We have certainly seen the development of some big bad wolves in 2012. Perhaps “afraid” isn’t the right word, but who are the threats? Of the new breed of legal services providers, who should law firms be paying attention to?

In this article I offer some views on several wolves who are definitely worth watching. Many of these were represented at the Legal Futures conference in London which I attended last November. There was so much information given out by the presenters at that conference that it was almost like a one day MBA in how to develop your law firm.

Riverview Law

Fixed price services, online document library, free initial call. That’s not a revolution in how legal services are delivered I hear you cry. We’ve been doing that for ages. Well if you have, you are in the minority.

Richard Susskind has been banging on for years about how law firms need to break down their workflow and assign the correct level of resource to each step of the work. Which is the lowest cost resource to do a job, and do it right?

Karl Chapman, the Chief Executive of Riverview Law, said at the Legal Futures conference that they are completely customer focused, designed with the customer at the heart of what they do. Much as I’d like to say that about all law firms, I just don’t think it’s true.

If you are a law firm concentrating mostly on providing business legal services then I would pay attention to what Riverview Law are doing. If you want to see how clear they are about fixed price services, take a look at what they say on their family law page (yes, they do that too, not just business law) at http://bit.ly/XBySrD.

Co-operative Legal Services

For firms which have a fairly large proportion of their income coming from consumer law and family work, this is the one to be afraid of. That said, some people think their call centre approach is going to be just as unappealing to some consumers as First Direct was in the banking sector. Well that business has not done too badly has it?

With six million members, the Co-op’s has got to be the biggest list that any legal brand has stored in a nice CRM system that they can use for mega, sophisticated direct marketing. How long before their stores, banks and funeral homes all have some kind of pop-up or legal services hotline in them? When researching this article, I came across a 47-page document on their website listing every subsidiary business that the Co-op own. Take a look: http://bit.ly/VE2YdU.

I would also put the AA and Saga into the same category as the Co-op: large brands with sophisticated marketing machines behind them.

QualitySolicitors

Love the brand? Hate the brand? They are a brand whatever you may think. As someone who watches very little live television and almost never watches ITV, I have only ever seen their advert on YouTube. The “faceless lawyers” campaign was an interesting one and overall it probably did a lot of good for local law firms all over the country.

You doubtless know a local firm who belongs to the QS network. You’ll know if the firm is deemed to be a “quality” firm or not, but that’s not the point. QS has raised the profile of law firms across the country. Whether they’ve done it in a way that only benefits their member firms is an interesting question. Does anyone know of a QS firm that is growing at double digit growth as a direct result of their QS membership? I don’t. I do know firms in the network who are struggling however.

The analogy to the opticians market and Specsavers in particular is not a good one for me. The couple behind Specsavers (the Perkins) have spent 30 years building that business, and from the ground up it was an owned, then franchised model. QS is not that. The central QS team have no ownership in the network firms and their benefit is only so big in terms of centralised buying and pooling of marketing funds. That of course, and the fact they do not “own” the firms means that surely their own equity value can only be increased by taking money off the network ”¦ or am I missing something?

If I was a medium sized high street or regional law firm doing a broad mix of consumer and business legal services, I would keep an eye on what my local QS firm was doing, but I don’t think I’d be very afraid of them.

Stobart Barristers

Stobart Barristers, part of the Stobart Group, are offering a free initial call with a barrister and fixed fees. The service is based on the Direct Access model for Barristers, which is an excellent idea, but how come some bright, commercially minded Chambers did not set this up for themselves? Why leave it to a trucking company to get in there first?

I’ve yet to see any Stobart Barristers adverts on the side of Aileen Margaret or Megan (Stobart lorry names) but surely it can’t be too long? One thing that Trevor Howarth (Director of Legal Services) said at the Legal Futures conference really stuck in my mind: “Someone who is not in your industry is planning on revolutionising it. Remember a record company runs a railroad and a digger maker runs a boot company.”

How much of a dent might they make in local law firms’ business? If I was a small law firm doing all kinds of work, this is exactly the type of “big brand” that I would be worried is trying to steal my work.

Local Law

Quoting from the website: “Local Law isn’t a simple scheme but a modern approach for forward thinking law firms. It is not merely a franchise but an indelible stamp on the identity of a firm, representing the way in which we believe law firms need to be seen by potential clients; Approachable, Friendly, Accessible, Convenient. Local Law is a thoroughly modern brand delivered by a simple but substantial old-fashioned PR & Marketing programme which is all about YOU! All about building the profile of your law firm and the people in it.”

This model I just don’t get. The big problem is that any firm willing to part with circa £60,000 per year on one single marketing campaign (the figure comes from an initial sign-up fee and a monthly marketing fee), must surely be big enough not to be interested in this kind of model.

A recent survey we conducted of 30 law firms found that the average percentage of revenue spent on marketing was just 2 per cent. My typical advice to anyone trying to grow their business is that they should spend north of 5 per cent but at the 2 per cent level, a firm needs to have a turnover of £3m to spend the £60,000, let alone any other marketing spend. I just cannot see this happening, even though their initial press coverage said they had “two firms close to signing”.

So for this brand, I’m not sure anyone should be scared.

Connect2Law

Connect2Law was established in 2001 by Pannone LLP. Initially the scheme offered support to law firms in the North West by assisting their clients in areas of law which the member firms didn’t cover themselves. The arrangement was underpinned by a non-poaching agreement so the property of the client remained with the member and in return for an accepted referral the firm received a fee share.

Connect2Law now operates across the UK with a total of 17 law firms who support the network membership of 2,600 law firms across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

This is really an arrangement between law firms rather than a brand as such. I wouldn’t have included them in this article had it not been for the recent announcement that David Jabbari (ex Clyde & Co) has been appointed to the new role of Chief Executive. He has already announced plans to establish the network as “the UK’s leading legal brand, across every postcode” and “to defend the value of independent high street firms”. An admirable claim, but I wonder how a brand, really only known to law firms, can move into the consumer’s mindshare without the sort of massive investment that QualitySolicitors has had.

This is one for all firms to follow closely, but probably not one to worry about yet.

Conclusion

There are others, including the AA, Face2Face Solicitors, HighStreet Lawyer, LawStore, LawNet, Legal365, Saga and the UK Legal Alliance, and doubtless there will be other brands coming forward in 2013. The market is changing and it’s changing fast. I personally would like to see the legal sector take more of an interest in what’s going on around them in their market.

You can view my full blog post of the Legal Futures conference, along with 15 mind maps from the speakers, at http://bit.ly/RQKllB.

David Gilroy is Sales and Marketing Director for Conscious Solutions and is one of the founders of the company. He has personally worked with over 250 law firms on their digital marketing strategies including social media, SEO, PPC and CRM.

Email dgilroy@conscious.co.uk.

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