Posted by Dave Seager, consulting adviser to Legal Futures Associate SIFA Professional
In October last year, as we approached the fourth anniversary of the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) transparency rules, we used our fabulous monthly blog slot with Legal Futures to outline why we saw the regulator’s stance as an opportunity to be embraced.
The evidence from not only the SRA’s own research but that of the Competition and Market Authority and indeed the Legal Services Consumer Panel is compelling: increasingly, consumers in need of legal advice or a service, in the absence of a positive recommendation, will begin their research online, so a solicitor’s website must embrace not only the reasoning behind transparency but also go much further.
We also now know that the regulator will be checking every website, (not already assessed,) for compliance with the rules in 2023, and as Legal Futures recently revealed, it has upped the ante on fines as well.
Since 2018, the SRA has been suggesting that the firms it regulates should ideally look to apply the principles of transparency beyond the compulsory core areas. But whilst it offers some guidance, we felt perhaps some more practical tips might be useful.
From my own reading, research and experience of working closely with financial planning firms that partner with solicitors, as well as working with the SRA and indeed the Law Society, here, with 12 top tips, is a practical SIFA Professional guide to transparency and beyond.
Beyond compulsion – Consider applying the principles of transparency across all services you provide. To offer detailed information on price and a service in some areas and not others might simply look suspicious to a consumer.
Value not price – A consumer decision will be made on value and not price, so portraying everything involved in the likely cost is critical. Detailing the stages/processes in a service and also the experience, expertise and qualifications of those who will deliver it, is a vital component in the final price.
Plain language – Avoiding legal jargon, or if you must use it, explaining it, is fundamental to the audience. Detail each step of a process in an easy-to-understand way. Most consumers will in fact switch off if they have to endeavour to interpret ‘legalise’ and instead leave your site.
Staff biographies – Detailed biographies of the whole staff involved in the delivery of a service, and not just the solicitor, is important. These should include details of not only qualifications and experience, (as mentioned above,) but also some personal background. Such attention to detail helps personalise the experience and give confidence at outset.
Adding bios for the whole team in each department reassures a potential client that knowledgeable individuals beyond the lead solicitor will be on hand.
Website interactivity – Research, and even more so, life post-pandemic tells us that consumers appreciate being able to interact with a website. The best examples for this are interactive tools or calculators, ideally that can be used without an individual having to give personal details upfront, and chatbots, which can offer a soft introduction to your firm.
Online services – As with the above, we know that there is now an expectation that some services are delivered online or via video call. So ensure your website description of each service clearly outlines which parts can be conducted remotely or via an online questionnaire, etc.
Writing blogs – Encourage your key staff to write the occasional blog, which is an extension of the biography in that it demonstrates approachability and competence to the researching consumer.
Social media – A profile demonstrating your firm’s and individual lawyers’ credentials and expertise linking back to your website could be a differentiator. Don’t underestimate the power of social media to bring people to your improved website.
Video – Short, concise videos are an excellent way to explain the stages of a legal process. They can bring your services to life, whilst simultaneously introducing the solicitors that clients may be dealing with. As with blogs, these can be used on social media to attract visitors to your site. Many younger consumers would sooner watch a short explanatory video than read about the service.
Accreditations and awards – Do not hide your light or lights under the proverbial bushel! Your site should shout loudly about your professional achievements, the quality of your firm and your people, as well as key accreditations such as Solicitor for the Elderly or Resolution, which demonstrate you require and attain high levels of professionalism.
Testimonials – Do not be shy of having a testimonial section on your website. The confidence gained from the knowledge that you have contented clients in similar circumstances is beneficial.
The SRA might be pushing you to encourage customers to post of their satisfaction on independent comparison sites, which might also be an option, but not at the expense of a section on your own site.
Holistic service – So much of what solicitors do for clients requires complimentary advice from fellow professionals. The modern client requires holistic problem solving and support, so be certain that your website highlights where your firm needs to and will work collaboratively with carefully selected colleagues, whether accountants or financial planners, perhaps from the SIFA Professional Directory.
Remember, being transparent is not obeying rules – it is the modern professional way to promote the quality of your firm and its services.