Choices, choices

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5 April 2011


Posted by Neil Rose, Editor, Legal Futures

Village fetes: where are the law firms?

For those firms that have decided they need to do something to meet head on the challenges of alternative business structures (ABSs) and the rest, but are a bit hazy on exactly what that something should be, there are no shortage of options.

This is by no means an exhaustive or mutually exclusive list of either the types of options or the players within them, but there are: the brands (QualitySolicitors, HighStreetLawyer.com, Face2Face Solicitors), the networks (LawNet, The Legal Alliance, Connect2Law), the referral services (Contact Law, TakeLegalAdvice, Bid4fees), the marketing collectives (National Accident Helpline, InjuryLawyers4u), the comparison websites (Wigster, LegalCompare.com), find-a-lawyer websites (LawyerLocator, Solicitors.co.uk), and online legal advice portals (Expert Answers, Question The Expert).

I’m not entirely sure in which category to put GetSolicitors, the latest to join this list, with its focus on helping firms to build up their own brands, although there will shortly be a central GetSolicitors website that will generate leads for member firms too.

Then there are the consultancies that have sprung up to help solicitors organise/manage/market themselves better, as well as various bits of clever technology that you can buy to revolutionise the way you practise. And, of course, you can go out and try to find yourself an investor (and there are now consultancies to help you do that as well).

Quite how solicitors start to choose between all of these options, I simply don’t know (but Legal Futures’ unique “Help me – I don’t have a strategy” dice will shortly be available to purchase, for the cost of a partner retreat – and we’ll throw in dice with “Do nothing” on every side for those who simply can’t face up to the whole thing). Plus they all cost something, whether a share of the equity, a share of the profits, monthly fees or an annual flat fee, and you need to be able to afford them.

But one part of the decision that GetSolicitors highlights is whether to go local or national. Do you subsume your long-established and cherished name into a national brand, with high-profile advertising and X-Factor contestants warbling away at your official reopening, or do you go the other way, and try and explain to those walking past your door that you are indeed long-established and cherished.

Lawyers have a brand in that, if people identify that they have a legal problem (which is itself an issue and a public legal education is an area that needs much more work), then they know they need to go to a lawyer. But when it comes to choosing a lawyer, I’ve written before of my scepticism that many law firms have the local brand and standing that they like to think they do.

This is not to say that it cannot be done, and I think GetSolicitors is right to urge lawyers going in that direction to participate more in their local business communities – become secretary of the local chamber of commerce, for example. When it comes to targeting private clients, I always wonder why I never see a stall from a law firm at my village’s summer fete, which is a big day in the area’s calendar, attracting hundreds of local people. Other businesses are there, handing out balloons and offering face painting for the kids etc, looking like good local citizens and imprinting their names in our minds. David Bott, incoming president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, had some interesting things to say about this last year. And some of it doesn’t cost much either.

Much of this is pretty basic, and indeed the consultants I meet who also work in other professional sectors often comment that what they find themselves telling lawyers to do is very Janet and John stuff compared to accountants and the like.

The problem, as ever, is solicitors lifting their eyes up from fee-earning for long enough to look around and properly assess their options, rather than deciding they have to do something and then grab the nearest “something” to hand. But I’m glad I’m writing about all this stuff, rather than having to make the decisions myself.

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4 Responses to “Choices, choices”

  1. Neil

    I fear that your dice analogy will play out in a significant number of cases. Sit tight and do nothing(ish) will be the order of the day. Many will blame their woes on the market and will fail to see the bigger picture. I still believe that lawyers need to spend more time on their personal brand and use social media to leverage that (allowing for whatever command and control structure they are working under). As to strategy, who knows but I would be looking at my people as much as the market and investing in them.

    Julian

  2. Julian Summerhayes on April 5th, 2011 at 1:00 pm
  3. As a firm we have a plan A then B then C. We need to act but we have to be flexible as this is a largely unknown market. We also hope that many of our competitors roll the do nothing dice as one of our aims is to win the work from those firms who fail to deliver services their clients want. This is real competition and there will be real change whether the profession likes it or not.

  4. Mark Burns on April 5th, 2011 at 5:25 pm
  5. Neil,

    It is true that we are busy doing our fee earning work and that if we look up too often to see what new ‘new’ outfit there is out there we will not be able to afford the advice from the reams of consultants, advisors and every one else who seems to know how best to run our business. Therein lies the problem – we need to be the pillars of our community – but we are told that the community is being taken over and that soon national outfits will be there to do our work and we will not have any…we need to blog, email and tweet, we need to strategise, manage, build brands…the point here is that we cannot be lawyers doing our work any more, that is not going to be enough…alas that is probably what we are best at. As to what the future holds, no-one really knows, I believe that people will still want a solicitor to do their work when it goes wrong and it does not all fit into nice neat boxes which you can tick and cross as you go, the problem for any local solicitor who thinks that they will still be able to do this work though is that it may be too late by the time the consumer realises that perhaps the ABS solution is not what they wanted after all. I agree, invest in your people, give good service and concentrate on the non-routine things, that is what we are trained for, be open to suggestion, think all things are possible and be ready to embrace change. A challenging time indeed.

  6. Sherine Silva on April 5th, 2011 at 7:09 pm
  7. Certainly there will be, there is already, change.

    But the changes for most law firms should just be to do things they should have been doing for many years–proper marketing, management and use of I.T.

    The danger for firms that are doing quite well already is to change due only to the fact it is a fashion at the moment. Indeed we are living in an epidemic of change. This fetish for change assumes change = good and no change = bad. Not so, IMHO.

    Change but only if your proper appraisal of where you want to get to shows a clear need to do so. Otherwise just do what you’re doing now but better.

  8. Andrew Woolley on April 8th, 2011 at 2:02 pm

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