I listened in to an interesting webinar last night, organised by Epoq legal, the title of which was ‘Brands won’t kill law firms, customers will’. Joining Epoq’s representative, Jon Busby, were Michael Scutt and Amanda Bancroft. Michael’s day job is as a partner at City firm Dale, Langley & Co but he is also a well-known commentator on issues thrown up by the Legal Services Act (his blog can be found at http://troubleahead.co.uk/feed/) and other issues in the legal services market such as the increasing use of technology. Amanda Bancroft is a former barrister who now works as a digital strategist creating strategies and tools for the legal and pharma worlds.
The main focus for the webinar (not surprisingly, bearing in mind it was organised by a pioneer of online legal solutions) was the move towards online legal advice. Much of the discussion centred around the extent to which the legal market was prepared for the inevitable shift towards web-based delivery of legal services, the extent to which this should and might take place, and the drivers for it.
Amongst various issues discussed, three stood out. First was Amanda’s contention that there is a very prevalent misconception amongst the legal profession at the moment that online provision of services is necessarily of a lower quality than face-to-face provision. Amanda argued that there is no reason why lawyers cannot provide quality service using digital formats. This led into discussion about the mix, or blend, between online services and face-to-face services. One school of thought is that the online part of the package should be limited to the data capture side of things, whereas the high value, ‘intellectual’ advice should still be given face-to-face. Amanda’s argument was that online provision should not be limited to that level of advice/work, but that as more and more clients are happy to, and indeed expect to, sit in front of a computer screen and access information and advice, the scale of legal services provided in that way should consequently move on and up. During the webinar the report from Peppermint Technology Limited, published in October and purporting to show what clients really want from their lawyers, was mentioned. These figures have been bandied round the legal press, but it is worth noting them again – 96% of businesses surveyed wanted to have the option to communicate with their legal adviser online, and 81% of consumers surveyed were in favour of out of hours services.
The second interesting point related to data capture and mining, and how far behind the curve law firms are on this. With sites such as comparethemarket.com, and moneysupermarket.com, consumers are becoming more familiar with these kind of activities and view them as necessary and even useful, whilst lawyers still see them as disengaging and offputting. Consumers have already been educated in this type of activity, and lawyers should try and benefit from this.
The third interesting point related to which way round law firms approach the issue of technology and online advice. Is the ultimate driver what the client thinks is appropriate, or what the solicitor thinks is appropriate? Jon Busby made the point that the fundamental principle behind Apple’s success is that they always put the customer at the centre. We all know of law firms who have spent lots of time and money taking steps that they think the client wants, which are not then taken up by clients as in fact the clients didn't want them in the first place. A survey done for one firm was mentioned, where the lawyers were asked what they thought was important to their clients, and clients were asked what was in fact important to them. Pretty much opposing responses were received, with for example the lawyers putting ‘good drafting’ very high up and ‘staying in touch with the client’ very low down, and the clients doing the opposite.
With all of this comes the important caveat that many lawyers are so busy doing their day-jobs and keeping on top of their work, that they haven’t got the time to consider let alone strategise about these types of issues. However, it is vital that they do, as the online juggernaut will not be stopped and in order for many firms to survive they need to take up space in this market rather than leaving it exslusively to the technology companies.