The (Untapped) Potential of the Legal Market

Can you see it?

You know, the untapped market?

Apparently, once the market is opened up by the advent of the Legal Services Act, people will have greater proclivity to instruct a lawyer.

It’s as if the opportunity has been staring you in the face all along.

Look again.

You know it exists ….

Most ordinary people who come into contact with a lawyer have no wish to do so. Their engagement is intermittent and relatively low level: buying/selling a house; making a will; or resolving a low value (but highly stressful) dispute.

Even with in-house counsel/GC they have a discreet need and usually the time/cost equation militates against excess use. This is sometimes ameliorated by a fixed price deal but still no one wants to be seen as using “the lawyers” as a prop. To suggest that they will come knocking on your door with more work is a fallacy.

In a commercial sense, it may be of apocryphal authenticity, but lawyers constantly hear it reported that their clients speak to their accountants before they talk to the lawyers. This is rooted in the routine but constant contact that accountants have with their clients, and which lawyers are unable or unwilling to foster.

Perhaps there exists the opportunity.

At the moment Quality Solicitors are experimenting with a presence in a number of W H Smith shops. I have not viewed one for myself but imagine they are interested in persuading the Saturday shoppers of the need to make a will or obtain a price for one job or another. But are they really creating a demand?

Let’s be honest for the vast majority of folk they view professionals with cynicism. No one these days escapes their ire: lawyers, accountants or doctors.

Lawyers are told not to sell on price. Think value.

But truthfully, do you clients really see an hourly rate as good value?

If someone told me I had to pay £200+ per hour, and you so much as missed a beat in delivery of your service, I might expect to complain.

OK, perhaps there are one too many cultural issues to fix – the problem is that many lawyers don’t even appreciate the issues – but, when it comes down to it, how do you persuade someone to engage you and generate additional work if they either don’t see a need or perceive you as too expensive?

My view is that without more consumers will not generate additional demand. Even if Tesco does come into the market, and people decide to buy a will or conveyance, this is very likely to transfer the demand from one provider to another.

Even a more obvious market like wealth management will not of itself create more demand. Let’s face it the Banks tried the cross-selling thing and look where it got them.

Perhaps one area where there might emerge more demand, particularly given the way in which our economy is developing, is the start up or SME sector. They might at least be persuaded to buy the cover that they need or have been avoiding for some time; but I suspect they are more likely to be attracted by the on-line providers than going to the usual high street set up.

If you believe the legal market offers your practice more opportunities, then cometh the hour cometh the firm should be your mantra.

 You need to consider:

  • Changing your opening hours;
  • Adopting a help line service that operates 24/7 for all or the majority of your service lines (not just crime);
  • Introducing a genuine High Street presence with an eye-catching frontage (think of some of the best business franchises);
  • Adopting some genuinely WOW service standards. Yes that might mean a guarantee to say what you mean etc. If you mess up then you should be offering money off your bill or try pay us what you think we are worth;
  • Extending the range of services that you do on fixed fee. Consumers want to see a menu so they know exactly how much something costs;
  • A loyalty scheme;
  • On-line legal services to compliment your established services.

Business development is not just about new business. It is about developing the business so that you can serve your clients better, capture better streams of work (notice I said better and not profitable) and attracting the best candidature. These ideas for capturing the retail market should be just the beginning. You have to accept that you won’t have the budget of a major retailer and the only way to compete will be to drive change rather than being another me too firm.

You know they will look at volume with low margins. If you don’t think you can or want to compete in that area, then you have to look for a new, dare I say revolutionary edge.

The market is not waiting for you – post October 2011 or otherwise. You have to go create it. Recognise that people will see your service more and more as a commodity but that still leaves open the opportunity for the high-end, unique service where people are prepared to pay for a WOW, memorable experience.

Take nothing for granted, and keep doing what you are doing to the very best of your ability. Trying to retain your existing clients should be given just as high a priority as capturing a whole slew of new business.

~ Julian Summerhayes ~

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