As we all got back to our desks on Tuesday morning, sifting through our emails and removing any lingering Christmas decorations, the staff at the Solicitors Regulation Authority had a new task to set their minds to: processing the applications for companies who wish to become alternative business structures (ABS).
Nearly five years after the 2007 Legal Services Act which allowed law firms to secure investment from outside the legal sector, we are at the point where the much-discussed “Tesco Law” is about to become a reality. So what does it all mean?
In a very real way the legal sector is going to have to take on some giant brands in order to win business when in the past it’s just been the case that they need to beat the firm down the road. The Co-operative announced in December they would be throwing their hat into the ring, and it won’t be long before we are sat in front of the telly hearing John Hannah’s voiceover bleat “The Co-operative: Good With Conveyancing”, or some such. Dodgy advertising aside, the stakes have been raised for high street law firms.
At the moment many commercial firms get their customers from either Google or the fact that they are simply “there”. Unfortunately for the latter option, The Co-op is “there” a lot more often for people in their day-to-day lives as they wander in to for the weekly shop.
All of a sudden, the “online high street” is also going to become much more competitive. At the moment a phrase such as “conveyancing” has an approximate cost per click of £4.74 – pretty chunky and ruling out a number of the smaller firms’ budgets straightaway. If we then consider that The Co-op’s PPC budget is going to be much greater than a traditional law firm’s (and they’ll also pile much more resource into organic search as well) then over time the online marketplace is going to be led by them too.
So how do “traditional” law firms win business? By stressing their quality of service over the new entrants to the market and ensuring that there’s a clear enough differentiation between what they do and what is now being offered. This is so that someone looking for a non-ABS provider will look for them in the search engines and distrust the newcomers or walk out of the Co-op and into their offices. Perhaps they could even form networks to leverage their services and approach their consumers.
Ironically, a very new form of marketing may prove decisive in this – social media. If The Co-op and the like make some mistakes early on they may tarnish their own image irreparably as responsible providers and they could lose the battle as they get appalling testimonials. However, should they deliver a service as effectively as the traditional legal firms and customers confirm this on Twitter and the like then the future may look very bleak indeed for many current high street solicitors.
Ultimately the battle is going to be long and tough and there will be some firms that may not survive. What is clear, however, is that traditional firms will no longer be able to hold a “build it and they will come” attitude to marketing and the more active they appear the more likely they are to sustain their position, and who knows, even prosper.
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