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Freeserve founder says it will take non-lawyers to bring innovation to “hated” legal market


Ahmed: don’t sell law – sell solutions to problems

Lawyers are “in denial about what customers hate about law firms” and it will take entrepreneurs from outside the profession to deliver the wholesale change to the business model that is required, the founder of Freeserve claimed last week.

Ajaz Ahmed, who is also co-founder of the award-winning Legal365, said he was surprised by how, in the first few months of alternative business structures, “with the exception possibly of Riverview Law there has been a complete and utter lack of any innovation, disruption or new business models”.

Kicking off the LawTech Camp London event on Friday, Mr Ahmed reeled off seven reasons why customers hated law firms: hourly billing, high prices, a lack of transparency, the language used, the location of offices, inconvenient opening times, “and most of all they don’t like the poor customer service they receive”.

He said the failure to adopt a new business model is the one thing holding back the legal industry. “Everyone knows what the problem is, but no one has the guts to tackle it. And I don’t think that people from within the industry are going to be able to make the changes needed to win in the long term.

“They simply don’t have the vision or the courage to make the required changes. So they’ll carry on adjusting the window dressing when it’s the foundations that really need some attention.”

Mr Ahmed observed that external investment from the likes of private equity has not yet backed new ideas. “The only thing that they’ve been interested in is the personal injury market. Since most of these guys are ex-accountants or bankers, the only thing they really understand are spreadsheets and business plans. They feel much more comfortable with investing in an existing business that they can touch and feel, and personal injury is probably the easiest in the legal market to understand.”

In time, however, innovation and disruption will come because the legal market is “too big and too valuable for entrepreneurs to ignore”.

He warned law firms that think they are safe because they have lots of loyal customers that they are only loyal “right up to the second that somebody else offers them a better service or a better deal. Then they’ll leave you without even saying goodbye”.

Legal365 – a joint venture with Yorkshire law firm Last Cawthra Feather – is currently only online but much-delayed plans remain in place to expand it into a retail proposition too. Last year Legal365 won the Law Society award [2] for excellence in innovation.

Mr Ahmed concluded: “What should the new model look like? It’s not my place to do the hard work for you, but I can tell you some of the components. Reduce complexity; don’t sell law – sell solutions to customers’ actual problems; make your prices affordable; teach everyone in your company to talk in a language that your customers will understand; be totally transparent; and make loyalty dramatically easier than disloyalty.

“The good news is that so far nobody has delivered anything disruptive and that means it’s all to play for. I’m sorry QualitySolicitors and I’m sorry Co-op Law, but it’s not just about a brand. The winners are going to be the companies that can deliver a disruptive model that makes legal services truly affordable and more accessible to the masses.”