Posted by Neil Rose, Editor, Legal Futures
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.