Instagram and the Future of the Legal Profession

Dr. Evil

Dr. Evil (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Approximately a year and a half ago, in October of 2010, a photo sharing service launched–one of many available at the time. Using this service and their smart phones, users could apply digital filters to images to make them look like Polaroids or antique photos and then share them with friends and family members using their social networks.

Doesn’t seem like a particularly innovative concept, does it? Definitely not a game changer, right? And it certainly doesn’t sound like an idea worth one thousand dollars, let alone one billion.

And yet, last week, Instagram was purchased for $1 billion–and by Facebook, of all companies.

How did this even happen? And what significance does this hold for the legal profession, if any?

The significance can be gleaned by first examining why 30 million people signed up for Instagram in the first place and then by looking at Facebook’s motivations for acquiring this company.

The latter inquiry is the easy one. The reason Facebook chose to acquire Instagram is simple–the 30 million users. That’s a lot of users. Not to mention it’s a service easily integrated into Facebook, as Zuckerberg explained in a blog post:

This is an important milestone for Facebook because it’s the first time we’ve ever acquired a product and company with so many users…(P)roviding the best photo sharing experience is one reason why so many people love Facebook and we knew it would be worth bringing these two companies together.

But why did so many people flock to Instagram in the first place–and in such a short time? That’s the tougher question, but the answer is actually quite simple.

First of all, image-based interfaces, as opposed to text-based interfaces, are simply more appealing, both visually and viscerally. Look no further than the tremendous popularity of the newest social media darling, Pinterest, for confirmation of that fact.

Even, so, there’s more to Instagram’s appeal than just photo sharing. What separates Instagram is its interface. It’s simple to use and the end product makes the user look good. That’s the key to Instagram’s success. Using the simple, intuitive interface, amateur photographers can quickly and easily share their photos while at the same producing more appealing photos by masking the defects in the low quality smart phone images with trendy, artsy filters.

In other words, Instagram offers an easily accessible and intuitive interface that gives the user a sense of control and pride over the outcome.

And therein lies the lesson for the legal field. Legal consumers are no different than any other type of 21st century consumer. Clients, especially the younger generation, want easy, instantaneous access to their lawyers and information about their case through an interface that is familiar and intuitive.

They want to have control over their case and its outcome. This sense of control is gleaned from the ability to determine when and how they obtain the information they need, whether by phone, email or an online client portal.

In other words, clients want to be able to interact with their lawyers on their own terms. The key is to give them a variety of acceptable options, all the while ensuring that you choose methods that allow you to be responsive, but simultaneously control the information overflow.

So, the lesson to be learned is that in order to stay competitive, lawyers must be willing to experiment with new ways to provide their clients with better legal services. Innovate or risk stagnation or even extinction.

Don’t end up like Poloroid, a company that, as explained in this New York Times article, could have in theory been Instagram, but in reality never stood a chance:

In a 2008 talk at the Yale School of Management, Gary T. DiCamillo, a former chief executive at Polaroid, said one reason that the company went out of business was that the revenue it was reaping from film sales acted like a blockade to any experimentation with new business models.

So what’s it going to be? Is your firm going to follow the path of Instagram–or Polaroid?

–Niki Black

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