I can count numerous times as both a private practice lawyer and a product manager when I've ended up in that conversation whereby the gatekeeper to a client introduction (usually a lawyer) wants to show their client something that looks amazing and not the prototype that I've just demoed to them.

I can sympathise with the craving for a great first impression, after all, as private practice lawyers we are used to receiving a term sheet and then working on various iterations of a contract before we present it to a client. We make sure that we've got the latest market standard language in the contract and that we've spelt the client's name right, etc. - its as close to perfect as we can get before we hand it over to the client! 

Development of an idea

As lawyers, we are used to being subject matter experts and being a source of knowledge. We are used to having a strong understanding of our clients' legal needs. We aren't used to the idea of not knowing things!

Developing products, on the other hand, requires you to start with the assumption that you do not know things and to build up a picture that frames a problem and possible solution from nothing. 

Despite this major difference, I think that the drafting of a contract is a great analogy for prototyping. 

As a product manager of legal tech products, I have a reasonable grasp of what is feasible through technology, how something should appear on a screen and an understanding of the relevant regulations. In our contract analogy, we could think of that as the market standard language. 

What we are missing is the term sheet which sets out our client's commercial position. In product terms, these are the day-to-day processes that our target end-users follow, the roles and responsibilities of those target end-users, whether there truly is a need for a product and whether anyone is willing to pay enough for it to be commercially viable. 

Iterations of the prototype

A starting prototype, therefore, can be thought of as that initial draft of a document with various blanks for the commercial terms. It triggers the client to think about their commercial reality and therefore to share insights which, as an outsider looking in, we can only ever have made assumptions about. More often than not, the conclusion may be that the prototype is completely wrong but better to discover that earlier than spend time and money heading towards a dead-end. 

Assuming it is not completely wrong, in product management as in law, what then follows are a series of drafts or iterations of the prototype. Eventually, we get to the "final version" and a product that someone is willing to buy. 

Either that or we conclude that the product doesn't make commercial sense and we all go away to find the new great product idea.