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High Street Lawyer News
Tomorrow's Lawyer Today - the future of Legal Services is here
In his book "Tomorrow's Lawyers - An Introduction to Your Future" Professor Richard Susskind makes some stark predictions about the changes being experienced by the legal profession in England and Wales.
The most worrying issue is that by 2020, Susskind does not see small high street law firms in the legal landscape unless they identify a market that requires their services and responds to it. In order to work out what that market is, those lawyers who want to survive beyond 2020 need to work out what differentiates them and how this message can be brought to the target market.
Coupled with the existential threat, law firms, large and small, are also facing unprecedented changes in the way they practice and how they are run. A new compliance regime is now in place, with every firm requiring Compliance Officers for both the legal practice and the business management elements of it's work. Accreditation schemes for bread and butter conveyancing and probate work will soon be essential for any firm that hopes to continue doing these types of work.
Referral fees are being banned for personal injury work at the same time as the fees that pesonal injury firms can charge are being slashed. Firms are worried about how they will get work and whether there will be a knock on effect on referral fees for other areas of work.
At the same time, the profession is being opened up to external investment but most of this is bypassing small firms. The future for small legal practices certainly is confusing.
HighStreetLawyer.com plans to address all of these issues and more at its conference Tomorrow's Lawyers Today. With speakers from the world of Banking, Regulatory and Compliance as well as the Managing Director of HighStreetLawyer, the conference will look at all of these topics from the perspective of the small legal firm and propose methods to ensure that those firms planning on surviving post 2020 have the means to do so.
Full details of the conference can be found on our CPD site www.legal-focus.co.uk
2013 - A challenge ahead
Every firm has by now had to nominate it's COLP and COFA. Such compliance officers will have to deal with Outcomes Focussed Regulations. Where previously a set of hard and fast rules governed the compliance of law firms, partners now have to interpret guidelines and make judgements of their own decisions. It is unsurprising therefore that about 250 firms have not yet nominated their COLP/COFA before the 31 December deadline http://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/hundreds-delinquent-firms-move-closer-colpcofa-action. In our survey, half of our respondents informed us that they were taking on both the COLP and COFA role.
Each week seems to see the launch of a new marketing initiative for legal services. Google backed US company Rocket Lawyer launched in the final quarter of 2012 and it's rival Legal Zoom is also dipping its toes into the UK legal market. Various comparison sites now exist and there is now of course TV advertising of legal services.
In 2012, more firms joined the Law Society's Conveyancing Quality Scheme and various lenders have now made CQS accreditation a requirement for membership of their panel. Without CQS, firms will simply not be able to act for certain lenders. Over a third of firms we surveyed admitted that they had to turn work away this year as they were not on a certain panel. From April 1 this year, firms without CQS will not be permitted on Santander's panel. Of the firms we surveyed only 40% had received CQS accreditation, although a further 40% intended to apply.
100% of our respondents would consider applying for accreditation of a probate scheme if The Law Society were to introduce one. Although firms are not exactly embracing these schemes there is a reluctant acceptance that to protect their ability to work, firms will have to carefully consider membership of as many schemes as possible.
Small, successful high street firms who wish to remain as such need to use the coming year to capitalise on their strengths and remove the effect of their weaknesses. Ironically, the fundamental strength of being a small law firm is paradoxically also its weakness. Because of their size small law firms have great local knowledge, years of experience often having acted for families or businesses for many years and the potential to give great customer service and be very caring towards their clients. Conversely, their ability to compete in marketing terms with larger organisations is stymied, even ridiculed by their size. With the same compliance regime for every firm, regardless of size, small firms will use up a far higher proportion of potential fee earning time with management and compliance issues. Marketing budgets of small law firms are dwarfed by those of large new market entrants. The only effective way to counter such competition is for smaller firms to take advantage of some kind of collective marketing, deciding first on whether social media, TV or price comparison is the forum to attack.
Of our surveyed firms, almost 70% had a Twitter and a Linked In account. 60% are actively sending enewsletters and approximately 40% are still sending brochures. At this rate, there must be a huge amount of material being sent by small firms to potential customers. How do firms distinguish themselves, especially when a lot of the material is fairly generic?
My prediction for 2013 is that lots of small law firms will find the challenges too much to face and will look for the chance to be taken over or leave the market. Small law firms should focus this year on existing client bases and not blow in the wind trying to attract new clients. Getting to grips with the effect as well as the cost of compliance will also be a great benefit. My hope is that small law firms play to their strengths and realise the great head start that that they have on new market entrants but accept the fact that that reducing cost bases and outsourcing back office functions may be necessary and productive. My new years resolution is to work with the firms that wish to remain strong, profitable and competitive.
Gary Yantin is the founder and Managing Director of HighStreetLawyer.com, the consumer facing legal brand and umbrella group for small high street law firms.