26 March 2013

The Age of UnLawyering: it started with a creme egg

The latest company to challenge the traditional law firm ethos is Law Plain and Simple as it helps its clients help themselves, says Chrissie Lightfoot.

A tasty solution to legal issues Brian Snelson / Wikimedia

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 ABSs reshaping the high street coincided with an article in The Times recently entitled ‘Farewell tweedy high street, hello online’ 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.  

Radical change

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 disrupter

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 online 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 which has developed and funded the service, and has been providing property searches to law firms and licensed conveyancers for many years.
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 lawbankruptcy, wills and trusts and business law to guidance about social media and social networking and even image rights.
Law Plain and Simple has been written by qualified solicitors and the idea for the website grew out of enquiries from members of the public directly to X-Press Legal  Services about legal terminology, particularly in the housing market.

It’s a win-win

The website is free to use for consumers, businesses and the law firm clients of X-Press, 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.  And indeed X-Press may find that they get more conveyancing enquiries for their business.
With 40 franchisees, this business model and service should 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.
Egged on
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. 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 ...

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.

Lawyering but not as we know it

Back in August 2011 Stephen Mayson wrote an entertaining and thought provoking piece entitled ‘Breaking News: Humpty Dumpty falls off wall’ where 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.  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.”

Chrissie Lightfoot is chief executive of UK legal profession consultancy EntrepreneurLawyer and author of the book The Naked Lawyer: RIP to XXX – How to Market, Brand and Sell You!

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