The future of the legal sector: To embrace, or not to embrace change?

5Pillars, Deo Volente Solicitors, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The British legal services sector is worth £25.7 billion. Therefore, it is somewhat strange that lawyers and barristers are not renowned for being the greatest public marketers of their own profession. The lack of a ‘sexy’ edge to the day-to-day work of a lawyer, as well as strict marketing restrictions set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is undoubtedly a contributing factor.

But in all honesty, compared to conventional ‘salesmen’ from different industries, the practitioners of law have traditionally refrained from force-feeding their expertise to the masses. The well-known saying, ‘reputation speaks for itself’ is a statement that is very much applicable to lawyers and barristers alike.

However, times have changed since the widespread upholding of these ethical values, and law firms of different sizes have been passively forced to accept and embrace certain methods and mediums of marketing; such is the inevitability of an ever-evolving business environment in the modern age of technological advancement.

Marketing the legal sector

Legal marketing in England and Wales dates back to 1986 when the Law Society first permitted solicitors and law firms to advertise. The Financial Services Authority (FSA) now licences helplines and claims management companies which normally refer work to lawyers.

The late 1980’s and early 1990’s saw the first wave of legal advertising, which are now considered “conventional” platforms of marketing – local newspapers, door-to-door leafleting, and billboards, TV and radio for the more daring firms with deep pockets.

These modes of marketing are still very popular and effective today. As a business director of an expanding law firm, I can testify that consistent and strategic advertising in local newspapers, radio stations and leafleting can work wonders in reaching out to the 30%-35% of clientele that do not fall under the “repeat client” or “client recommendation” category.

Internet and social media

But of course, the dawn of the internet, SEO marketing and paid Google adverts changed how every industry – not just the legal sector – perceived their marketing strategies. This was rapidly followed by the birth of social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat, which totally revolutionised the entire conception of marketing from a local and regional practice, to potentially accessing the entire global community via the internet.

From targeted sponsored posts, paid ‘boosts’, to keyword optimisation, and the effective usage of 140 characters and hashtag campaigns – social media has well and truly added a unique dimension to business marketing.

Marketing budgets, streamlining resources, measuring the effectiveness of traditional advertising platforms, calculating return on investments by tracking referrals or promotional codes from newspaper adverts and leaflets, and competing with industry competitors has all changed, and sadly, the legal sector has been arguably slower in ‘getting with the times’ in comparison to other industries.

I guess this boils down to what I mentioned earlier in this article – the reluctance of many lawyers and barristers to ‘whore’ their services to the masses. The ethical preservation of the ‘respectable’ and ‘honourable’ legal trade has meant that there are hundreds of British law firms and solicitors today that refuse to advertise, let alone have marketing budgets as part of their business costs, and are content with a mundane website for mere online presence.

Is modernising necessary?

That said, this hasn’t prevented external businesses such as legal software companies, printing and photocopying outlets, and internet and telecommunication providers to facilitate the needs of a modernising and technological savvy law firm.

Take for example legal software companies like Leap Legal and Eclipse Legal – who deliver an internet cloud based system which synchronises everything from client information, file progress, billing, department and individual targets, marketing statistics, and internal and external emails – which effectively streamlines every aspect of a law firm that for years consisted of piles of paperwork, human time and never-ending admin work.

So with all this in mind, what is the future of the legal industry? Companies like Leap Legal and Eclipse Legal make no secret when they say that the future is a “paperless future” via the streamlining of every aspect of law a firm. But the reality is, law firms and every other sector will always need to print paperwork, and therefore will always need a printer and filing cabinets. But the daring leap to even suggest a “paperless” future with an entirely internet cloud based filing system is indicative of the direction of the legal sector. What’s to say that in decades to come, we may well see the emergence of “officeless” law firms? Trust me; it’s not that far-fetched…

The future of law

The acclaimed author, IT specialist, and adviser to the Lord Chief Justice, Richard Susskind, alluded in his book, ‘The Future of Law’ (1998) and in a later book ‘The End of Lawyers’ (2008) the possibilities of virtual law firms in the absence of actual offices, paperwork and hardcopy client files.

As opposed to a more pragmatic and optimistic look at how the internet has revolutionised the world, Susskind strongly suggests that unless lawyers, law firms and the entire legal sector wholesale embraces these technological changes – the internet may well be the Grim Reaper of the industry and those seeking careers in law.

Within every trade there will always be small to medium sized businesses that are financially stable and the owners are content with their turnover and profits. These small to medium sized businesses are not necessarily resistant to changes either – you’ll find that many do have professionally designed user-friendly websites, social media accounts (usually Facebook and Twitter), and do invest small amounts of money on advertising, even if it’s just posters, leafleting or a regular advert in the local paper.

But within every trade, you will also find the ‘old guard’ traditionalists – who are resistant to most if not all changes required for modernisation. They tend to solely rely on their own conviction in “what’s always worked” to survive through the ages with minimal to no consideration for marketing, business development and growth, except for what’s legally required by the government and their respective regulatory authority. And it is this latter group within the legal sector which is in danger of becoming extinct according to Susskind in the age of the internet, modernity and globalisation.

If word of mouth, repeat clients, and client recommendations (which makes up 60-65% of clients for all law firms in the UK) in the absence of any other means of marketing is sufficient for some law firms, then I sincerely wish them all the best in the continuation of a successful existence.

However, for law firms who are serious about growth, expansion, business development and modernisation – accessing that 30%-35% of clientele that have never heard of your firm and will never instruct you is an absolute must – and strategic advertising, calculated marketing risks and embracing change is the only way forward.

This article was first published on Deo Volente Solicitors’ website.