The rapid development of the internet is something which will radically change our working environment. To survive in this new world, solicitors must work with the new technologies to develop new ways to provide legal services. We need to be the innovators ourselves, using the solicitors brand as a guarantee of quality. This, however, needs support from the Law Society, with the promotion of a solicitors logo, and perhaps mutual support and referrals between complementary solicitors’ online services.
My service, Landlord-Law, has been online since 2001. It is a “one to many” subscription service for residential landlords and tenants. I developed it because I found that many landlords and tenants had no idea of their rights and obligations and had no easy way to find out. Since then it has developed into the main focus of my business.
The original site was basically just information and articles, together with a few downloads, mostly possession notices. Additions since then include:
- Book reviews
- Case law – limited to housing cases where I can link to an online report
- Tenancy agreements – now in a plain English format
- Online kits – detailed guidance for various housing related court claims, some for annual members, the rest involving an extra charge
- Members discussion forum, where annual and monthly members can ask me questions
Annual members can also instruct me to do “one to one” legal work, mostly repossession, adapting tenancy agreements and an advice service.
There are three levels of membership:
- Daily (£4.70 for three days) – just the basic content and articles
- Monthly (£15) – as daily, plus use of the members discussion forum
- Annual (£70.50) – full access, including the tenancy agreements and forms
Membership consists mainly of small landlords, with a healthy sprinkling of tenants, letting agents, solicitors and other advisors.
Landlord-Law took a huge amount of time to develop, and this and the set-up costs meant that the first years were difficult. It still involves a lot of work and commitment, and probably would not be profitable were it not for the fact that I work from home and have no staff (apart from my husband who has his own work).
Prior to qualifying as a solicitor I worked as a legal secretary for two years, and the keyboard skills I acquired then have proved invaluable. I have taught myself basic html and how to create Adobe forms, and I am thus able to deal with creating new site content (such as the tenancy agreements) and general maintenance and updates. The site itself and all major upgrades were done by my web designer Gill Bishop of Bitenet.
So far as promotion is concerned, the vast majority of members come via Google (my site comes top for a search on “landlord” and “law”). I do not spend a lot of time on search engine optimisation (although every page carries relevant metatags), concentrating more on providing a good service. I do a lot of reciprocal linking via the site “weblinks” section, plus over the years I have bought a number of related domain names which link to the main site.
As regards offline promotion, I do talks for landlords organisations and forums (for example London Landlords Day), together with a certain amount of training for solicitors, I write articles for properly journals, our local newspaper and property websites, and I am the author of two (Lawpack) books. Landlord-Law has also been reported many times in the local and national press – I always help journalists when they ring!
Perhaps one of the most important drivers of the site is the Q&A page. Here I answer 10 questions from the public every two weeks. Many members have joined the site through the Q&A and it is a useful showcase of my abilities.
Landlord-Law has always had a monthly newsletter. This goes out to all members, and I also have a free mailing list of about 4–5,000. Carrying tips, news items and updates on new site content, it help keeps Landlord-Law in the minds of potential members.
Running an internet service, you have to keep up to date and have to keep adding new items and services. Earlier this year I decided the site looked tired, and asked my web designer to do a radical new design, using bright colours, a new navigation system, pictures and, inspired by the BBC site, fragments on the home page. The new site went live in July.
And finally ”¦
Although it has not made me a millionaire, so far as I am concerned the site has been a great success. It has allowed me to do the work I want to do, in the way I want to do it, as well as develop as a writer and speaker. I enjoy my life, and feel the business is on a reasonably sound footing and well placed to develop in the future. Which is I suppose as much as anyone can ask for in these uncertain days.
Landlord-Law is run by Tessa Shepperson, who specialises in residential landlord and tenant work. She practices as a solicitor in Norwich as TJ Shepperson.