A network of 200 law firms which started life as an internet service provider for lawyers has re-launched as the latest referral website for legal services.
Lawyers Online  went ‘live’ last Friday, and has immediately set itself up in direct competition with existing marketing collectives such as QualitySolicitors, High Street Lawyer and InjuryLawyers4U.
CEO Rosie Houghton admitted the organisation had not made the most of its branding after originally launching in 1998 with the aim of offering free law services via the internet, but that it was preparing to pump £2m into a national mainstream television advertising campaign in the very near future.
Mrs Houghton also revealed that Lawyers Online is in the “early stages of talks” with a number of potential investors after seeking advice from JPT – specialists in setting up equity funding.
It is not a law firm so would not need to become an alternative business structure to bring in outside funding.
Although Lawyers Online boasts a “formidable” network of 1,586 lawyers across all typical high street practice areas, external investment would enable the organisation to “take on large firms going down the same route”, said Mrs Houghton.
She said brands such as Irwin Mitchell, Knights, Co-op Legal Services and Stobart Barristers had stolen a march, but that Lawyers Online “has always believed in its branding and wanted to veer back to the original concept of providing advice to the general public for free”.
There is no fee for law firms to be a member. Lawyers Online makes its “seven-figure” annual turnover through advertising, networking, hardware and other online services it provides.
Its re-launch has begun with regional advertising, but will aim to build on its strong industry reputation to attract internal investment.
Mrs Houghton said: “We are well established, but predominantly with lawyers so far, not with consumers.
“At the time we first launched, the legal profession was not very internet-savvy so the service was automated. Very few lawyers wanted to participate because they were very suspicious about the internet.
“Now we’re going head to head with the big brands, insurance companies buying into law firms, new entrants and anybody grabbing the new social media market. It is a very fast-moving industry again.
“Our structure is an organisation; a collaboration of firms, but we don’t ask them to give up their branding like QualitySolicitors do, for example.
“We are looking at some of the top 20 law firms and the amount of revenue they generate and believe we can aim for quite a significant sum. “We’ll see how the launch goes, but hopefully it will generate a lot of leads. I do believe in our branding. It is catchier than those already out there.
“I think lawyers can be slow on the uptake in terms of the internet, but I think branding is critical to lawyer’s survival in the current market.”
However, Mrs Houghton also revealed that the aim of “capitalising on the value of the brand” may also mean they are open to offers from other big names.
She said Lawyers Online “wouldn’t say no” if a substantial offer came in to acquire the network: “It is all about building up the value of the brand,” she added.