Is your firm ready? Most aren't, according to the Law Society of England & Wales...
The Law Society released a report in January 2016 on the future of legal services, which set out to forecast where the legal services industry is going, with its conclusions drawn from literature reviews, round tables, interviews and law firm visit reports, as well as the outcomes from a series of three futures panels. The report looks at the main drivers of change in the legal industry such as globalisation, technology, competition and the continuous development of buyer behaviours. A striking point to note was that the report was focusing not in a future twenty years, or even a decade ahead. Instead, the report sets its focus on what our legal services will look like in 2020 - a hop, skip and jump away. So what does this mean for law firms today? What difference will five years make and how can law firms can start today on the path to becoming ‘future ready’?
The Onrushing Wave
What has happened in the twenty years previous will be nothing to the rate of change we will encounter in the next few years. The speed of evolution is such, that looking just five years into the future, we can predict even more major changes for law firms than we’ve seen in the past two decades.
In the 1980’s, the mantra was, if you don’t change some aspect of how you do business at least every five years, you’re just not cutting it – and to take as given that you will be swallowed up by more savvy competitors… this statement upgraded somewhat at some point in the ‘90’s, where it was decided your business MOT should come at least every three years… Today, businesses, and without exception, law firms need to be reviewing the way they do business continually, as an ongoing process, with one eye on the horizon, and the other watching competitors closely, seeking out new opportunities and innovations as and when they arise – as well as having the ability and willingness to adapt at any given moment.
The fight for consumer attention in legal services is set to intensify as the pace of change continues to accelerate with the emergence of non-traditional competitors; with influences such as the onrushing wave of technological innovation and the increasing demand for technology in the legal services industry. The advancements we will see in the next few years ahead are to redefine every facet of our daily lives, let alone the legal industry.
Contributing factors, such as the economic downturn, and the continued convergence of legal systems and appearance of new overseas markets bringing competition from further afield. At the same time, we have increased client expectations, with customers demanding cheaper and more efficient services, threatening profitability, and the shift towards more transparent, simplified and fix-fee price structures. New business models are set to arrive, (such as enhanced personalisation of the customer experience) intertwining with technologies as a generation of ‘digital natives’ come of age, bringing a wealth of innovation and creativity to the mix.
The report finds that the pace of change in the legal industry is set to increase, and subsequently the need for lawyers to expand their skills base beyond technical legal knowledge will be essential. Curiosity, creativity and strategic thinking skills are set to become more significant in the selection of tomorrow’s lawyers than purely technical legal knowledge.
The ‘traditional’ law firm model, according to the report is most at threat.
“If a business is not reinventing itself to adapt to changing market conditions then it is highly likely it will go into decline or be taken over by those that are better adapted to the new environment. This statement is no less true for law firms than for any business.”
This comes as something of a rallying cry, an urgent call to action, a bid to mobilise those who may be sleep walking through probably the fastest changing era in legal history. So, if this is the case, what can law firms do to adapt to this new environment?
The report suggest three main forces are likely to have the most an impact on firms’ profitability over the next three to five years: changing consumer behaviour; substitute service providers; and the increasing rivalry among Legal 200 and large corporate firms. The best way your law firm can beat the increased competition is to ensure you are ahead of the game in adapting to the changing consumer behaviour, so that come what may, in the terms of the fierce competition we are to expect, your firm can stand out from the crowd and be noticed. According to the Fourth Annual Major Purchase Consumer Study in November 2014, 80% of consumers conducted online research on their path to a major purchase. Your firm’s potential online client base is only set to increase given that more and more people are going online every day. A rock solid online presence should be at the forefront of your online business generation strategy.
There is no point driving customers to your site with an excellent online business generation strategy if you can’t hold onto them once you’ve caught their attention. The following are a few suggestions for how you might be able to do just this. You can look at these different processes in stages, or levels. The deeper your commitment to placing your business in line with the changing online consumer behaviour, the higher the level you will achieve in growing your business online.
LEVEL ONE: BE ENGAGED
The traditional focus of driving prospects and customers to perform an action or goal remains the main focus of projects. Legal firms are focusing on what they can sell to clients - and although this may add some value to short-term objectives and targets, there is a missed opportunity for the nurturing of a deeper engagement with clients. A more customer-centric approach is required: by homing in on what the consumer actually wants by putting yourself in the shoes of your client and asking yourself the very questions your everyday clients will be asking will allow you to develop solutions to meet those exact needs.
LEVEL TWO: BE USEFUL
With the wide variety of social tools and low-cost digital solutions available today, you can offer consumers an enriching engagement, based on their needs. Instead of simply driving consumers to a one-off landing page where they can sign-up for an offer, trial, or service, you’re taking them to an online area that offers rich content, expert dialogue and tools directly relevant to their enquiry. It’s natural to be concerned you are giving too much away when considering how much legal information to set out on a website, however, the more of a resource your site becomes, the better, as clients can develop a positive connection with your firm, giving them more reason to make that enquiry.
LEVEL THREE: BE IRRESISTIBLE
Capturing customer data from your online platform will enable you to tweak your online business generation strategy further to match your clients’ demographic and usage data can help you to make informed choices about the type of services you should be offering, as well as highlighting those areas which would benefit from more focus from an online business generation point-of-view. The ability to collect this type of data, and then tweak your online offering to better match your customer will help to attract and forge long term relationships with potential clients. Ensuring your online platform is slick, user friendly, and is a responsive web design (optimised for viewing on a mobile phone, tablet or desktop computer) will also improve the customer experience. Video is becoming increasingly important as a platform online; a half-a-minute long video introducing yourself to your potential clients takes you one step further towards breaking the ice, giving you the edge over competitors when it comes to deciding which law firm to choose (as well as being a great boost in terms of SEO – see our guide on video marketing for solicitors for more details). Providing regular blog updates, calculation tools, information videos or infographics to guide your visitors through their customer journey will encourage return visits. The impression you have made will make your firm the only possible choice when it finally comes to making that enquiry. In other words, you’ve hit the next level and have now become irresistible to your client.
LEVEL FOUR: BE A LEADER
The ultimate, of course, is to demonstrate to your customer base that you are leading the way in your industry; legal commentary that traverses into the realms of thought leadership will leave more of a lasting impression than the standard rehash of the blog of the week. Ensuring your firm is ahead of the game when it comes to technology will also help. It might be useful to do some research into the various ways other firms or different types of business are using technology to generate business leads. Whether it be experimenting with video streaming in the form of a Periscope interview, or trying out a Google Hangout to conduct a webinar, there’s a plethora of exciting new ways you can engage with clients online, and as it is online where most clients will be making their first impression of a firm, it is without a doubt the best place to start.
Our team of highly skilled digital and law firm growth experts are on-hand to help you generate business online. If you want to find out how we can help your law firm succeed, call us today on 03333 442 722 and ask fo rChris.
 The Future of Legal Services, The Law Society, 28th January 2016. https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/stories/future-of-legal-services/
 The Onrushing Wave, The Economist, January 18th 2014. http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21594264-previous-technological-innovation-has-always-delivered-more-long-run-employment-not-less
 Fourth Annual Major Purchase Consumer Study, Synchrony Financial, November 2015. https://synchronyfinancial.com/2015+Major+Purchase+Study+White+Paper+Final+11_20_15.pdf