Yes, the last couple of weeks have been yet another hum-dinger kick in the teeth for the legal profession.
I've been bombarded with RSS feeds full of reports from copious legal journals about personal injury practices facing financial meltdown as a result of the LASPO reforms. It looks like the demise of Blakemores (Lawyers2You) is only the tip of the iceberg as the SRA painted a miserable picture of financial instability among law firms in general and the Law Society revealed that the number of private practice solicitors has fallen for the first time.
Reshaping the high street
The society warning of the threat of ABS's reshaping the high street coincided with an article in The Times recentlyentitled ‘Farewell tweedy high street, hello on-line’ suggesting that “the mix of internet, reforming legislation and the demise of legal aid is creating an evolutionary jolt in the legal high street, consigning traditional practice to a museum of professional history.”
Let’s face it, the predictions for many years and depressing potential outcomes related to the changes and challenges for‘traditional practice’ in a crowded marketplace from many respected legal strategists and consultants now appear to be the reality.
In his recent crystal ball gazing captured in his latest book, Tomorrow’s Lawyers(2013), Professor Richard Susskind talks again about the future of legal services, wherein he predicts that legal markets will be further liberalized and the legal landscape is set to change more radically over the next twenty years than over the last two hundred.
Since the dawn of Man, humankind has experienced,embraced (not without kicking and screaming) and survived the many challenges,radical changes, disruptions and ‘Ages’ during its quest to evolve: The Ice Age, The Industrial Age, The Digital Age and The Data Age. In relation to these latter two Ages, and due to the evolution of the world wide web, we are witnessing the revolution of UnSales (relationship sales), UnMarketing (relationship marketing), UnBranding (relationship and social branding) and UnBundling of legal services throughout the legal marketplace.
Opportunity in adversity
Arguably, for us lawyers, consumers and businesses alike, we are now experiencing the Age of UnLawyering, where the traditional way of lawyering is being questioned, superseded and/or supported by other ways of operating and delivering legal services. I am confident that due to mankind surviving in the past, it will survive this transition (and transformation) too; but not without some serious casualties. However, when in adversity, there is opportunity...
We’re now experiencing the new face of law where the Americans, Aussies, Kiwis, Chinese and entrepreneurs have arrived in the UK legal market space. We cannot ignore the recent new entrants: Legal Vision, Brilliant Law, Legal Zoom and RocketLawyer. When Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic launches into space in 2014 who knows, the Martians may even arrive too with a new Virgin Law world order furthering the legal space frontier. Little green men aside, the rest are here to stay, agitate, disrupt and quite possibly, help...
The latest enabler
In the past fortnight, amongst the fall-out in‘law law land’, I noted that Law Plain And Simple, a home-grown website and legal service, was launched as a response to legislative reforms, the demise of legal aid and the imported challenge to help consumers, businesses and law firms.
This latest kiddie on the block in ‘law law land’is an on-line legal information and advice service linked to 400 law firms in England and Wales. The website was master-minded by Dave Lister, director at X-Press Legal Services Ltd., which has developed and funded the service, and has been providing property searches to law firms and licensed conveyancers for many years.
It's a win-win
The website explains the fundamentals of the law and its standard processes, as well as translating its terminology. It has step-by-step guides covering 39 of the most common legal categories, ranging from property law, bankruptcy,wills and trusts and business law to guidance about social media and social networking and even image rights.
Dave commented: “We wanted to take the mystique and fear out of the law for ordinary people. The website avoids legal jargon and has been written in very basic English to help people understand the law and how it might affect them in particular circumstances.” Law Plain and Simple has been written by qualified solicitors - no, this is not a misnomer or a joke. Co-director Lynne Lister says: “We intend that our website should give people the facts in words they understand, so they can move forward in resolving whatever difficulty they are in. We believe that “A little knowledge is a wonderful thing.”
