Pioneering solicitor issues rallying call to small firms: you can compete with big brands

Shields: retail brands won’t last in the law

Many small firms are better placed than they realise to thrive in the legal market, according to the solicitor who created the largest law firm network in the country.

Greg Shields, who recently left Forster Dean – where as chief executive he led a pioneering management buy-out in 2007 – also hit out at the “monetisation of fear”, with “people selling a message that’s built on the negativity of fear rather than offering something built on the positives”.

He argued that while they need to modernise, at heart “small firms have great people, they can act fast and make simple changes that are not expensive and yet move the business forwards dramatically”.

Mr Shields has now set up his own consultancy, myblui, and continued: “The answers always lie within. There are plenty of boutique shops, bars and restaurants on the high street doing well despite the economy because they have a deep understanding of their customer and they execute what they do brilliantly.”

He said he did not subscribe to the notion “that we should all run for the hills because a big brand says it is entering the law… they’re not showing that they’re exercising their own strategies well enough to frighten lawyers”.

He said: “Just because they have more money doesn’t mean they’ll do it better… Solicitors are still the best people to deliver legal services.”

Mr Shields expressed scepticism that large retail brands would last the course in the legal market. “Those brands will pull out of the sector faster than they entered it. When you call a customer a commodity and treat them as such you break any emotional promise or invitation to them…

“Can you imagine for example the damage to a major brand from a scandal relating to the mishandling of a family law case under the Children Act?”

He acknowledged that small firms were under financial pressure as fees are forced down. “Over the next 12-18 months as WIP in all areas at the old historic rates gradually burns out and is replaced at the new reduced rates we will see meltdown as the banks suddenly realise the level of their exposure. If the small claims track is raised significantly in the personal injury sector, then I’d accelerate that forecast.

“If I was leading a law firm right now, what I’d want is more sales and to control my route to market.”

Mr Shields said he was excited by the possibility of totally new brands entering the market in a disruptive way. “There are no brands in the legal sector,” he explained. “To create a brand you have to have a purpose.”

He said work that Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts had recently done with Forster Dean – for free – had taught him a valuable lesson. “I knew that we didn’t have a brand and our shop fronts needed updating. We were succeeding in spite of these things because all the staff cared so passionately about the client and executed what we did brilliantly.

“He came and worked with us for several days for free. I learnt the importance of defining what it is that you stand for as a firm as a team, the expression of that and the power of this as a place to start from. Logos and shop fronts are easy after that.”

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