Posted by Dave Seager, consulting adviser to Legal Futures Associate SIFA Professional
We are close to four years on from the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) introduction of rules on transparency and it has announced it will be checking all firms’ websites in 2022.
However, there are still so many law firms that, rather than embrace rules that enhance their chances of attracting new customers, begrudgingly do the minimum, seeing transparency as a pointless chore rather than a chance to shine.
As an impartial outsider, but one who understands the Competition and Markets Authority research that inspired the rules, I find the unwillingness to embrace transparency baffling. Even stranger when, year on year, the Legal Services Consumer Panel’s tracker survey tells us that the consumers in need of legal advice or services are increasingly beginning their research online.
This might mean via comparison sites but more often it will begin with an internet search into local law firms – because the panel’s research also confirms that consumers like to deal with local professionals.
Once we accept these facts, then embracing and going beyond the transparency rules becomes an imperative business priority and not just another job on the list. In the modern world, where people are busy and do not have a recommendation for a solicitor, firms need to understand that their website is their shop window and place to showcase their talents, and shout ‘Why us?’.
This might mean a minimal upgrade or a complete overhaul but here are five top tips for a better website shopfront. And remember, you are in competition with other local solicitors’ firms.
Go beyond the rules
Apply the principles of transparency to describe all the services you offer, and not just those where the rules apply.
If your key strengths or specialisms are not the core services covered by the rules, not applying them to those areas is illogical and may look suspicious to a researching consumer. After all, if your forte is family law, for example, why would you not want to shout about it?
Showcase your people
Have true depth in your staff biographies, which should include expertise and qualifications but also personal information, along with photos. This comprehensive portrayal of your personnel can make your firm seem warmer and more approachable.
It is vital that this covers all members of each team as it will not always be the lead solicitor who a client will speak to or deal with thereafter. We are all too aware of the perception, justified or otherwise, of the common client’s gripe, ‘I can never get hold of my solicitor’. Well, offer them a new perspective on the team behind the individual.
Research from the SRA and others suggests that engaging the researching consumer with interactive tools, whether they be chatbots or calculators, is increasingly popular.
Do note, however, that being able to use an interactive tool without giving up lots of personal information is often preferable to the researching punter. Chatbots are a relaxed way of engaging and answering initial queries in a professional and prompt fashion.
Champion plain language
The challenge is to describe all your services and elements of the legal processes without using jargon. Can you do it when the public as a whole believe you cannot? Clients might accept that legal documents will contain legalese that might need explanation but there is little excuse in using it on a website or indeed any promotional material.
Demonstrate a holistic approach
Modern clients have modern issues and problems that are seldom entirely solved by one professional. Legal advice frequently requires complementary tax or financial advice.
Why not ensure your website explains how your firm collaborates closely with carefully chosen third parties, particularly accountants and financial planners? You do not necessarily need to name them but make it obvious the entirety of any issue can be resolved by your firm, with help from your partners.
In conclusion, my view – and this applies equally to financial advisory firms – is that the way a provider of professional services presents itself online is more critical than ever.
The consumer panel found that those researching family law services were the most likely to shop around (55% said they did), so this is no longer solely a phenomenon at the more commoditised end of the market.
The transparency rules should merely be the catalyst or prompt for firms to truly consider how best to use their websites to attract initial new clients who – make no mistake – are looking.