Tag Archives: legal services

In praise of QualitySolicitors

QualitySolicitors, the firm everyone loves to hate, has admitted it ‘grew too quickly’. I can hear the crowing as I type, lots of ‘I told you so’ and ‘it was only a matter of time’. The pink chickens have, many would like to believe, definitely come home to roost, leaving QS looking decidedly forlorn and ready for plucking.

I suspect not quite. For a start, their not-so-new boss, Eddie Ross, seems to know his onions. He certainly knows a lot more about branding than any of the naysayers who have leant their (mostly anonymous) pearls of wisdom to the comments on the Law Gazette’s interview with him this week. And he does a good job of getting to the pIoint ‘It is not about turning you into super-rich lawyers. It is about offering a better service than your competitors next door’.

QS did grow too far too fast and promised too much too soon. However, it is arguable that if it hadn’t we wouldn’t even be talking about it because it would have disappeared without a trace before you could say ‘Amanda Holden’. Nothing like putting a few people’s noses out of joint if you want to make a bigger splash than you deserve.

I don’t like the pink, I’m not mad about the name, and I thought urging us to love lawyers was definitely a step to far. But I liked the ‘Hard Road to Travel’ advert, even though it was probably something The Law Society should have made rather than QS. Being all John Lewis about legal services will really only work if, well, if you are John Lewis, but there’s no shame in trying. I’m quite sure nothing bad could ever happen in John Lewis, which strikes me as rather a good feeling for a law firm to emulate.

I was never quite sure whether people were disparaging about the now defunct WH Smith tie-up because they hated the idea or just the fact it was with a chain of shops that have been selling DIY will packs for decades. I still don’t see what is wrong with the idea of having legal information and advice available in shopping centres, even if having fixed points in a glorified newsagents is not the best way to do it.

These assumed failures do not mean the whole QS venture was all mouth and no trousers. It may not have invented Saturday opening or the concept of fixed fees, but QS helped to normalise them in a sector where for too long services had been offered for the convenience of the professionals rather than those paying their salaries, the customers.

The recent launch of its online customer platform may not be a headline grabber, but it should help member firms to do what QS set out to do in the first place, make legal services more convenient, approachable and affordable for whole swathes of consumers who are put off by the high costs and labour intensive nature that still pervades much of the legal market.

Equally, with the likes of Irwin Mitchell and Slater & Gordon continuing to pursue world domination (and who would bet against them?) QS is an alternative for good local firms to compete, keeping their own identity but taking advantage of the opportunities, including branding, that QS provides.

QualitySolicitors would not be the first trailblazer to make the running then shuffle back quietly into the pack. Anyone else looking to make a splash in this market should thank QS for taking all the flack while they could quietly go about their business.

It is also worth remembering that it is only by getting things wrong that you learn how to get them right (although this does not, apparently, apply to the current ‘Lord’ Chancellor). Which suggests that even if QS is not getting any bigger just now, it’s probably getting better. Shame the same can’t be said for everyone.

An empowered choice, or no choice at all?

It’s always good to discover you are right, particularly when you have largely been relying on common sense to prove a point. So to all those lawyers who said I didn’t know what I was talking about and that people weren’t interested in getting legal services online or at a supermarket I’d like to say ‘I told you so’.

This time I can give you facts, real facts about real consumers.  Nearly seven out of ten people like the idea of finding legal services on the internet and a similar number of young adults fancy being able to get them from supermarket providers. Even more unsurprising was the finding that more than eight out of ten consumers are more likely to take legal advice if they are given an up-front fixed cost.

This not-quite-earth-shattering news comes from a survey commissioned by Compare Legal Costs, a legal price comparison website.  Equally satisfying from my perspective was that fewer than four in ten people agreed that ‘solicitors are upstanding members of society’ and just over four in ten said solicitors were ‘arrogant’.

