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The two faces of the law

Chrissie Lightfoot argues that the two dominant umbrella business models coming to the fore in legal services can be summed up as “Face to Face” and “Interface”. She says the emergence of a legal franchising model such as face2face solicitors offers a real opportunity for entrepreneurial lawyers to embrace both


Launching a new law firm: the franchise model is worth serious investigation

With the plethora of reports and blog posts of late whizzing around cyberland in relation to online legal document and service providers, legal innovation [2], the law firm business model [3] and the future of the legal profession, I reckon we’re transitioning towards ‘two faces of the law’.

I believe two dominant umbrella business models are coming to the fore in relation to who, what, where, why, when and how we serve our clients: Face to Face and Interface.

At a time of great change and as artificial intelligence evolves further within legal provision, I believe a key differentiator in the success of both of these models and their adopters, will be the ‘humanisation’ of lawyers – namely our ability to simply be human.

During August we’ve seen the plans of US online document assembly businesses LegalZoom [4] and Rocket Lawyer [5] to enter the UK market in 2012; Aderant acquiring Client Services and CompuLaw [6] to become the legal technology field’s largest independent software provider; Hewlett-Packard purchasing leading e-discovery provider Autonomy [7] for a staggering $10bn; the launch of Legal365 [8] with the aim of becoming a chain of city-centre law shops; the world’s first listed law firm, Australia’s Slater & Gordon, is eyeing up the UK legal market [9]; and of course QualitySolicitors is already up and running with its Legal Access Points in WHSmith [10].

The new legal marketplace

Clearly, the transformation and arguably re-invention of legal service provision is well and truly underway and, as Canadian legal commentator Jordan Furlong puts it, “we’ve begun crossing over from the old legal marketplace to the new one”.

In reading Jordan’s thought-provoking ‘Goodbye to all that [11]’  blog post, three statements struck me:

I agree. I would add that as we lawyers become marginalised, our role and value both Face to Face and at the Interface will be in extolling our expert niche specialism with exceptional emotional intelligence whilst delivering extraordinary customer service (something artificial intelligence and computers will never be able to do… or will they?).

Franchise model

Not surprisingly, all of the business models mentioned above are different. But I confess, I was wondering when somebody, a non-lawyer, would come up with the idea (and act on it) of rolling out a legal franchise from scratch, welcoming and supporting frustrated entrepreneurial lawyers who are looking to capitalise on this transformation, re-invent themselves and start up their own ‘business of law’ with all of the usual trappings and trimmings associated with the benefits of being a franchisee.

The franchise business model has stood the test of time in the business world. It’s a proven model which works. It could work for the new legal world, perhaps?

Imagine a legal business model for the franchisee where there are no existing solicitors’ firms already at the coal face with potential conflict and where uniform brand, values, quality, outdated fee structures and legacy systems, policies and governance would be an issue.

Would it not be a marvelous opportunity for a franchisor, attractive for the entrepreneurial lawyer franchisee and great for the customer if uniformity of brand, values, quality and extraordinary customer service was available and achievable by combining a joined-up Face to Face relationship-building approach whilst embracing online document technology, at the Interface?

It appears that face2face solicitors [12] (which is a Legal Futures Associate) has done exactly that. It is alive and kicking right now in the UK. As the first national franchise for lawyers and/or law firms, face2face solicitors is the brainchild of a team of business experts who have provided strategic planning advice to business professionals for many years.

I’ve taken a thorough look at the face2face solicitors website and, due to my curiosity, I even picked up the phone to ask them a few probing questions.

Now, usually, I don’t as a rule make such an overt plug in favour of a particular business model, but I’m tempted to do so with this one because I can see the huge attraction for both lawyers and customers during this transitional period.

A new concept

Law providers, both existing and start-up, operating in the alternative business structures landscape – and global legal marketplace for that matter – will require a different type of approach to their business: even more client-focused but with a far lower cost-base to enable them to meet the challenges and exploit the opportunities that lie ahead.

face2face solicitors appears to be a new concept in legal provision operation, designed for small-to-medium sized firms and/or frustrated entrepreneurial lawyers who want to take control of their future in the newly competitive world. It appears to have been designed specifically to counter the growing number of web and call centre based, low-cost providers of ‘face-less’ legal services.

The way I understand it, it’s pretty much a ‘law business in a box’, where franchisees will be able to start up their business without the ‘this is the way we’ve always done things around here’ mentality. I’m a firm believer and eternal optimist that the future is bright for progressive entrepreneurial lawyers and small firms who love the law but recognise the need to deliver it in a new, innovative and personal way.

What I particularly like about this model is that the franchisees at face2face solicitors will be vetted for their drive and passion in delivering extraordinary customer service in a new way to their clients. All franchisees are fully supported and receive continual training and mentoring to help them to develop and build their own successful business in the law, an essential part of which is the development of personal brands [13] – the ‘Brand, Me’ – something which is dear to my heart.

A cool option
As I understand it, what will be attractive for potential franchisees is as follows:

If you’re looking to be a player in the new legal marketplace and would prefer to straddle Face to Face and the Interface, and you’re considering grappling with the challenges of taking the best of the old and integrating the best of the new, face2face solicitors looks like a pretty cool option.

I can’t see how one could put a complete legal start-up business together for anything like the alternative capital and cash-flow outlay or loss of control and reduced equity alternative, as would be the case if one chooses to go down the external funding (venture capital/business angel/listing) route when alternative business structures takes full effect.

This franchise model is worthy of further investigation, I reckon.

Professional evolution

As for the paradigm shift and getting your head around this model and potential opportunity think of it this way. As Mike O’Hara [14] puts it: “Even though you went to law school and have spent your career so far practising law, the truth is, you actually run your own small business – regardless of the size of your firm. And while you may like to think of your practice as a runs-itself enterprise, your long-term success depends on your ability to think and act as an entrepreneur (in between practicing law, that is).”

As the legal profession and our industry continues to re-invent itself, transform and transit ever more so toward two faces of the law – Face to Face and Interface – I have no doubt there will be a plethora of new business models which spring up under the two dominant umbrella models to compete feverishly in this plump, innovative, new and increasingly fragmented and diverse global legal market.

The way I see it, it’s a wonderful and exciting time of opportunity for both personal re-invention and professional evolution for us lawyers and I welcome the humanisation of lawyers (and no doubt many customers and lawyers do too) in the face-off between Face To Face and Interface.

Chrissie Lightfoot [15] is author of The Naked Lawyer: RIP to XXX – How To Market, Brand & Sell YOU! [16]