Making the consumer journey “more flexible, faster and less expensive”, along with giving clients more control, will be the key to the success of Slater & Gordon, its UK chief executive said this week.
Ken Fowlie said he was also “determined to make a success” of the firm’s strategy of becoming a dominant consumer law brand, while admitting to “bumps on the road”.
Speaking at this week’s Legal Futures Innovation Conference, Mr Fowlie said Salter & Gordon’s brand awareness in the UK had grown from zero to 28%, until it was “one of the largest and best-known brands” in the country. “Our brand is the reason the vast majority of clients and staff come to our organisation.”
He continued: “Clients are looking for greater choice and a greater measure of control. Making the consumer journey more flexible, faster and less expensive will be the key to our success.”
Mr Fowlie said the challenge for all legal services businesses was “trying to fly the plane while rebuilding it”.He went on: “Within our community, change and innovation are things we need to be better at. We have a duty as professionals and legal businesses to embrace them.”
Mr Fowlie said law was a service industry and the way lawyers serviced their clients had not fundamentally changed for generations. “Other industries are facing up to it more quickly and effectively.”
He said the biggest barrier to a more rapid response for consumers came after their claims were accepted. The relationship between claimant and defendant lawyers was “too adversarial”, causing delays and “too much frictional cost”.
He called for more co-operation between the parties. “Our scale and experience mirror those of the large insurers. It is important for consumers that we find a way to innovate this relationship.”
Mr Fowlie said it was “no secret” that recent months had been “particularly challenging” for the firm.
“We’re in a period of transition, and we have a reorganisation and transformation programme. I still believe our strategy has merit… and I’m determined to make a success of it.”
Mr Fowlie continued: “We are at the start of a journey, and have had and will continue to experience bumps on the road.”
He said S&G had faced “more than its fair share of challenges” since it opened for business in Australia in 1935, and lost the longest trial in Australian history – an asbestos case – only to prevail at a later stage.
The firm’s dramatic growth, from 400 staff and 17 offices in 2007 to 4,600 staff and 86 offices in 2016, would not have been achieved if S&G had retained its partnership structure and refused external funding, he explained. “Being listed enables us to lead consolidation in the market and invest in technology and innovation.”
Members of the firm’s leadership board were chosen for their managerial rather than legal skills, and none of the non-executive directors were lawyers.
Answering a question about financial performance, Mr Fowlie said: “It’s well publicised that we’re in the throes of a fairly substantial reorganisation. We think it’s going to put us on a robust footing for the future and it’s going to make us a better organisation.
“All our stakeholders, whether they’re lenders, staff, clients or investors, are interested in us establishing that firm foundation. We’re making good progress.”