How to Prepare Your Law Firm for Disruption

Growing law firms in Australia and the USA since 2009.

In recent years, there have been a spate of start-ups hell-bent on disrupting the legal industry. We shouldn’t be surprised as the online juggernaut is ousting the old guard on most industries. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find an industry that isn’t yet being disrupted by the advent of technology.

Essentially, the bunch of start-ups from Legal Zoom through to a spate of others are primarily concerned with the commoditisation of legal services generally. In Australia, LawPath, LawyerSelect, LawCorner, eLawyer, FindLaw and are some of the contenders, with strong rumours of infiltration by major players from the United States entering the market later this year. If you’re a firm practising exclusively in Wills and Estates, you should be a little concerned, with a plethora of start-ups pre-occupied disrupting this niche, some of which offer online facilitation with intervention of the legal practitioner at various junctures. ZeeWills is an example.

Richard Susskind forecasted it years ago in his text, The End of Lawyers and revisits the notion again in the most recent, Tomorrow’s Lawyers. Both books are excellent and are well worth the read. Essentially, Susskind considers the future of legal practice transitioning to what we have now, a bespoke or typical boutique practice to one of which will become commoditised. The commoditisation Susskind argues will see legal service that was once handcrafted to work that is routinised and disposed of quickly with little need for lawyers’ intervention. The predecessor of commoditisation, is the packaging of legal services. The tax practice of Deloitte did this, once assisting clients in the preparation and submission of corporate tax returns to a distillation of the expertise of some of their 250 tax specialists into a package that is easily accessible by the client. There are of course, a plethora of online forms that facilitate the drafting of Wills, Enduring Powers of Attorneys and Advanced Health Directives and business and family law documents at a significantly lesser fee than otherwise would have been charged by a practitioner.

What Does Your Firm Do About it?

Disruption of the legal industry will continue, this is a given. The key factor to strongly consider amid the turbulence of these start-ups, is an understanding of how your firm differentiates itself from competitors. Firms notoriously don’t do this well. In fact, search the top 10 results in Google for a law firm with a specific practice area, and the lines of demarcation between them will be grey at best. Firms rarely consider this or how this may translate to their brand strategy. Everything starts and ends with brand strategy and this is particularly important when competing with not only direct competitors, but online services that are offering packaged legal services at discounted rates.

Your firm’s core story, or the reason for its existence is the key driver for your marketing direction. Shine Lawyers Australia have nailed this and their exponential growth is testimony to it. What is your firm’s brand message? Is it succinct and unforgettable that instantly creates a feeling in the mind of your prospect. Shine’s “Right Wrong” is such an embodiment of brand message. Does your firm’s marketing plan consider how its target market are best reached and converted into clients. What are the key brand drivers that enable this? How does your firm measure marketing ROI? What is the dashboard your firm is utilising to tell you this?

Differentiation Online

At a practical level, in our experience, as much as “online” is becoming increasingly important for firms, local search continues to trend. In other words, having your firm locatable to a searcher looking for the specific legal services you provide within easy reach is still paramount. In fact, historically there have been a number of legal referral services that aren’t able to successfully penetrate local search results without Google Adwords placement. That may change of course, if such services are able to scale and harness other marketing touchpoints to advertise their services or the services of the firms of which they represent.

Ranking well in Google is becoming far more reliant upon content. Once, and there are still the exceptions, being positioned well in Google relied primarily on the number of backlinks pointing to your firm’s website. SEO companies were prone to chase links from all sorts of locations, some of which were dubious which did result in great rankings, but these days, post a Google algorithm change last year, websites that derived from this type of activity were penalised, either losing significant rankings or in the worse case scenario, banished from Google completely. Sure, you need backlinks, but they should occur organically and be a derivative of providing great content on your firm’s site that is client-focused. Engagement is key, because the other metric Google takes into consideration is time on your firm’s site. The longer people stay, the better position your firm’s site will be. Engagement is tricky and it needs a thorough understanding of your current analytics, in particular the content that has a low bounce-rate and of course, has a good deal of time spent on it. This content may avail itself to a series of articles or case studies dealing with the topic. A diversity of mediums used to discuss the content can help as well. Don’t ignore video or audio. It can be incredibly powerful. We use it frequently with our clients.

But, at the end of the day, great marketing tactics, be it in the shape of content creation and syndication springs from market differentiation, the very thing that this bunch of start-ups are aggressively pursuing. If your firm hasn’t nailed it and is lost in translation, it will be vulnerable to disruption. Just for today, think about how your firm is different, how you convey that story, what are key drivers to that difference and do they align with what legal consumers want and how do you measure this?

Staying with Your Prospects

Re-marketing is a feature offered by Google that allows your firm to embed a cookie into the browser of a searcher that will continue to show your firm’s online advertisements, when that searcher browses sites that are a part of the Google Adwords display network. You would have experienced this yourself and have wondered why after visiting a particular website, their ads seem to follow you onto other websites. While click-through rates on these display ads isn’t great, it is extraordinarily effective in embedding into the mind of the legal consumer your brand message.

Where to Start

Be clear about your point of differentiation in the market, have a brand strategy of which all your firm’s marketing touchpoints align and put effort into local search, including claiming your Google Business page (it’s free). Assessing your web analytics and realigning your online strategy accordingly is essential and re-marketing in this context, can offer additional user insight.

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