Monthly Archives: March 2010

Making a success of Alternative Business Structures

First published in Managing Partner’s “Driving Change” Supplement in February 2010.

Over the past few months the pace at which some legal practices have begun to move to meet the new challenges and tap into the new opportunities being created by the Legal Services Act has quickened dramatically. More are actively taking calculated risks to change their business now to reinforce or reposition themselves – particularly mid-market practices.

These are not new entrants to the legal market, but legal practices which are (or are becoming) innovative, enthusiastic and agile enough to work alongside business partners from outside in developing new and better ways of providing legal services that provide a better value proposition and client experience. Most legal practices are likely to remain as an LLP for now, but more should consider the potential benefits of a legal disciplinary practice (LDP), together with non-lawyers, or become an alternative business structure (ABS) if there are opportunities you can tap into this way.

You want to make sure you use whatever new freedoms the Legal Services Act creates for you.  But what can you to you make your practice more competitive?

Go here to download our free paper published in Managing Partner in February 2010 to guide you in developing your strategy to compete with other lawyers and new entrants looking to profit from providing legal services.

Converting Browsers to Business

We all know that people who come to your website are impatient and want information straight away. If you don’t get their attention fast, or the information they want quickly, they go looking elsewhere. There are plenty of other options to be explored on the web, whatever you are looking for. But there’s more to it than that in the increasingly sophisticated world of internet marketing, where most law firms have only just begun to “engage” browsers.

Law firms taking this seriously will track, know and care about how long a browser spends on their website. Without this, it’s impossible to know what is working and what is not, so this is the starting point. Begin to track and evaluate this if you don’t already.

Learn from experience

Many of the basics of marketing in this virtual “web” environment are not that much different from the traditional “bricks and mortar” approach to marketing and promotion. Personal injury lawyers, for example, have become familiar with the impatience of claimants. If they don’t get out to the client and get them signed up immediately, they will soon check out other options.

The solution there is to send an agent round: what is the equivalent on the web? In conveyancing, if a caller doesn’t manage to speak to someone who can help them on the phone, they will probably pick up the phone to someone else who they feel can do just as good a job. In employment, if they can’t get enough advice or assurance today, they will go to someone else who can. It’s the same on the web. Get them before they go somewhere else.

Why is this critical now?

Approximately 70 per cent of households (18.3m) now have internet access. 63 per cent of these have broadband access – up from 56 per cent in 2008.

Use of the internet by those aged 65 and over has increased 15 per cent in past year (2008/9), compared with 3 per cent for 16 to 24-year-olds.

Back in 2006, 20.1 per cent of respondents booked their last holiday online compared to 16.8 per cent in 2005 and 12.4 per cent in 2004. This has continued to increase, so the public are getting the habit of researching and buying online.

Both private and commercial clients are using the web as a way of identifying and making first contact with solicitors.

Increasingly SMEs will use the web to find a potential regional law provider.

How to convert Browsers to Business

We use the “AIDA” steps in many areas of our approach to selling legal services: Continue reading

Independent, objective reviews of completed transactions produce more work.

More legal practices have been appointing us recently to carry out post transaction reviews of work they have done for their clients; law firms determined to collaborate and work with their clients as effectively as possible. Experience shows that they are then more likely to retain the client and generate more work if they demonstrate that determination in this tangible way that clients value.  At the same time, this very direct feedback helps to develop the personal skills and understanding of the lawyers involved in the transactions.

Transaction reviews” involve a review of (usually corporate) transactions to check on the client experience; perception of price; service; added value; what could be done better next time etc., (and of course with a bit of subliminal sales thrown in).  It is also appropriate for other work types such as major pieces of planning litigation and the like …  usually on transactions over a certain value or with certain key clients.

If you want more information on how this works contact Darren Francis on 0161 929 8355 or at dfrancis@inpractice.co.uk

Small firms should evaluate SaaS and Hosted IT

This article from the US on Technolawyer grabbed our attention as the messages here are sound – SaaS and hosted IT solutions have become much more attractive options although you need to understand what you are doing and where it makes sense to compromise.

Warning — a rant is headed your way. A well-reasoned and situationally warranted one I believe, but definitely a rant. If I hear one more debate about whether lawyers should use software as a service (SaaS) (aka cloud computing systems), my head might explode. This debate is perpetually mired in concerns about accessibility, ethics, and security. It’s time to move past these non-issues and focus on more relevant issues that will enable SaaS products to mature into mainstream small firm products.

The Two Most Hotly Debated SaaS Issues Are Nonissues

Like many others, I’ve consistently sounded the dual alarms of SaaS: caution about newer technology, and of professional responsibility. These cautionary points do not revolve around functionality, necessarily, because there is much to be said about the “less is more” design approach embodied by SaaS products (especially practice management systems).

Rather, reasonable prudence from a best practices perspective focuses in part on continuity — availability of practice-critical data such as docketing and deadline information, documents, and core matter information. Small firms still need to reckon with access issues such as a data outage or slowdown anywhere in the digital pipeline, or vendor insolvency complicated by a predictably recalcitrant bankruptcy trustee.

It is relatively easy to address potential continuity issues. Eventually, legal SaaS system providers will build the local system mirroring/syncing/replication tools to ensure the same offline accessibility that enterprise corporate products have had for years. Why haven’t the small-firm oriented legal SaaS providers built workable, immediately usable offline capability yet? Beats me — they know it’s an issue and they must be tired of the constant pundit criticism.

The reality, however, is that continuity issues need to be balanced against the possibility of internally-maintained software becoming inaccessible because of a panoply of technology troubles. Digital bad days blacken all doorsteps — both externally and internally hosted applications fall prey to disrupted access.

Other concerns continue to swirl, especially vague ethical rules regarding surrender of control of confidential client information to third parties. The confidentiality issue ties into data transmission and encryption issues as well as the disposition of confidential information in the event of vendor insolvency and dissolution.

The reality, in the absence of inevitable ethical opinions and updated rules of professional responsibility, is that the ethics issues are largely a red herring. There is a long tradition of permitting third party data access and control to confidential client information. The obvious example is using third parties to retrieve and maintain archived client files, or to process electronic discovery files. Even online data backup, with multiple state bar associations having vetted and endorsed various services, has become informally accepted.

So let’s just all get over it — SaaS makes sense. The above issues will be resolved, likely sooner rather than later. If the world’s largest corporations can place their trust in wildly successful and field-proven SaaS products such as Salesforce.com, legal SaaS systems will become just as trustworthy. Outside of the small firm sphere, we already see very successful examples of SaaS legal applications, including mission critical systems such as financial management products. Rippe & Kingston’s LMS+ is a sound example.

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