A network that aims to help law firms dominate their local market and guarantees that it will increase their income has gone live.
Seven law firms have so far signed up to GetSolicitors , which is billing itself as an alternative to national, branded networks by giving solicitors the tools to market and build their own brands. It says it has a list of another 100 interested firms.
Managing partner Brian McKibbin said the focus is online marketing, along with relationship building to help firms become lynch pins in their local business communities. There is also practice management advice.
“We don’t think the way forward is a homogenous legal brand,” he said. “The future for law firms is going to be in looking and feeling like a law firm, rather than like Co-operative Legal Services or RBS Legal.”
The emphasis is on business clients because “we just don’t think it’s sensible to set up against the bucket shops” in private client areas like conveyancing and personal injury.
Among the new income streams the network seeks to deliver is an archive file management and digital storage service from Archive File Management Ltd  – run by former lawyer John West – that includes the client receiving a CD-ROM of their file. It forms part of the firm’s terms and conditions, and Mr McKibbin said that during beta testing, fewer than 1% of clients objected to paying the extra £25-30 charged for this.
Along with Mr McKibbin and Mr West, also partners of GetSolicitors are entrepreneur Eddy Ankrett  – the chairman of dating agency Dateline – and Gez McGuire of Boost Digital Advertising , a Google AdWords specialist. Mr McKibbin has legal training and worked in marketing at law firms such as Allen & Overy and Lee Crowder; his wife is a solicitor who runs Sutton Coldfield firm Harvey McKibbin , which is the beta testing site of the GetSolicitors concept. Other consultants are also involved, including networking expert Will Kintish .
GetSolicitors guarantees that member firms will make a profit on their membership, and will refund the cost of membership if they do not. Firms pay a monthly fee, and there is no income sharing. It offers territorial exclusively, and Mr McKibbin estimated that there will be around 500 areas up for grabs across the UK. Firms of around five partners are the main target for the network.
Kidderminster firm DWT Solicitors  is one of the first GetSolicitors firms. Partner Gareth Thompson told Legal Futures that they investigated all the various options open to solicitors at the moment, having decided to “embrace the challenges ahead rather than run for cover”. It was also a recognition that “solicitors are to marketing what Julian Clary is to cage fighting”.
He said they saw a variety of drawbacks in the national networks, such as the impact on the brand of problems caused by other firms and the restrictions imposed by membership, while they were also sceptical as to whether a law firm network could compete with the awareness and resources of a brand such as Tesco or Virgin if they chose to enter the legal market. “Why do it [respond to alternative business structures] by creating another brand?” he asked. “Why not build your own?”
The advantage of GetSolicitors’ approach was that “it’s nice to know that someone’s efforts are 100% focused on adding to your brand rather than theirs”, he said.
Mr Thompson said the problem for law firms is distinguishing themselves from one another, meaning a common response is to reduce fees so as to be the cheapest. “Lawyers make a good job of crucifying themselves,” he said. Firms should instead maintain their fee levels or even hike them, as there is often a reverse effect where higher prices bring in clients who are prepared to pay for higher quality.
DWT’s focus is on communication and accessibility, meaning they either go out to clients or “make ourselves available in places convenient to them” – the firm has a network of serviced offices across the region – while they are seeking to become “local business champions”, the solicitor explained.