Product and service development doesn’t get much coverage in the legal sector. So I spent my lunchtime yesterday watching the Epoq/DirectLaw webinar by Jon Busby and Grahame Cohen. I’ve seen Grahame speak at several events before but it’s always good to keep up to date – and I am sure that some of my clients will be interested in what they had to say.
Brands and the game of change
Unsurprisingly, there was some consideration of the massive changes occurring in the legal market post-LSA and pre-ABS so it kicked off with a consideration of brands and what would have happen if you were to start designing a law firm from a blank sheet of paper. Grahame mentioned that the low value (commodity) legal consumer market was worth around £10bn and that this was where Co-Op was most likely to start with a cost-reducing, quality-improving offering using question and answers for document automation.
Grahame then indicated that the main impact of the influx of new brands and major advertising campaigns would be market education – helping people to understand better how to consume legal services. He provided some interesting examples such as the way our book buying habits have changed since Amazon and Kindle and insurance buying with Comparethemarket,com and Confused.com.
When asked how long he thought that it might take for the legal market to change he indicated around 6-12 months bearing in mind the current activity amongst suppliers such as Co-Op, LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and DLA Piper.
How can lawyers strike back?
Countering the concern that clients might not like the automated approach, Grahame provided some feedback from some of the 70,000 people using automated services – a memorable quote was “Can’t believe you can do it like this – I might consider more legal services”. And there was the rare glimpse of possibility almost lost in the sector’s “doom and gloom” obsession – automated, low cost services might just increase the market rather than decimate it.
He then went on to state what to some is obvious – locality and personal contact on the phone and face-to-face is what sets law firms apart – automation can’t replace that. He mentioned how that even though supermarkets now sell (cheap) wine, some independent wine retailers have grown hugely – benefitting from the market education and expansion that occurred.
There was also a hint at a hugely important topic – price clarity and price discrimination.
How to help law firms adapt
While mostly talking about how Epoq has worked with firms (and there was a good case study of Stephensons taking half the time to do its wills work – much with elderly clients – and allowing the lawyers to do twice as much) there were some interesting points here.
There was some useful discussion about how to blend online and face to face service and a walk through example of what happens when a client phones, is sent a secure electronic questionnaire to complete which then provides a draft for the lawyers to discuss at a meeting or the start of a collaborative effort to refine it. The point was made that the client is entering the information – saving the law firm further time/cost.
If automation allows you to halve the time it takes to produce a document then you have choices – either reduce the price to compete with the commodity producers, divert that time into enriching the client experience or taking more profit. Simples!
Grahame was asked to give one final piece of advice – “Think innovatively about the processes you use over the next three months (it takes 12m to embed automation) because I think it will be a hard struggle for those who don’t once the brands hit”.