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Delia Venables

Delia Venables consults and writes on IT and internet topics relating to legal applications. Her web site www.venables.co.uk was one of the first legal resources to arrive on the UK legal web in 1996 and it is still going strong. Together with Nick Holmes, she writes and edits the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers which is a bi-monthly newsletter covering how lawyers can make the best use of resources online (particularly free ones), how they can use the internet for improving service to their clients, how it is changing legal practice, how lawyers can market themselves and also sell legal services online, legal aspects of e-commerce and IT issues relating to all these topics.

Many solicitors provide free legal information on their websites. Is this good marketing or just giving away valuable information?

I maintain a section on my website called Free Legal Information for Individuals provided by Firms of Solicitors at www.venables.co.uk/individtopics.htm. This covers accidents, benefits, business, car crime, consumer, conveyancing, crime, divorce, death (probate, wills etc), debt, dental claims, discrimination, disability, education, employment … and so on, listed alphabetically.

When I recently carried out a major check of these entries, I found that many previous free legal resources have been removed or seriously reduced in scope. It seems that many firms of solicitors, having originally been keen to be part of the new and exciting World Wide Web have eventually decided that it was not really worth the effort.

What a silly question, you may be thinking; everyone has to have a website these days. Well yes, everyone has to have to have the basic details of the organisation online, with contact details and something which looks nice. But beyond that?

For many years, I have had a section about the Bar on my own website, at www.venables.co.uk/bar.htm where I provide basic details of several hundred chambers who have told me about their website and given me some information about their organisation. I looked through these recently, to remove the ones no longer in existence, and asked the others to provide updates to their descriptions which many (not all) have done. At the same time, I looked at the websites and tried to work out what they are trying to do with their site.

This Conveyance

It is probably easier for companies to sell legal services and documents online than it is for firms of solicitors. This may seem unfair, given that the ultimate product (eg a divorce or a conveyance) was originally created by lawyers to protect the client. How can it be that non-lawyers can do it better?

In an article that I wrote for the March/April issue of this Newsletter, I described four reasons why I thought it was hard for a firm of solicitors to provide these products or services online. I said that:

  1. These products are technically difficult, requiring sophisticated (and expensive) software to do the job online, and considerable ongoing technical support.
  2. They are inherently risky for the firm in professional terms. Errors or misunderstandings could lead to serious legal problems for the firm – hardly good advertising for the firm.
  3. The relatively “simple” processes offered for online solution are not in any case very profitable, so a great deal of effort could lead to a relatively modest reward.
  4. A cheap online divorce or conveyance (say) is likely to undermine the solicitors “normal” work. A client could well say “Why should I pay a large amount of money for a personally managed divorce when you can provide the same service online for a third of the cost?

This article first appeared in Legal Web Watch April 2017. Legal Web Watch is a free email service which complements the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers. To receive Legal Web Watch regularly sign up here.

The following items have been selected from Delia Venables’ “New” page.

Market cc by Christopher Matson

About 10 years ago there was a strong feeling in the legal profession that selling legal services and documents online was going to be one of the big features of the future. I set up a section on my website for this topic at www.venables.co.uk/selling.htm with subdivisions for firms of solicitors doing this, companies doing this, and various other aspects of online activity including referral and marketing panels, and price and service comparison sites.

However, far from growing steadily, this first section in particular has struggled to add new firms and indeed, many of the firms originally doing this have now stopped doing so. There are now fewer than 20 firms that appear to be doing this and, in many of these cases, the services offered are very limited in scope and are certainly not the main means by which they are delivering their legal services.

Why has this aspect of legal services failed to grow?

This article first appeared in Legal Web Watch February 2017. Legal Web Watch is a free email service which complements the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers. To receive Legal Web Watch regularly sign up here.

digital marketing

A good website with lots of useful information is no longer enough; the site has to be “marketed”.

Over the last 10 or 15 years, a large number of digital marketing companies have sprung up, typically offering to design and implement an impressive website and provide it with the key factors which will encourage the viewer to make contact and, hopefully, to become a client. These companies offer some of the following:

a-to-z

In the last issue of this Newsletter, I wrote an article on the main suppliers of cloud based software for lawyers. I described the suppliers who have developed software for the cloud, from the ground up (no pun intended), with no option for in-house use; there were about 30 suppliers, and their offerings, described in that article.

This covered many of the newer suppliers who have seen an opportunity for developing easy-to-use legal software in the cloud, particularly for smaller users, as well as some of the older, and well established suppliers who have developed a completely new software system for cloud use.

This article first appeared in Legal Web Watch October 2016. Legal Web Watch is a free email service which complements the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers. To receive Legal Web Watch regularly sign up here.

The following items have been selected from Delia Venables’ “New” page.

sticker-giant2

There are a large number of companies offering legal software to lawyers – around 100 at my last count. The software section of my website www.venables.co.uk/software.htm lists and describes them all, A to Z.

As well as the A to Z sections, I now provide a section called “Cloud, Outsourcing and Hosted Systems” at www.venables.co.uk/outsourcing.htm. More and more new suppliers are developing their software specifically for online use and this is now quite a large section, with 30 suppliers.

Nick Holmes and I have been covering “virtual law firms” in the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers since 2006. In May 2007, I wrote an article called “Virtual Law Firms – where we are now” which looked at several of the firms we had already covered, and cross linked this with the size of firm, the type of clients they were working for and the type of work covered. I also looked at practical issues like the need for social contact between fee-earners, secretarial support, handling accounts and practice management, telephone, post and fax (remember fax?), sharing of fees and (importantly) why they had decided to “go virtual”.

You can view all articles on virtual practice which have appeared in this Newsletter over the years at www.infolaw.co.uk/newsletter/category/virtual-practice/ (this includes a couple relating to Chambers).

Looking back at these articles now, it appears that the so-called “virtual firms” were still, at that time, trying to be a “real” firm, generally with a central office (which could be the senior partner’s home) and still requiring SRA registration, but with developing solutions for computers, software, telephone, secretarial services and accounts. Despite all the new technology, however, I would say that they were still firms of solicitors that my father (who was senior partner of Vinters in Cambridge in the 1960s) would have recognised.

Fast track forward to 2016, and it seems as if the phrase “virtual firm” is not really used any more, probably since most firms will be using many of the characteristic new technologies involved and they are just normal firms.

This article first appeared in Legal Web Watch June 2016. Legal Web Watch is a free monthly email service which complements the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers. To receive Legal Web Watch regularly sign up here.

The following items have been selected from Delia Venables’ “New” page.