What would happen if Costa started a law firm?

Would they use the same brand name?

Would people say: “You must be kidding”?

Would they be consigned to delivering legal services with a low margin (I suspect coffee has a very respectable margin)?

Would they be able to scale their business model (whatever that was)?

Would anyone want to work for them?

Could they franchise the model?

Of course, this is an entirely fanciful notion and is not to be confused with the business model that Quality Solicitors have embraced.

The point is that Costa is predicated on a systematised model that guarantees a predictable outcome.

Love or loathe the brand, there is no denying that it is a very successful business model. Indeed you only have to look at the rise of the coffee sector or pizzas to realise that as a nation we like predictable outcomes at an affordable price – the raison d’être of the business franchise.

If you are interested in the said model then I highly recommend that you check out the scholarly work of Michael E Gerber and his E-Myth series of books. If you had to opt for one, I would buy the E-Myth Revisited which is wonderfully written.

As an aside, it does intrigue me why certain small businesses that I have frequented have not thought how they might scale their operation. I cannot believe that they all lacked the ambition or capital to do so. Yes I know there is the argument that part of their charm/attraction is that they are small but actually I would love to frequent them when travelling or recommend them to a friend in another part of the country.

And surely this is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to legal services. If you or your firm are so well liked in one town, then why couldn’t the service ‘experience’ be replicated up and down the country? Some firms have, of course, tried to expand their reach but many have contracted out of their multi-site offerings on the basis that in duplicating the same service across a number of small towns they are building in a level of unnecessary cost and, in fact, most clients will travel.

Will it only be a matter of time before we start to see the (prototype) business franchise model on the High Street?

Some of you may want to argue the semantics of the Quality Solicitors model but I do not view their offering in the same way.

I am talking about a brand that decides to open up shop-front premises, where everything looks and feels the same (uniforms etc) and there is a systematised way of delivering legal services. It becomes a systems model and not a people model.

It would be easy to dismiss the idea and refer to the fact that clients want to deal with a trusted advisor – someone who understands their difficulties and family history – but given how infrequently most people pay a visit to their solicitors, they will quickly become accustomed to a new mode of delivery. Let’s face it we have for pretty much every other service!

Just imagine if Costa or another retail focused business franchise tried to leverage its goodwill in the market? It is conjecture but I suspect few would bother. To borrow that hackneyed expression: there is simply no synergy. But move out of food and start looking at other brands who have a high street presence and I wonder how easy it would be for them to leverage their market position into legal services?

Legal services, or at least a part of it, must surely be capable being packaged in a way that would be of interest to a significant player. Whether they would want to invest in such a disparate market remains to be seen.

But even if you are not persuaded of the likelihood of this ever happening, there is a lot that law firms can learn from running a franchise model.

Most managing partners would cringe at the notion of more bureaucracy but what they don’t realise is that clients want something that is predictable and find that the experience of using the firm is different depending on the time of day, who you deal with and the sort of problem that you present with. Most firms have given some thought to the look and feel of their service offering but not nearly enough.

Take something as routine as the dress code. What is so hard about introducing a uniform? If Airlines can do it then, at least for support staff, there is no reason why the same cannot be implemented for law firms.

As I have said before, every person in a law firm is in marketing and wearing a (tasteful) uniform is a perfect example of where a firm could make a meaningful impact in its locality by providing tailored, well designed uniforms where everyone says “Don’t they look smart”. That was certainly my original impression of British Airways cabin staff long before I took my first flight.

And then there is the façade of the buildings. Why do law firms insist on out of date name plaques and poor or non-existent signage? If first impressions count, then surely this is priority #1? Internally things are not much better. Reception, interview rooms and lawyers’ rooms (for those still seeing their clients in this way) are another gaff. What tends to take prominence is a swathe of mediocre signs or the ubiquitous client charter. They come in all shapes and sizes. The tables and chairs aren’t much better … and so on and so on. Even the colour used can make a difference.

The point is, clients believe they are paying for a premium service and whilst you must be careful not to be too ostentatious, nevertheless there are certain standards that you must aim to meet.

Firms should also have a flower budget both for clients and their reception areas. For me fresh flowers connote a business that cares. Just think of the last restaurant or café that you visited that had plastic flowers or nothing at all!

For some partners all this frippery will be seen as a distraction or more likely is just another cost overhead that can be cut (they have to keep those PEP figures up somehow) but being thrifty is one thing but not investing in something that can have a meaningful impact on the business is something entirely different.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against small business owners enjoying the fruits of their labour but not as a matter of right, regardless of the impact on the business.

Firms obsess about their fonts on their letters and layout but then buy cheap paper. As for envelopes, firms don’t even think about the paper matching it in quality and seem to go for the cheapest possible. I still think, even in these email and social media times, that receiving a letter/envelope combination on nice quality paper makes a fantastic impression.

The trick for law firms is not to think about the perceived quality or value of the business franchise offering but rather how well the system works.

If you had to go to work on your firm, what would you change to make the client experience truly memorable?

Even the issue of unpaid bills should not be thought about only after the client has made a formal complaint. If you have a credit control policy does it meet the systems test?

Or how your phones are answered?

Or do you say what you have agreed to do? If you have given an estimate do you stick to it or do you hope if you say nothing that the client will not notice when you send out the bill?

In the final analysis even if you decide that you have no intention of scaling your firm beyond its current size, what can you implement that will WOW your clients and ensure that when they next need legal services they automatically come back to you and recommend every one of their friends and family to your firm?

~ JS ~