By: Chad Burton, CEO of CuroLegal

To most, the thought of startup companies usually sparks images of Silicon Valley stereotypes vying to be the next billion dollar unicorn. Regardless, successful startups share common traits by:

  • Embracing risk;
  • Having driven, laser-focused leadership;
  • Solving real/difficult problems;
  • Being completely user/consumer focused;
  • Finding creative ways to drive revenue;
  • Keeping costs low (typically); and
  • Changing directions, if necessary.

Startups have an urgency to succeed.

What if bars/bar associations adopted a startup mentality to run their business?

We know — bar associations are different. They have been around 100+ years and promote justice in our noble profession. Bars often have challenging, cost-heavy infrastructures that are hard to adjust. Bars aren’t just developing the latest Pokémon Go app in rented, hip open-air offices with nap pods and ping pong tables. We get it.

But don’t bar associations and startups share the same urgency to survive? Insiders and outsiders are saying that bars need to change the way they serve members to remain relevant. Young lawyers aren’t joining like they used to. Bars now compete with private companies for non-dues revenue, such as CLE and lawyer referrals.

How many times have great ideas escaped meaningful execution because the wrong people were involved, suffering a slow, painful death by committee? Right. Lots.

So, how does a bar even begin to think/act like a startup and adopt the above characteristics? At Curo, we see two ways:

  • You gut the organization and start over; or
  • You start small and run designated projects in “startup mode.”

Let’s assume you snorted with laughter at the idea of gutting the organization and immediately assumed excessive amounts of alcohol were consumed during the flight on which this post was written (as opposed to the awful airline coffee that was actually consumed). Option 1 can be done — though not easily — but we will save that topic for another day and look at Option 2.

So, how can a bar run a designated project in “startup” mode? Here are some tips:

  • At the outset, remove the notion of “how things have always been done” from the process.
  • Choose a project that has a big goal that previously hasn’t been discussed because it was considered too risky or that has been shot down for the same reasons. Maybe it is building new technology or producing an ongoing program that is truly outside the norm. You probably have a half a dozen ideas that have been percolating.
  • Choose a small team to execute. The team should be comprised of staff, volunteer members and outside parties who can move fast, not get bogged down in self-interest and are willing to be flexible with the process. Choose the team based on skill and drive — not necessarily on past contributions where you/they feel like they are entitled to such a position.
  • Remove barriers that can slow down the process. Put people (staff/volunteers), who are not part of the core team, on notice that they may need to help on discrete portions of the project and they will be expected to act quickly.
  • Need funding for this not-budgeted idea? Well, risk is part of the process — perhaps the idea is worth using some reserve funds or finally cutting off that other program that ran its course and costs too much money each year. Or, look to third-parties for funding or to partner and reduce costs. You would be amazed at what companies will do to be a part of a really good idea that can make a difference.
  • Utilize modern agile project management strategies to more rapidly create value and test ideas.
  • Finally, just hit “go.” Don’t wait until next bar year. Start as soon as you can because if you wait, someone else will beat you to market.

Sound impossible? It’s not. Your peers are already doing it. Sound hard? It is, but that’s ok. Nothing that is truly remarkable is easy. But, by adopting the startup mindset and behaving, your bar can set itself up to succeed for as long as the public needs lawyers.

[UPDATE: 8/17/16]: Coincidentally, the Harvard Business Review published a post that compliments/supports this concept. According to research, 82% of large public companies have already used a lean startup approach for projects.