A long time ago, in about 2000, I was a sole practitioner solicitor running a fairly standard mixed bag litigation practice with an emphasis on property law. I had recently made the decision to withdraw from legal aid and was looking to specialise in residential landlord and tenant law, a fairly esoteric area.
I had a basic website where people could instruct me online with a Q&A section where I answered people’s questions.
It was through doing the Q&A that I realised that most landlords and tenants didn’t really have a clue what their rights and obligations actually were. And, not unnaturally, they were unwilling to put on a suit and go and see a solicitor to find out. They just muddled along in ignorance.
One day I had a lightbulb moment. “Why don’t I set up a website with basic information for people which they pay to access?” I thought. “The fees would allow me to pay for the site and for its upkeep and my time.”
That thought changed my life.
The start of the service
Having done a brief survey and found that many people would be prepared to pay for access, I took a deep breath and decided to go for it. I called the service Landlord Law.
However, this was 2001 and there was no membership site software around. We had to have our website specially built. From memory, it cost around £11,000, which was a lot of money for us. However, the gamble paid off.
We went live in late November 2001 and people started signing up from the very first day. Although it has never gone viral (yet), we have done quite nicely out of it.
I will never forget that first January in 2002. Normally January was a difficult month, but the extra £1,000 we had from the site made such a difference. Also, over time, the fact that money came in regularly month by month, rather than in irregular amounts upon completion of a case, made managing cash flow so much easier.
It was the start of a whole new way of working.
Landlord Law today
It is now over 18 years since we first launched. The service has developed considerably and we are on our third website.
Indeed, the site proved so successful that I was able to close down my law firm altogether in 2013 and just run the online service without the stress, administration and costs of managing a solicitor’s firm.
Services provided on the site now include:
- Tenancy agreements and other related forms;
- Legal FAQ and articles on mainly legal topics relevant to landlords and letting agents;
- Step-by-step guides, such as our guide for choosing a tenancy agreement (which is now free – you can see it here);
- A detailed guide on how to bring possession proceedings without a solicitor;
- Monthly webinars to bring members up to date, mainly delivered by specialist housing barristers and trainers;
- Online video courses; and
- Step-by-step video courses, such as our course on setting up and running an HMO (house in multiple occupation).
We also run an annual Landlord Law Conference.
Other benefits of Landlord Law
Landlord Law has given me financial stability but also much, much more.
It has given me the freedom and time to do the things I want to do, such as experiment with other methods of delivery of legal services (something that fascinates me) and develop training services.
I’m not saying it’s not a lot of work, because it is, but I have more control over my life and what I do with it, which is something I value highly.
The service is good for me, as I get a regular income and more freedom, and it is good for members because they get far more ‘bang for their buck’ than they would seeking advice via traditional methods.
But would something similar work for you?
Could you run something similar?
Landlord Law is a membership site with members paying for access by way of recurring payments. It’s a great model, because once they have set up the payment arrangement, the membership fees keep coming in until they decide to stop. My job is to keep them happy so they don’t do.
So how could the membership model work for your area of law?
For a service such as Landlord Law to work, you really need to have the following:
- A discrete and fairly self-contained area of practice which is highly regulated – and ideally one where the regulations and laws change from time to time;
- Reasonably affluent operators in that area of work, who would be able to fund regular payments to your service; and
- A potential market of at least a million customers, bearing in mind that only a small percentage are likely to sign up to your service. Unless your marketing is exceptional and you get lucky.
In order to set up such a service, you, or members of your staff, need to have the following:
An ability to write in clear and plain English. This is essential. People are not going to sign up for a service if they can’t understand it;
A basic understanding of how the internet works and an interest in internet software and technology. It’s not necessary to be a programmer yourself or write code as you can get others to do the heavy lifting. But you need to have some understanding of what they will be doing for you;
A deep understanding of your area of law. Ideally at least one person on your team should be an expert – someone who will command respect;
A willingness to work hard to create the content. This will take up a lot of time and effort, but is very important. The more good content you have the more successful the service is likely to be;
A willingness to market the service properly. Don’t expect to succeed without this – people need to be told about it. A well-written blog, for example, can be a great help in attracting new members; and
A sufficient budget to allow you to create the website and do any development work necessary. How much you need will depend on how much of the work you can do in-house and how much you will need to outsource to contractors.
The services you could provide
This will depend upon your area of law but I would suggest the following:
- Legal FAQ – answers to quick questions that people ask;
- Articles – looking at specific topics in more depth;
- Documents – we have what we call a ‘document generator’ which creates documents using a mail merge process;
- Step-by-step guides – to help your members with specific processes;
- A members’ forum – for members to discuss issues and where you can give some one-to-one help (which then becomes a valuable part of the site content);
- Video help – videos are becoming more popular as a training tool; and
- Extra paid-for services – for example, a telephone advice service and any fixed-fee services you can offer (which should be cheaper for members of your service).
Is this something that could work for you?
I have been very surprised that so few solicitors have developed online services such as mine. Or maybe they have and I just don’t know about it!
But if you are looking for a way to develop another income stream, this could just be the answer you are looking for.