The idea for the website grew out of enquiries from members of the public directly to X-Press Legal Services Ltd. about legal terminology, particularly in the housing market. Dave and Lynne commented: “We recognise the importance and value of professional solicitors with their extensive experience and knowledge so we are keen to enhance the service they can provide – not detract from it.”
The website is free to use for consumers, businesses and the law firm clients of X-Press. The website receives no referral fees and doesn't do data grabs. The law firms in the local search directory are clients of X-Press and these law firm clients set their own fee rates when advising the visitor who has come through the website, as well as providing a continuous stream of legal articles for visitors to read on the site.
With the numbers of users (consumers and businesses) visiting the website set to increase significantly due to publicity and awareness raising through offline and on-line activity by X-Press HQ, its 40 franchisees and 400 law firms in the network, and deals being struck with high traffic websites, this radical new business model and service is set to be a win-win for all concerned – consumers, businesses, law firm clients of X-Press who are in the directory and providing legal articles on the website, and X-Press itself. Clearly, as more visitors use the website and are pointed in the direction of the client law firms in the directory (whereby those firms may experience an increase in enquiries and instructions), X-Press may no doubt receive more conveyancing searches from those client firms succeeding in serving existing clients further as well as new law firm clients.
I believe the real story behind the success of Law Plain and Simple is its history, business model, culture and ability to see around corners. For what the Law Plain and Simple website service is really about is X-Press helping their clients clients. They help their law firm clients to be more successful by marketing to, providing for, and helping the law firms clients by delivering a free helpful legal resource as a first point of call. This ‘client client’ strategy and model is common place for smart marketeers and savvy business people, and proves successful.
And to think, all of this started with a Cadbury’s creme egg ...
I dare say X-Press (and Law Plain and Simple) wouldn't be what it is today if Dave didn't manage to woo his childhood sweetheart, Lynne, with an enticing choccy egg during one fine Easter break. For X-Press Legal began many years ago as a husband and wife team, and is now a family run business with a nationwide network of franchisees with a totally entrepreneurial and customer-centric culture.
Perhaps what it will really take for lawyers and law firms to succeed in the Age of UnLawyering (at the very least) are these three things:
1) the ability to see around corners - to anticipate the radically unexpected; and
2) create a service or product in readiness for the unexpected; and
3) embrace a truly customer-centric business model which includes marketing to and providing for(and helping) your clients clients.
Back in August 2011 Stephen Mayson wrote an entertaining and thought provoking piece entitled ‘Breaking News: Humpty Dumpty falls off wall’ wherein he stated “it will come as a shock to many to hear that Humpty Dumpty (also known as the traditional law firm business model) has taken a tumble. Worse still, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn't put Humpty together again. Yes, it’s true: however you look at it, Humpty is well and truly scrambled.”
Actually, it’s clear that in many instances, the traditional law firm business model is well and truly fried.
Lawyering but not as we know it
But all is not lost. We can pray along with our new Pope. A couple of weeks ago The Lawyer website bulletin stated: “The Catholic church and the legal profession have more than a few things in common. Both are ancient, slow to change and sometimes require senior members to wear ridiculous costumes. Oh, and both have a fondness for Latin, though that probably harks back to the fact that both are a bit ancient.”
Dave Lister et.al will have no need for prayer.Law Plain and Simple doesn't entertain any of these things, as is apparent inits homepage mantra: “No legal jargon. Certainly no Latin.”
In this Age of UnLawyering if Dave and his X-Press crew happen to blag a seat onto the pioneering good ship Virgin Galactic, and bump into Captain Kirk on his Starship Enterprise at the final frontier, no doubt the conversation by those who boldly go where none of us have gone before would be:
“It’s lawyering Jim, but not as we know it.”
The Entrepreneur Lawyer
Author of The Naked Lawyer:RIP to XXX – How To Market, Brand & Sell YOU!
A version of this article was first published in The Global Legal Post 26 March 2013 and is reproduced with kind permission.