Solnick LLP, based in Chiswick, West London was founded in 1984 and has seven fee earners. We have established ourselves as a large law firm in a miniature package, often punching above our weight. In the late 1990s we developed a speciality in employment law and now have a team of three dedicated employment lawyers, and other members of the firm who have expertise in this area.

Establishing credentials

One of the challenges for the firm was to establish our credentials as a heavyweight contender, since many of the clients referred to us (often by City firms) were senior executives used to dealing with large commercial firms in their normal business life. It was therefore important to reinforce the credentials of the practice with information on our website which satisfied a prospective client that we had the necessary expertise in employment law.

This is where Henry Scrope’s Disclaw Publishing was able to help. Since 1999 we had subscribed to Emplaw which provides an innovative and approachable online law text. It breaks down employment areas into specific topics which run to three to four pages, and links one topic to another by hyperlinks embedded in the text. For example, if in the topic on sex discrimination there is a sentence with the phrase “unfair dismissal”, one can jump straight from there to the topic of unfair dismissal. It also provides a link to many free internet resources.

With time Henry Scrope’s profile in employment circles and the reputation and features of his site have increased, but perhaps his most innovative step was when in 2002 he offered a scaled down version of the emplaw website to firms to put on their own websites, adapted to the look, feel and branding of the host firm together with a monthly email newsletter using the same formatting.

We put this on our website in May 2002 and it has remained an important feature of our online profile. We think the fee charged for this service represents good value for money. Perhaps Solnick LLP’s reputation has increased, but we no longer find ourselves having to justify who we are, and are instead met with the comment “I have seen your website”. Although we do not have traffic data to support this, our belief is that the emplaw facility has significantly increased our credibility for new and existing clients.

Control

Many firms will be concerned about placing content over which they have no control on their website. This has not been an issue for us because we were already using and trusted this product, and we have a clear copyright and disclaimer message which shows this to be a DiscLaw Publishing product.

So are we worried that people will spot that we didn’t write this service ourselves? In truth, I don’t think anyone has ever noticed, and I doubt they would care. What people care about is that the information is available, free and part of the service we can provide. In fact, we put the following link at the bottom of all our emails – See our Free On-Line Employment Law Advisory Service.

Free information

Third party content has been around for a while, so is it relevant to the current debate about the commoditisation of legal services and providing the edge needed to survive? In my view it is. I remember attending Richard Susskind’s lecture to the Society of Computers and Law back in 1996 when launching his book The Future of Law. Central to his argument was that law should be split between the provision of information (often this will be free or modestly priced and controlled by publishers) and the trusted advisor.

Around this time I received a call late one Friday evening from a potential client: I started to talk through his issue with a view to his coming in to see me and as the call progressed, I sensed his increasing irritation. He eventually said: “You know the answer, why don’t you just tell me – why should I pay to come in to see you when you could tell me the answer now”. He was right, there was a simple answer to his question and it didn’t need my analysis, just information I would normally charge for providing. For me the message was clear: lawyers cannot hang on to their information, they should give it freely and then charge for the analysis of a problem and the experience they can bring to finding solutions which online materials cannot provide.

My firm freely provides the employment information that a client doesn’t want to pay for, and uses that introduction to the firm to develop a relationship of trusted advisor. This is a win-win situation for all involved and represents a real alternative to commoditised legal services.

Jonathan Golden is Managing Partner of Solnick LLP and heads up its Employment Group.

Email j.golden@solnick.com.

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