When considering the approach your practice should be taking to growth strategy, a significant starting point should be the perceived barriers to accessing justice from the client’s perspective. Is it access to legal representation, legal advice or even knowing what options are available?
‘Ready access to numerous forums online has created a generation of “Informed” Lay Clients.’
Ready access to numerous forums online has created a generation of “Informed” Lay Clients, they have been advised by someone that had a divorce last year; exactly how much it should cost, how long it will take, what they are entitled too and what the access arrangements will be. Then those expectations are conveyed to a legal professional, who then has to point out that things are not quite so straightforward.
The various advice services, while a great asset to the communities they serve are hugely under resourced, can on occasion give outdated advice and in some circumstances give advice that considers cultural “laws” above those prescribed under English Law.
So we now have a client who is most likely in a no better position than they were at the very start of their legal journey. The only difference is that they may have formed their own opinion of how the journey will end and how much it will cost, a headache for the legal professionals they are now going to engage.
‘If ever there was a time to take a holistic and innovative approach to how your practice conducts marketing and client acquisition, it is definitely now.’
In 2017 the traditional course of visiting your local solicitor practice is most likely not the typical clients next step, the legal industry is quickly evolving into a consumer market, clients can within a few minutes and some very basic details, have a list of solicitors and barristers all over the country that are willing to take instruction. If ever there was a time to take a holistic and innovative approach to how your practice conducts marketing and client acquisition, it is definitely now.
So how do you advise your clients of the various options available to them without having a detrimental effect on you and your practices turnover and profit? With the emergence of Higher Rights to Audience, Direct Public Access and Dispute Resolution (I have intentionally dropped “Alternative” as I believe this can imply a sub-standard option), never before has the industry had so many options to offer clients.
‘An opportunity exists for both solicitors and barristers with respect to dispute resolution.’
While many look at these “options” as “threats” to their traditional working practices, there is a lot to be considered when we look at the opportunities they also represent. A solicitor that has a healthy working relationship with a chambers that offers DPA may find that by referring clients that may benefit from the Direct Access Route, they in return will receive client enquiries when the chambers receive a DPA enquiry that requires solicitor involvement or litigation support. Similarly many barristers feel that solicitors who conduct advocacy threaten their position in the process, however by creating relationships with law firms and assisting with mentoring solicitors that do wish to conduct more advocacy can result in a reciprocal flow of work when complex or lengthy cases arise. An opportunity exists for both solicitors and barristers with respect to dispute resolution. Both have the ability to train in mediation and arbitration, and with the current state of the courts system, this area will see significant increase in the not so distant future. The shorter journey to settlement or resolution for the client does mean less billable hours for a lawyer but it will result in a higher annual capacity and client satisfaction, both of which will have an overall impact on practice profitability.
‘One common barrier that affects both solicitors and barristers is the ability or willingness to pay and to pay on time.’
One common barrier that affects both solicitors and barristers is the ability or willingness to pay and to pay on time. Legal funding and finance is available to cover most legal costs now and is rapidly increasing as a viable option for clients and lawyers alike, enabling the client to begin instruction knowing that they can see their case through to the end and the lawyer having the comfort that time will not be wasted chasing payments or in the worst case scenario, having to cease instruction and come off record.
Another emergence in making the legal journey cost effective is the “unbundling” of legal services, by utilizing the support of case managers and paralegal support, the client can make the most of their costs budget and the lawyers benefit from maximizing their billable hours by not having to hand hold the client and deal with basic administrative tasks that can occasionally be questioned when an invoice is presented to the client.
The legal landscape in England is changing; will you embrace the challenges and opportunities or waste years of well-earned prestige trying to fight to hold on to tradition?