Today I attended CLT’s “Managing and marketing a profitable private client practice” as I was presenting a paper on pricing. I’ve presented at previous conferences, but today I was able to listen to the majority of the other presentations and thought I’d share the nuggets and highlights.

Opening remarks

Helen Clarke chaired the event and opened by describing the perfect storm of changes in the UK legal market. She provided some useful statistics about the wills and probate market:

  • 259,989 estates in 2010-11 notified for probate (47% of all clients)
  • Approximately 35% law firms undertook probate and estate administration in 2010-11 but it contributed less than 10% of total turnover of firms
  • 15,584 were taxpaying estates – approximately 3% of all deaths that year
  • Over 1.4 million people in the UK are aged 85 or over

Regulatory compliance in a changing environment

She then romped through a considerable amount of regulatory issues. There was quite a bit of debate about how solicitors – who are heavily regulated – compete with those licensed to undertake wills work and ABSs (e.g. accountants, financial organisations and will writers) which face less regulation.

The “patchwork of consumer regulations, professional and voluntary codes and statutory obligations” was considered too complex for most consumers to understand. There was also some discussion about how mental capacity (particularly when acting for elderly clients) could be established when delivering on-line services. I also learned that there was a Deaf Law Quality Mark. Arrangements for preparing emergency wills were also mentioned.

Wills Quality Scheme

Gary Rycroft, Chair of the Law Society’s WQS Steering Group explained the rationale for the scheme and reviewed the costs and core elements and materials within the scheme. The benefits for member firms and consumers were outlined in some detail – there was interest in the “find a solicitor” service that is to be relaunched. Finally, the application process (to be completed by October) was summarised.

Pricing of private client services

This was the session I presented covering:

  • What’s happening in the market
  • Pricing basics
  • Market segmentation and improving the value proposition
  • Guidance with a step by step approach to a pricing strategy
  • Effective price communications

During the questions and in subsequent discussions, the points that appeared to have struck the biggest chords related to assessing the value of the advice or service to clients and the idea of reframing or bundling services (some of which may not be legal) to differentiate services.

Changing working methods to improve profitability

Andrew Otterburn, a Chartered Accountant who has written some excellent books on law firm financial management and profitability, led this session. I was particularly pleased that he spent some time talking about attitude – the need to be passionate and enthusiastic about delivering excellent client service.

He mentioned some recent research he had conducted into private client departments:

Gross margin

Secretaries per lawyer

Lower quartile






Upper quartile



Delegates then worked in groups to discuss their approaches to typing, digital dictation, administrative support and outsourcing. There were some interesting points about the impact of bonus reward systems on overall profitability.

Digital marketing

Julian Summerhayes (a non-practising solicitor and mediator who now consults) started by challenging prevailing views of business development which concentrated on lead generation and suggested a greater need for culture change and intra and interpersonal skills and  the problem of billable hours.

He talked about the importance of “brand you” (whether using traditional or social media methods of promotion), the power of value added service and the need to create excellent client experiences. This integrated nicely with some of the points I made earlier about pricing. His view was that accountants are much further ahead in this area than lawyers. And I really liked his point about having a “not to do” list!

His final comments related to web sites (especially mobile) and content marketing. He mentioned one established law firm that had invested a significant amount with designers to produce infographics and a new entrant that employed a full time social media manager. His “David and Goliath” point related to the importance of internal marketing.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay to hear the final session by John Eaton on integrating private client and financial services work but I saw in the notes he talked about the three Ps (Protection, Provision and Preservation) and three Is (Independence, Impartiality and Integrity).

Related posts (some of which I mentioned during my talk):