Nelsons is one of the largest law firms in the East Midlands and has gained recognition for its dynamic growth and forward thinking. We now have 30 partners and over 130 fee earners covering a broad service mix. We have withdrawn from legal aid work and successfully re-positioned ourselves in the SME business and higher net worth private client markets. In revenue terms, our split is close to 50:50 between B2B and B2C services.

Over the past couple of years the pace of change in the legal services market has quickened considerably. Banks, insurers and other institutions are offering legal products to their customers and seeking to establish themselves as alternative providers in what is becoming a highly competitive market. Having tracked these changes closely, our view in the autumn of 2006 was that we needed to meet the challenges head on.

We realised that all our established assumptions about the nature of legal services and advice were being affected by IT and the growth of the internet. Our view is that in the future new technologies are likely to be fundamentally disruptive and will change the way that legal services are provided. We also recognise that new attitudes to knowledge sharing are emerging and that many consumers are open to new approaches through online delivery.

Our first plan was to meet this by offering online information and versions of our own documents, essentially promoting our existing written products into the DIY legal services market. Initially our objectives were mainly defensive and local to our own clients. However, in 2007 we began to realise that we could collaborate with others to provide a service with national reach which could offer more than any competitor. We could combine the best technology with “lawyer review” and move the project from an online document library to the “virtual” law firm.

We had looked carefully at the services being offered by non lawyer new entrants, and were impressed with the powerful on-line technology that some of them used. We doubted our ability to produce and maintain competitive information content and document generation within a realistic time-frame, and so approached Epoq to discuss ways in which their document automation systems, legal content and workflow systems could be used to take the firm in a new and ambitious business direction.

From our very first discussion with Epoq, the idea was born of collaborating to form the MyLawyer network to reach wider markets, as well as to produce our own firm’s site.

We see these as complimentary routes to market – both services use the technology to offer online Law Guides and document drafting services to engage clients over the web on business and personal legal issues. The range and quality of the Epoq content has enabled us to offer on-line services to our small business client base as well as across the range of private client services, and we are already working on the release of a dedicated Employment Law service, blending the service with LEI and other features, for larger business clients.

Through the Law Guides, clients access information that they would often pay for with conventional delivery, and they can select and draft their own documents using powerful, “intelligent” software before sending it to our solicitors for review. This method of automated drafting allows our clients to effectively instruct us online, but also results in internal cost savings and frees our lawyers to concentrate on the more bespoke elements.

At any stage, if either the client or our lawyers recognise that the client needs a more formal office engagement, the case can be easily upgraded.

The result is that we have just launched Nelsonsonline which is fully branded to match our existing web presence, and Epoq have launched the MyLawyer network with Nelsons as a founding member of the small panel that will provide lawyer review to services sold through this channel.

Both offer a range of facilities to draw clients’ interest and help them to use the service – FAQs, product selectors, animated tours and “step through” tutorial movies – and both incorporate the critically important lawyer review process.

We were able to choose the range and scope of the legal services on offer, and to fix our own pricing, referral topics and the content of bespoke document packs. Among the most important considerations were the creation of suitable financial procedures and documentation, legal terms and conditions, client online engagement procedures and the setup of managed support services. Epoq were able to supply or assist with all of these, and also provided training and documentation for the required backend system for our legal team to manage the incoming customer queries, along with agreed facilities for monthly service reports and maintenance.

We also wanted a system that enables customers to pay for documents over the telephone and can also have documents drafted whilst speaking to our lawyers by telephone. After the concept and contractual stages were complete, the customisation, build and launch phase of the Nelsonsonline service was a 12 month project.

This was a collaborative process with a great deal of input needed from both sides. Epoq were responsible for building and hosting the Nelsonsonline Service and it had to fit with the main Nelsons site.

We held a series of internal meetings in order to brief our legal teams on the technology we intended to bring to Nelsons and allay any concerns they might have, and now the service is live we are re-running this to emphasise the benefits and opportunities. This has involved demonstration videos, which Epoq were able to provide for us, and an open discussion about which services should be provided online. Our solicitors were supplied with Epoq’s content in order to conduct a review and ensure it met the high standards we require.

By combining the ease of online access with our legal expertise, we can offer our existing clients a greater, more flexible range of services and we can engage with the new generation of IT literate clients who expect internet delivery of services as the norm. Nelsons has recognised and acted on the need for change and we will continue to service our clients in innovative ways.

Tim Hastings is Chief Executive of Nelsons.