Having said that it can’t really be good that so many people still have a problem with lawyers.  On the plus side, I am quite sure that the changes in the legal market will see their reputation improve among consumers as they have to get serious about offering real value for money and high-quality customer service as well as expert legal advice.

There is, however, a potential downside to all this consumer choice, although not the one many lawyers highlight.  The danger is not so much that opening up the market will lead to sub-standard legal advice (although in some cases it might) but that consumers will be paralysed by choice.

Choice is, of course, a good thing.  As proponents of choice will tell you, it promotes competition, improves quality and drives down cost.  In the legal market it also means people are for the first time being offered a choice about how and when they access services as well as how much they pay for them.  On the other hand is what American psychologist Barry Schwartz has called ‘the paradox of choice’.

His argument is that while ‘autonomy and freedom of choice are critical to our well being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy’, having more choice than any other group of people have ever had before has not apparently made us any happier.  In fact, quite possibly the reverse.  Although some choice is undoubtedly better than none, more is not always better than less.

This is true across the whole range of choices we have to make every day, from the trivial (what to have for dinner, what flavour of jam to buy) to the fundamental (which school to send our child to, which mortgage to choose).  And there is evidence it is making us miserable, particularly those of us who are ‘maximisers’, ie. people who are less likely to settle for second best.

As you can imagine, this has a significant impact on what consumers really want.  You can argue about the specifics, for example whether price or service efficiency is more important, but what consumers really want is simplicity.  Yes, they want a service that meets their needs, but beyond that they want the choice to be simple and they don’t want to have to spend hours making it.

And so we come to the ‘purchase funnel’.  If you aren’t a marketing guru, and I include myself in that, the purchase funnel was invented in 1898 and suggests consumers go from ‘awareness to interest to desire to action, gradually reducing the number of options or brands they consider along the way’.

The funnel model has been used across many industries for decades, but consumers are now bombarded with so much information they are changing their shopping habits to deal with all the noise.  Contemporary wisdom has it that brand loyalty is vanishing and the response of many companies has been to step up marketing messages in order to engage with and keep their consumers.

Marketing managers must have been dismayed to learn that consumers are overwhelmed by all this information.  A survey of 7,000 consumers worldwide showed that a third of people continuously shop around, adding and dropping brands and constantly looking for alternatives; and a third abandon any sort of considered search and zero in on a single brand, not so much out of loyalty but as a response to an increasingly complicated choice process.

What may look like consumers exercising choice may in fact be them making no choice at all and apparent brand loyalty may be nothing of the sort, rather a ‘self-imposed simplification of the decision-making process’.  What consumers are now doing is not making a funnel purchase, but a ‘tunnel purchase’ and often blinded by the tunnel vision that implies.

The researchers who ‘discovered’ the tunnel also found the single biggest thing companies can do to combat this problem is make the decision simple, by which they mean making it easy to get trustworthy information and find their way around any different purchase options.

What does this mean for providers of legal services, particularly when in many cases consumers are not only dealing with a multitude of choices, they are doing it for a product or service they probably know even less about than they do credit cards, food or mobile phones?

For a start, I am quite sure it doesn’t mean sticking to the one-size-fits-all approach that law firms offered in the past and some would quite like to keep offering.  Equally it is worth noting, as the energy companies have found, that regulators (or in this case, the government) will not be afraid to intervene if the options become so overcomplicated consumers find themselves with the wrong tariff, product or service.  Competition isn’t everything.

It does involve law firms, and their competitors, offering legal services people really want in a way they really want them.  It also requires the front-line regulators to provide clear, impartial information and guidance to support consumers in making choices and the Legal Services Board to evaluate the collective effect of individual choices and ensure there is no negative impact on access to justice.

Whether you welcome or fear it, consumer choice is here to stay.  How you respond is up to you.

