
    – sweat equity where the fees are paid in the form of issued shares
    – module based billing where the client buys the service as a product

    And many others. Clients would be surprised how flexible attorneys and other service providers can be… if they ask.

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