3 December 2015 By Northern Lights
At a recent event hosted by our client the Leeds Law Society, the heads of the legal sector in the UK came together to debate the future of the profession. It was a fascinating debate and one key element that emerged from the session was the need for law firms to embrace digital technology.
Digital technologies like social media, services delivered online, big data algorithms, e-commerce service packages, virtual communication and procedures handled by artificial intelligence programmes are all transforming the business to business sector, but are law firms making the most of the next generation of opportunities?
In attendance was the Legal Services Board, the Legal Services Consumer Panel and the Legal Ombudsman and all agreed that digital technologies, intelligent automation and social media presented unique opportunities for professionals to fill a “yawning gap” in the provision of legal advice.
The head of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, Elizabeth Davies, told the audience in Leeds that “digital is a critical part of the solution” but warned there is a growing appetite for the provision of online services from business consumers and law firms are failing to rise to the challenge.
Sir Michael Pitt, the chair of governing body, the Legal Services Board, said £12bn of business is going wanting because SMEs and larger corporates can’t access advice in the way they want. He said: “We are seeing more innovation through the use of alternative business structures, but the use of digital technologies is missing. We need to create a dynamic marketplace that can provide the right product at the right price and digital technologies are critical to this process.”
Their comments mirror Northern Light’s own findings from the Yorkshire’s Top 100 Legal Firms research paper we completed earlier this year. While the research programme found many firms were recognising the need to harness digital technologies, few were making use of their full potential and were still at the talking stage or were delegating basic online tasks to junior members of the team.
While digital technologies have the potential to transform the way legal firms operate and deliver services – something another of our clients, Pat Chapman-Pincher, has spoken about at length – they can go much further.
While the legal chiefs focus on the impact on service delivery, law firms need to also consider how digital technologies can transform the way they communicate with clients, target potential customers, develop relationships and, crucially, demonstrate their expertise.
At the time of the research, the McKinsey Global Institute published a paper that concluded: “The professional services industry has the greatest potential of any industry to see huge return-on-investment benefits from social media.”
This is because social media and other digital technologies are a hugely powerful tool for breaking down barriers, improving links to customers and creating clear channels for customers to understand a firms’ values and expertise. All of which lead to new business.
My greatest argument for using digital technologies are the access they create. Not only do they enable you quickly to identify who you need to speak to and allow you to communicate directly, but they enable you to position yourself as the go-to expert in your field and create a personal brand people want to buy into.
All too often the biggest barriers to the adoption of digital technologies in law firms are the lawyers themselves who don’t see the value in spending time on social media or are afraid of giving away their IP. The perception of social media is also a major issue with many lawyers seeing it as a waste of time or something for teenagers.
Social media adds value and can become a time-saving tool as well as a valuable source of new business enquiries. Using social media you can quickly identify the issues clients face and then share your insights to help them overcome challenges. By giving them genuine insights, you help them address a problem while also starting to develop a trusted relationship.
While digital technologies are crucial for improving search rankings, many lawyers also argue that clients won’t use Google to find them. Whilst this is true, most clients will still carry out online research to understand your values and expertise. If you’ve also created online channels for them to access your services, getting found online will be vital.
The top performer in the Northern Lights research was Lupton Fawcett and managing partner Richard Marshall said: “Your online presence is now much more than a brochure – it’s a device for creating a funnel of work. We use social media and blogs to create calls to action, make it easy for people to find out who we are, what we do and how to engage with us. Crucially, blogging has generated fee earning enquiries and is turning into work.”
Digital technologies are transforming the way we all work and the legal chiefs are right to say law firms need to do more. Adoption of digital technologies are on the rise but the reality is that professional firms are falling behind consumer appetites for online services and communications.
As yet, social media and digital technologies aren’t going to become the main driver for new business, but they are now an integral part of that mix. With a clear need for streamlined and accessible legal services that don’t compromise on quality, digital technologies need to be part of every law firm’s business strategy.
Like the legal chiefs, my fear is that most firms still have little idea where they will add value, leaving the door open to a new generation of disruptive firms operating under an alternative business structure.