To infinity and beyond: Google law prepares for blast off

Several years ago, when I was campaigning to bring about the Legal Services Act, some bright spark at Which? suggested to me that it wasn’t Tesco law that would bring about a revolution in legal services, but Google Law.  I wouldn’t say I dismissed his prediction out of hand, but at the time it was quite a big leap to see how you could buy legal services in Tesco, never mind from Google.  Well, last week this colleague’s prediction turned out to be right as the Google-backed Rocket Lawyer announced its intention to launch in the UK in 2012.  It’s a measure of how far we’ve come that the news caused merely a ripple, rather than the tsunami we would have surely had in the past.

It is a strange coincidence that this was the same week in which the Law Society launched its annual ‘solicitors are great’ campaign.  As you can imagine, I’m a bit of a sceptic when it comes to this sort of thing, but to be fair, the Society’s efforts have improved immeasurably since the toe-curling ‘my hero, my solicitor’ of a few year’s back.  This year’s effort, a slightly more modest call to ‘choose quality advice’, will be seen, the Society says, more than 450 million times, which is about eight times for every man, woman and child in the country (although as lots are too young to read that’s even more times for the rest of us).  I have no idea how they work this out, but it sounds pretty impressive.

I also have no idea if these annual forays into mainstream advertising are beneficial to high-street law firms.  The Society claims that last year’s campaign generated 85,000 click-throughs to their website and a 40% increase in searches on its ‘Find a Solicitor’ database.  On the face of it, this is quite a result, but I’ve had a look at Find a Solicitor and it’s little better than the Yellow Pages (if you’re old enough to know what that is..).  Without customer feedback or complaints information, getting a long list of solicitors is next to useless (for more on my views about this, see my blog about the Solicitors from Hell website here).

Which is where Rocket Lawyer comes in. I’ve had a look at their website and even registered on it (I pretended to live in Arizona so I could imagine I was sitting by the pool in the sun rather than snuggled up in my loft room as the rain beats down on the skylights).  Generally I don’t like making such an overt plug, but I love it.

It’s exactly what an online legal service should be – it’s clear and easy to navigate, it has bucket-loads of information and, on the whole, seems to be written in comprehensible English (which is quite a feat given, at the moment, it’s just an American site).  There’s even a nifty little section with tips on working with a lawyer (I would make this available as a checklist to take to the solicitor’s office – that would put the wind up them).

I am particularly excited (yes, genuinely) by the ‘legal health check’ as this taps into what, à la Richard Susskind, I have been banging on about for ages:  the latent demand for legal services.  As reported on Legal Futures last week, founder Charley Moore argued that services such as Rocket Lawyer expand the market for legal services, rather than compete with lawyers, by making them more accessible, citing as an example that, as in the UK, less than half Americans have a will.

This latent demand is something traditional lawyers, on the whole, have failed to address.  This is partly because individuals might not think they have a legal problem:   research published last year by the Legal Services Research Centre found such issues included faulty goods and services, noisy neighbours, benefits, children’s education and homelessness.   But it is also because your average high-street solicitor doesn’t take a ‘holistic’ approach to the law.

This is where Rocket Lawyer really comes into its own.  When you register, it asks about your lifestyle – work, home and family – and makes recommendations for legal services based on your answers.  Alternative business structures, and the multi-disciplinary partnerships they will enable, are all about this ‘lifestyle’ approach, enabling consumers to purchase packages of legal services at certain points in their life – getting married, buying a house, having children, retiring etc.  This not only makes more sense for the consumer but taps into that lucrative ‘latent demand’. This is surely how legal services should be delivered in future, whether online or by more traditional means

So back to that advertising campaign.  The problem is that it fails to acknowledge any of these developments.  It may well encourage someone already looking for a solicitor to go to the Society’s website and use Find a Solicitor.  But it is still harping back to the ‘good old days’, when solicitors were learned men in stripy suits and bowler hats sitting behind mounds of dusty books.  What we are approaching now is beyond Tesco law and buying legal services like a tin of beans.  Whether the Law Society and the firms it represents like it or not, we are approaching the age of Google Law and nothing will ever be the same again.